IPCC looks to the land in fight against climate change
A Special Report of Climate Change and Land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just been released. It shows that land is under increasing pressure from humans and climate change, and calls for better land management around the world, and a change in diet.
"Governments challenged the IPCC to take the first ever comprehensive look at the whole land-climate system," said Chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee. "We did this through many contributions from experts and governments worldwide."
Almost a quarter of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are due to agriculture, forestry and other forms of land use. The report says that improved land management can go some way to mitigate the effects of climate change, but reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all players needs to be undertaken urgently if there's any chance of keeping global temperatures below those set out in the Paris Agreement.
A focus on sustainability and reducing food waste could be key factors in addressing climate change, though even warming of around 1.5° C – the ideal target for increase limitation agreed by governments in 2015 – still poses increased risk from "dryland water scarcity, fire damage, permafrost degradation and food system instability." Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I, also warned that "very high risks related to permafrost degradation and food system instability are identified at 2° C of global warming."
The IPCC reports that climate change is already affecting the availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking) and stability (disruptions to availability) of food production. And the future is not looking too bright.
"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."
The report also acknowledges the detrimental effect on the environment of animal-based food production, while noting that the consumption of plant-based foods has a lower environmental impact. The IPCC didn't go all out and recommend the widespread adoption of vegan or vegetarian diets though, instead advocating more sustainable meat production and reduced consumption.
"Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others," Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, noted. "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 – Climate Change and Land, an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems – has been published online and will form the basis of scientific input for upcoming climate and environment negotiations.
"There is real potential here through more sustainable land use, reducing over-consumption and waste of food, eliminating the clearing and burning of forests, preventing over-harvesting of fuelwood, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thus helping to address land related climate change issues," said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.