The objective of the present work was to estimate and assess trends in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), from dairy cows in Mexico from the base year of 1970 to 2010. Empirical and mechanistic models were used to estimate enteric methane emissions based on chemical composition of diets. Methane from manure was calculated using Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and US Environmental Protection Agency recommended equations. N2O emission was calculated according to IPCC recommendations. Compared with the 1970s, current management practices using modern dairy cows increased feed conversion efficiency 32% and milk yield 62%. GHG emission intensity (i.e. emissions per unit of product) was reduced 30%, 25% and 30% for CH4, N2O and total emissions, respectively. The study showed that although GHG emissions in absolute terms increased in the past 40 years, emission intensity decreased due to higher level of production. This trend is likely to continue in the future, assuming milk production follows the same increasing trend as in other countries in North America. © 2014 CSIRO.