Can Europe’s Largest Dairy Cooperative Achieve Net Zero Carbon by 2050?

Dairy firm Arla Foods, Europe’s largest dairy cooperative, pledged to significant emissions cuts to help the cooperative reduce its impact on the environment.

The firm says that by 2050 it wants its operations “from cow to consumer” to be “carbon net zero”, meaning that wherever possible it will attempt to offset its carbon output or eliminate it entirely. The firm also wants to address the impact that cow urine and feces has on the environment by looking at ways in which the dairy industry can balance nitrogen and phosphorus cycles to help European waterways stay clean.

As a wider goal, the announcement also says that Arla wants to find more ways to integrate its practices with the environment to further reduce the effects dairy farming has on our climate and our biodiversity.

To stay on track this would mean Arla would have to reduce its carbon emissions by around 30 percent by 2030. The company readily describes this plan as “ambitious”, but Arla’s recent efforts suggest that it can achieve at least some reductions.

Arla has managed to increase milk production by 40 percent since 2005, while at the same time cutting its CO2 emissions by 22 percent across production and packaging. Its CO2 emissions per kilo of milk have also gone down by 24 percent since 1990.

Arla has also seen success in other efforts in its UK sector in particular, with reductions in palm oil, adopting sustainable packaging and more.

“One of the greatest challenges facing us all is providing natural, nutritious food for a growing population whilst reducing our collective impact on the world around us,” Arla Foods UK Managing Director Ash Amirahmadi said in a press release. “Arla has already shown this is possible and the new ambitions announced today will ensure Arla’s farmers, production sites and products continue to play their part in developing a sustainable world for everyone.”

It’s important to put these pledges in perspective.

For one thing, the dairy sector is not monitored in the same way as some other business sectors, so this pledge is voluntary. That is laudable on Arla’s part, but it does mean that there is nothing specific and binding to drive action on this front —which of course isn’t a deal breaker. Plenty of voluntary actions have resulted in significant changes, but it does highlight how relatively behind the wider dairy industry is on climate change reduction compliance.

We also have to be careful with statistics like the ones above, because they can mask other problems.

CO2 emissions reduction is always a good thing, but without a tandem reduction in methane output, something that is exorbitantly high in the dairy sector, the figures are slightly misleading, because methane is a super insulating gas. That means that CO2 reduction can look great on paper, but unless we see broader emissions reductions in the farming sector, the real world effects might not be as pronounced as companies are touting.

Also, the term “net zero carbon” itself can be confusing. This does not necessarily mean that a given industry will entirely cut out CO2 or other insulating gases from its operations, though it does often refer to reducing fossil fuel use where possible in favor of renewable energies.

For those areas where insulating gas production is unavoidable, it means a commitment to offsetting those emissions via other methods, for example planting trees. There is an issue with this kind of approach, though—time.

Even the fastest-growing trees can take decades to reach a maturity level where they take meaningful amounts of CO2 out of our atmosphere. We are seeing the worsening effects of climate change right now, with the forecast looking gloomy unless we find ways to take immediate action. Planning decades ahead and relying on developmental technologies to make up the shortfall, as Arla seems to be doing, likely won’t make a difference soon enough.

Arla has so far held back on saying exactly how its emissions reduction strategies will play out and what form they will take, and those details are vitally important to know if this pledge is as dynamic as it could be.

All that said, the pledge itself is significant. Arla represents some 10,300 members with dairy farms spread across the UK, Denmark, Sweden and several other European countries. It is a leader in an industry that has, for the most part, done the bare minimum on climate action to keep on the right side of legal penalties, despite the fact that raising animals for human consumption is the biggest driving factor of human-led climate change. For Arla to make a pledge like this represents one of the first steps forward for the sector.

For this reason, Arla’s announcement of concrete emissions reduction targets and a net carbon zero state are welcome. It is now vitally important that the cooperative follows that through with decisive, transparent action and that other cooperatives in the sector follow suit.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

50 comments

Anna R
Anna R13 hours ago

Thank you for posting

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Caitlin L
Caitlin Lyesterday

Thank you for sharing

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Michael F
Michael F7 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Karen N
Karen N7 days ago

To achieve net zero carbon, Dairy firm Arla Foods need to deal with the source of the problem and that is to stop the farming and exploitation of animals, so if they are being sincere and serious about net zero carbon that is what they will have to do! . . . Mother Nature intended cows milk for calves and sheep's milk for lambs etc. NOT for humans! Animal products are a major cause of health issues to humans thus adding further strain to health services, even pets are showing more and more signs of health issues due to such products. The meat and dairy industry is not only immoral it is an ecological disaster having detrimental effects upon livestock, other animals, humans, pets and the environment! No good is coming from such a cruel, vile, detrimental and immoral industry only of course to those that profit from it. Animal farming shouldn't be in existence, the vile business was only thought up for the sake of taste-buds, business and profit! Humans do not need to consume or wear products from animals or any other creatures to survive! We need a healthy environment to survive and since humans have domesticated dogs and cats they too would fare better by gradually being adapted to a healthier diet such as vegetarian/vegan pet foods which are available.

http://www.befairbevegan.com/

https://www.animalaid.org.uk/veganism/why-veganism

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Sophie A
Sophie A7 days ago

thank you very much

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Sara Herrera
Sara Herrera7 days ago

There's an even better and quicker way: for us to stop the demand of dairy ;)
It's better for us, it's better for animals, it's better for the planet!

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Carole R
Carole R7 days ago

Even an attempt is helpful.

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hELEN h
hELEN hEARFIELD8 days ago

tyfs

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Lorraine Andersen

Thanks for sharing

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill8 days ago

2050 will likely be a bit too late!

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