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Lamb is climate neutral

Research by the CSIRO shows Australia's sheep meat sector, despite having increased production over the past 30 years, is now ‘climate neutral’. This means that eating lamb doesn't contribute to further climate change.

The research used annual Australian greenhouse gas emission data from 1990 to 2017 to measure the ‘radiative forcing’ footprint of the Australian sheep meat industry. Radiative forcing is the influence a given climatic factor has on the amount of downward-directed radiant energy impinging upon Earth’s surface. The goal of limiting mean global temperature rise to 1.5°C, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, depends upon urgent action to stabilise radiative forcing.

What does the research say about Australian lamb and climate change?

The research shows that the radiative forcing footprint of Australia’s sheep meat sector has plateaued over the past 30 years and reached the point of a net zero increase in 2020, a status that could be described as ‘climate neutral’.

In fact, the climate impact of the sheep meat industry is trending downwards due to the decrease in the sector’s methane emissions, from 371 kt in 1990 to 290 kt in 2017.

What’s the difference between ‘climate neutral’ and ‘carbon neutral’?

In the context of the CSIRO research, ‘climate neutral’ is defined as net zero addition to radiative forcing. In other words, emissions from the Australian sheep meat sector do not contribute to further global temperature rises.

‘Carbon neutral’ means the carbon footprint of a product is zero (or it has been offset). This can be achieved by balancing emissions, measured as Carbon Dioxide equivalents, with their removal from the atmosphere. In Australia, some livestock producers are carbon neutral, using soil or trees to store carbon or investing in carbon offsets to achieve neutrality.

Did you know?

  • Lamb is one of only two food products grown in Australia that is climate neutral (the other is rice).
  • The Australian sheep meat sector has made incremental increases in its annual output of live weight since 1990, while decreasing methane emissions, due to greater productivity (improved meat and wool production from the same number of sheep) (source).
  • If this productivity continues, the sheep meat industry’s radiative forcing footprint will be reduced even further (source).