Study reveals impact of wild meat consumption on greenhouse gas emissions

Published by  Communications

On 7th Oct 2021

House in Brazilian Amazonia.

Consuming sustainably sourced wild meat instead of domesticated livestock reduces greenhouse gas emissions and retains precious tropical forest systems, which in turn mitigates the effects of climate change. 

That’s according to new research from the University of East Anglia and Brazil’s Universidade Federal do Mato Grosso do Sul, published today in the journal Scientific Reports.  

The research team also estimated the carbon credit value of emissions from tropical forest communities who consume wild meat instead of domesticated livestock.  

André Nunes from the Universidade Federal do Mato Grosso do Sul and Carlos Peres, Professor of Conservation Science at UEA, working with Brazilian and Danish colleagues, looked at people living in both Afrotropical and Neotropical countries, including Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.  

The team estimated potential revenues from the sale of associated carbon credits and how this could generate financial incentives for forest conservation and sustainable wildlife management through PES and REDD+ projects.  

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are a range of schemes through which the beneficiaries, or users, of ecosystem services provide payment to the stewards, or providers, of those services. Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is a multilateral carbon credit trading mechanism enabling polluters in usually high-income countries to pay low-income countries for reducing deforestation and forest degradation. 

Based on 150,000 residents in the Amazonian and African forests, the researchers found that an annual per capita consumption of 41.7kg of wild meat would spare 71 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2-eq) under a bovine beef substitution scenario, and 3 MtCO2-eq if replaced by poultry.  

For these tropical forest dwellers alone, this could generate US $3M or US $185K per year in carbon credit revenues under full compliance with the Paris Agreement. Under a more conservative, lower-carbon price, the wild meat substitution could generate US $1M or US $77K per year in carbon credits.   

Prof Peres, a co-author in the study, said the calculations “represent considerable incentives for forest wildlife conservation, as well as potential revenues for local communities. 

“Our results clearly illustrate the potential value and importance of considering sustainable game hunting within the REDD+ political process at both national and international scales.” 

Tropical forest populations that harvest wild meat instead of beef, poultry or other domesticated meat generate a much lower carbon footprint because of the emissions associated with livestock production. 

Beef production from ruminant livestock involves deforestation, with strikingly detrimental repercussions for both biodiversity conservation and carbon emissions.  

Land-use conversion to croplands and cattle pastures are the principal driver of deforestation worldwide. Cattle ranching is, for instance, directly responsible for 71 per cent of all Latin American deforestation, and pasture expansion has been the single-largest driver of deforestation across the region since the 1970s.  

The livestock sector also disproportionally contributes to the environmental cost of agriculture through high resource misuse, including water, land, and soils. 

Intact tropical forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than they release. Tropical forests fulfil an essential service by storing an estimated 460 billion tons of carbon, more than half the total atmospheric content. 

Across the vast Amazon basin, for example, intact forest areas are concentrated mainly within indigenous territories and protected areas, which collectively store some 42 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC). 

Prof Peres said: “Tropical grazeland expansion for ruminant livestock production to feed domestic meat consumption and exports is a double-jeopardy because we both lose the carbon stocks from formerly pristine old-growth forests and woody savannahs and generate a powerful perennial methane pump.  

“Subsistence hunting of game animals by local communities, which is pervasive in tropical forests, needs to become a sustainable mechanism of both helping justify and add economic value to otherwise undisturbed forests in terms of low-carbon animal protein production.” 

Wild meat provides nutritional and symbolic value for communities living in tropical forests. But, the researchers say, traditional hunting must be done sustainably, both to maintain intact forests and support the food chain. 

Dr Nunes, lead author of the study, said: “Securing the sustainable consumption of wild meat for populations that are socially vulnerable is very important, not just in terms of food security and well-being, but also to serve the interests of climate change mitigation efforts in REDD+ accords through avoided greenhouse gas emissions.  

“Tropical forest biodiversity conservation, and how forest dwellers use forest resources, need urgent financial investments.” 

Unsustainable hunting can have cascading effects that suppress the long-term carbon storage capacity of natural forests by depleting large-bodied bird and mammal species serving essential ecosystem functions, such as dispersal of large-seeded carbon-dense tree species. Unsustainable hunting, therefore, can lead to shifts in the species composition of tropical tree assemblages that ultimately reduce the forest carbon storage capacity. 

On the other hand, hunting can provide a sustainable source of protein and essential micronutrients if appropriately monitored and managed. Forecasts predict widespread protein deficiency in a range of tropical countries, and case studies suggest increased risk of anaemia in children if wild meat is insufficient to the point where the prevalence of child growth stunting can be negatively related to game abundance. 

Dr Nunes said: “These challenges should be confronted in collaboration with local communities through community-based wildlife management projects to safeguard relatively intact forests, carbon storage, and long-term hunting yields.  

“Enabling resource co-management by marginalized tropical forest communities will require transparency and devolution of tangible benefits from carbon credit revenues.” 

‘Wild meat consumption in tropical forests spares a significant carbon footprint from the livestock production sector’ is published in Scientific Reports on October 7, 2021. 


Latest News

Hanya Yanagihara. She is wearing a black top and necklaces.
02 Feb 2023

Global literary icon Hanya Yanagihara set to make rare UK appearance at UEA Live

Hanya Yanagihara, author of the million-copy bestseller A Little Life, will be welcomed to the UEA campus in March to discuss her latest novel success – To...

Read more >
The RRS Sir David Attenborough in the Arctic.
01 Feb 2023

RRS Sir David Attenborough begins polar science trials in Antarctica

Researchers from the University of East Anglia have joined the UK’s new polar ship RRS Sir David Attenborough as it begins its polar science trials in Antarctica...

Read more >
A forest fire in the Amazon rainforest.
27 Jan 2023

Human activity has degraded more than a third of remaining Amazon rainforest

The Amazon rainforest has been degraded by a much greater extent than scientists previously believed, according to a new study.

Read more >
A child learning to write the alphabet.
27 Jan 2023

Poor literacy linked to worse mental health worldwide, study shows

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
A child learning to write the alphabet.
27 Jan 2023

Poor literacy linked to worse mental health worldwide, study shows

Read more >
A Vitamin D tablet being held up to the sun.
26 Jan 2023

80-year-old medical mystery that caused baby deaths solved

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have solved an 80-year-old medical mystery that causes kidney damage in children and can be fatal in babies.

Read more >
A loudspeaker at a protest.
23 Jan 2023

There may be more power in the hand of the worker than previously thought

Employers who disproportionately punish striking workers may be acting unlawfully, according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Read more >
Two bottles of hormones held in a gloved hand.
14 Jan 2023

HRT could ward off Alzheimer’s among at-risk women

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) could help prevent Alzheimer’s Dementia among women at risk of developing the disease – according to University of East Anglia...

Read more >
Photo of Heidi Crisp
01 Jan 2023

HSC apprentice shortlisted for finalist in prestigious awards

Occupational therapist apprentice, Heidi Crisp has been shortlisted as one of three finalist  for Apprentice of the Year in the Norfolk Apprenticeship Awards. 

Read more >
Andy Cammidge
24 Jan 2023

New research grant will investigate novel organic materials

Prof Andy Cammidge (CHE) and colleagues have been awarded £800k from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to investigate the synthesis of new...

Read more >
James Bevan presenting at UEA. He is wearing glasses, a black jacket and grey trousers.
24 Jan 2023

UEA praised for 'outstanding' work on climate research

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, praised UEA’s outstanding work on climate research and highlighted the need to focus on climate...

Read more >