Numerous factors affect cow efficiency, but the most important one is reproductive performance. Increased productivity generates less greenhouse gas emission per unit of product and this article gives an overview of breeding objectives, appropriate selection criteria and crossbreeding strategies to ensure climate smart beef production in changing environments. The three traits of importance to cow efficiency described in this article are: (1) weaning weight of the calf, (2) feed requirements to produce the calf and for this purpose the cow Large Stock Unit (LSU) units were estimated because it is linked to daily feed intake; and (3) the frequency at which a calf is produced, where inter-calving period (ICP) was used to estimate calving percentage. The relative contribution of the three traits towards cow efficiency was also investigated. Results indicate that cow efficiency increased in some breeds while it decreased in others. Inter-calving period has by far the biggest contribution to cow efficiency (44 – 51%), followed by weaning weight of the calf (32 – 33%). Cow weight, expressed in LSU had the smallest contribution (17 – 24%). A matter of concern is that the ICP of 10 breeds increased by 10 days or more from 1999 to 2008. Fertility is one of the important proxy indicators for adaptation. The question is whether these observations are an indication that climate change is starting to have an effect on beef production in South Africa. It is also reported that cow efficiency can be increased by up to 46% without additional herd costs to the farmer through properly designed crossbreeding systems, thereby promoting climate smart beef production systems and reducing the carbon footprint. As a way forward, breeding objectives to improve cow efficiency and fertility should be developed. In addition, early-in-life indicator traits in beef cows should be investigated to improve fertility.