13.08.2019 |

IPCC report calls for sustainable land management and diets

Soil is part of the solution (Photo: CC0)

A transition towards sustainable land management and diets which help reduce emissions and pressure on land is required in order to feed the world in a changing climate. This is the message of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was adopted by the 195 IPCC member states on August 7th. The Special Report on Climate Change and Land was prepared by 107 experts from 52 countries and provides a peer-based review of the latest research on climate change, food security and land use. “Land plays an important role in the climate system,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III. Agriculture and food production are major drivers of climate change: Agriculture, forestry and other types of land use accounted for 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions during the period 2007 to 2016. The sector was responsible for 13% of CO2, 44% of methane and 82% of nitrous oxide emissions from human activities globally. If emissions associated with pre- and post-production activities in the global food system are included, the estimated share in global anthropogenic emissions is 21-37%. “At the same time, natural land processes absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry,” added Skea. The report shows that managing land resources sustainably can help address climate change and limit global warming to 1.5ºC or well below 2°C - but only if immediate action is taken.

The authors highlight that climate change creates additional stresses on land, exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems. Roughly 500 million people are already living in areas that experience desertification. “Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III. “We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said. The level of risk posed by climate change will therefore depend on the world population and the way it consumes, produces and manages land. Or as the scientists put it in their report: “Pathways with higher demand for food, feed, and water, more resource-intensive consumption and production, and more limited technological improvements in agriculture yields result in higher risks from water scarcity in drylands, land degradation, and food insecurity.”

The report states that coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. Response options throughout the food system, from production to consumption, can be deployed and scaled up to advance adaptation and mitigation, the authors write. The report notes that about one third of food produced is lost or wasted. Causes of food loss and waste differ substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing this loss and waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security. But also a change in people’s diets can make a difference. “Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. “Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.”

The report includes several enabling response options for the appropriate design of policies, institutions and governance systems at all scales which can contribute to land-related adaptation and mitigation. “Policies that support sustainable land management, ensure the supply of food for vulnerable populations, and keep carbon in the ground while reducing greenhouse gas emissions are important,” said Eduardo Calvo, Co-Chair of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. The adoption of sustainable land management and poverty eradication can be enabled by improving access to markets, securing land tenure, factoring environmental costs into food, making payments for ecosystem services, and enhancing local and community collective action. The scientists are clear: Only rapid reductions in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors following ambitious mitigation pathways can reduce negative impacts of climate change on land ecosystems and food systems. Delaying climate mitigation and adaptation responses across sectors would lead to increasingly negative impacts on land and reduce the prospect of sustainable development. (ab)

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