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Zoom in on livestock sector emissions hotspots with GLEAM 3.0

The new GLEAM dashboard allows country decision makers to easily analyse greenhouse gas emissions along the entire livestock production chain and design mitigation actions

By Vanessa Meadu

Policy makers tackling climate change need more than headline figures. While it’s important to understand that livestock systems globally contribute about 11 percent of human-made emissions (FAO 2022), this figure does not pinpoint the sources of greenhouse gas emissions in a country or region or help them understand how best to reduce emissions.

The new GLEAM 3.0 dashboard is an interactive web application that allows decision makers to quickly view a snapshot of a region or country’s emissions (based on 2015 data) from the whole livestock production system and understand the different sources of emissions by production system, commodity, and species. Users can zoom in on emissions hotspots or mitigation opportunities in a country’s livestock sector.

“Until now some countries have had to calculate these it in a rough way without a very clear overview,” says Dominik Wisser, who leads development of the GLEAM model at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. “The dashboard can help them more accurately determine emissions sources and mitigation actions,” he added.

Better data for better decisions

In recent years, countries that have signed on to UN Climate agreements have had to detail how they will reduce emissions across all sectors of the economy, through plans called Nationally Determined Contributions. While some countries have relied on earlier versions of GLEAM to estimate potential reductions, there has not been a standard approach for making these calculations easily accessible.

“We realised that decision makers needed a tool to help them drill down into the exact nature of emissions,” explains Wisser. “We wanted to make the GLEAM model more relevant for people who need to design mitigation policies. We hope this will help deliver results on the ground,” he said. 

The new dashboard has been designed to be used by anyone who wishes to assess a country or region’s emissions from livestock production systems. This can include national-level policy makers, the private sector, and even climate change activists.

The public dashboard release offers a regional view of the data. As well, FAO is collaborating with countries to help them access and explore national-level data.

Since its launch in October 2022, the dashboard has been used by policy makers and a range of other actors: from the meat industry looking to understand its emissions, to vegan advocates looking for evidence to support their campaigns. Moving forward, the dashboard will allow policy makers get an initial overview of the different issues as they play out on the ground and refine their previous calculations.

Emissions from livestock for Western Africa in 2015. Source: FAO 2022. GLEAM 3.0
Emissions from livestock for Western Africa in 2015. Source: FAO 2022. GLEAM 3.0


Better data for better decisions

The GLEAM dashboard makes the GLEAM 3.0 model more accessible to a wide range of users, exposing enormous amounts of FAO livestock data. By making data more accessible and usable, the dashboard can be used to inform policies and actions. It can also highlight data weaknesses or gaps, opportunities for data improvements, and areas for further research.

The new dashboard builds on 15 years of work by FAO. Over the years, the model has evolved and advanced in terms of complexity, and granularity of the input data sets. It has become an important key reference for global livestock emissions.

The dashboard more clearly presents what previous versions of GLEAM already revealed: there are huge emissions variations within regions, species, and production systems. For example, cow milk production in Eastern Africa produces the equivalent of 157kg of CO2 per kilogram of protein, but only 42 kg of CO2 equivalent per kilogram of protein in Western Europe (FAO 2022).

The current release uses the newest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conversion factors, to convert non-CO2 gases to CO2 equivalent. “If you apply the new factors to the GLEAM results, you might get much lower emission rates, although this does not mean emissions went down,” Wisser explains.

Ongoing improvements in data quality

The data that fuels GLEAM comes from countries themselves, which they report to the FAO statistics department. Further data comes from individual surveys, literature studies, and project reports. The GLEAM model requires data on different dimensions of livestock supply chains: feed production, processing, and transport; herd dynamics, animal feeding and manure management; and animal products processing and transport.

Some countries may find it challenging to quantify or provide data points for certain measures. This may be due to low technical capacity, lack of budget, or for political reasons. This may limit how well GLEAM can help them to estimate emissions. This is the first time that some of this country level data is exposed at a high level, thanks to GLEAM’s accessible interface. This allows people to scrutinise the data and occasionally find problems that can help improve the global data sets.

Since launching in October 2022, the GLEAM dashboard has been widely used by a range of actors, and the team is receiving many requests and questions from a range of users. Despite the work required to respond to these requests, the FAO team have gained insights on how the data is being used, and by whom. “We are keen to have feedback from our users, to better understand the main questions that people are trying to answer,” explains Dominik Wisser.

The GLEAM interactive dashboard is freely available for anyone to use. For now, no registration is required, although this may prove useful in the future. Wisser explains that more user data would give his team more insight into how the data is used and would help them develop a community of users who can support each other, test new developments, and give feedback.

Although the new version has just launched, Wisser and his team are already working to release a new version in 2023, which would use 2020 data. The dashboard can also be quickly updated whenever there is a new data set for a country, or to rectify any problems in the existing data.

Looking ahead, Wisser notes that the GLEAM dashboard could be useful if agriculture is included in a future global emissions trading scheme under the Paris Climate Agreement. For example, the tool could be modified to calculate the cost of emissions, by helping users to convert each tonne of emissions to dollars. This would allow users to estimate potential sources of income for farmers if they reduce emissions and the cost and benefits of mitigation measures. 

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Vanessa Meadu is Communications and Knowledge Exchange Specialist for SEBI-Livestock, based at the University of Edinburgh. SEBI-Livestock facilitates the LD4D Network.

Header photo: A farmer in Laos feeds her cow chopped fodder. There are large differences in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock depending on production systems, location and species. Photo credit: S. Mann ILRI. (Source)