Kip Andersen of Cowspiracy Gets It Wrong

The website has just published an excerpt from the book, The Sustainability Secret: Rethinking Our Diet to Transform the World. This book, by Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen, complements the documentary Cowspiracy. In the excerpt, Kip Andersen writes:

In 2009, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, two environmental advisors to the World Bank Group, released an analysis on human-related greenhouse gases (pdf), concluding that animal agriculture was responsible not for 18 percent as the FAO stated, but was actually responsible for 51 percent of all greenhouse gases. Fifty-one percent. Yet all we hear about is burning fossil fuels.

This difference in the figures is due to factors that the FAO didn’t take into account, such as the massive loss of carbon sinks from clear-cutting rainforests for grazing in addition to the respiration and waste produced by animals. Goodland and Anhang used the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the global standard for measuring emissions set by the World Resources Institute and World Business Council on Sustainable Development, to reach the figure of 51 percent. According to their calculations, animal agriculture is the number one contributor to human-caused climate change.

On the Cowspiracy website Keegan Kuhn makes the same claim, linking to the GHG Protocol for Cities. The single largest source of “uncounted” emissions, according to Goodland and Anhang, is animal respiration. However, a quick perusal of the GPC Standard reveals the following guidelines, which directly contradict claims that Goodland and Anhang’s analysis is consistent with the Protocol:

CO2 emissions from livestock are not estimated because annual net CO2 emissions are assumed to be zero—the CO2 photosynthesized by plants is returned to the atmosphere as respired CO2. (page 120)

In addition, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Agricultural Guidance is available online and states:

The carbon incorporated into animal tissues or lost through animal respiration should not be reported in an inventory. (pg.62)

Goodland and Anhang obtain their second largest source of “uncounted” emissions by converting methane from the livestock sector into tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) using the 20-year Global Warming Potential (GWP), while continuing to express methane from other sectors in CO2e using the lower 100-year GWPs. On this point, the Protocol indicates:

Individual GHGs should be converted into CO2e by multiplying by the 100-year GWP coefficients in the latest version of the IPCC Guidelines or the version used by the country’s national inventory body. (page 50)

The initial estimate of emissions of 41,755 MTon CO2e (for the year 2000) that is used by Goodland and Anhang is from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and follows IPCC guidelines for national GHG inventories. In this estimate, GHGs are converted to CO2e using 100-year GWPs. The GHG Protocol that Kip Andersen refers to is a standard for organizational and business (not national) inventory reporting. The WRI is one of the organizations that supports the Protocol. The claim that Goodland and Anhang’s analysis complies with the GHG Protocol is not supported by the Protocol’s own documents.

I have previously outlined various problems with the Goodland and Anhang analysis elsewhere on this site.

Appendum The Greenhouse Gas Protcol website summarizes the project as “A series of tools for calculating GHG emissions inventories based on 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.” It should not be surprising that the 2006 IPCC Guidelines also explicitly state the respiration should not be included (first paragraph of the introduction to Chapter 10).

Last edited on March 6, 2016 to include mention of the GHG Protocol support for the use of 100-year GWPs.