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Sustainable Land Management Critical to Combating Climate Change: IPCC Special Report

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The report cites the need to change the ways food is produced and land is managed to cut emissions and keep warming to below 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

WG III Co-Chair Jim Skea explained that land already in use could feed the world in a changing climate, and provide biomass for renewable energy, but emphasized that “early, far-reaching action” is required.

WG II Co-Chair Debra Roberts said balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food that is sustainably produced present adaptation and mitigation opportunities.

The report represents an important scientific contribution to, among others, the UNCCD COP 14 in New Delhi, India, in September, and UNFCCC COP 25 in Santiago, Chile, in December.

8 August 2019: The 50th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-50) has released the Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL), addressing land as a critical resource, desertification and land degradation, food security, and land and climate change responses. The report represents the first-ever comprehensive look at the whole land-climate system. It is also the first IPCC report to take a more systemic approach to a sector or area (the food system).

The SCCRL’s official name is: ‘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.’ The report’s Summary for Policymakers (SPM), which the Panel approved line-by-line, aims to tease out some of the key findings of the longer report in such a way that policymakers can easily digest them.

The report underscores the important role that land plays in the climate system and the ways in which sustainably managing land resources can help address climate change. Given that agriculture, forestry, and other land-use changes are responsible for about 23% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, radical changes are required not only in the more obvious sectors, such as energy and transport, but in the way land is used as well. The report cites the need to change the ways food is produced and land is managed to cut emissions and keep warming to below 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

The report states that: about one-third of food produced is lost or wasted; causes of food loss and waste differ between developed and developing countries and between regions; and climate change will increasingly affect food security. During an 8 August press conference launching the report, Working Group (WG) III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla emphasized that food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through reduced yields, increased prices, reduced nutrient quality and supply chain disruptions. He noted more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). WG III Co-Chair Jim Skea explained that land already in use could feed the world in a changing climate and provide biomass for renewable energy, but emphasized that “early, far-reaching action” is required. Also during the press conference, WG II Co-Chair Debra Roberts said balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food that is sustainably produced present adaptation and mitigation opportunities.

Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through reduced yields, increased prices, reduced nutrient quality and supply chain disruptions.

While sustainable land management (SLM) can reduce and even reverse the adverse impacts of climate change, the report also notes the limits to adaptation, and finds that, in some cases land degradation might be irreversible. It details options to address land degradation, but also highlights increased risks from dryland water scarcity, fire damage, permafrost degradation and food system instability, even at 1.5°C warming.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) analysis explains that the SRCCL is unique among IPCC reports in that it includes options for individuals – at least in developed countries – to act upon, including those that are as simple as avoiding wasting food and paying greater attention to daily food consumption. It also explains that mitigation and adaptation must be considered together. For example, “an agroecological and soil-enriching agroforestry system not only absorbs more carbon but avoids land degradation and reduces vulnerability, whereas land degradation exacerbates climate change and its impacts, and increases vulnerability to desertification, food insecurity, and loss of habitat for both humans and other species.”

The report also emphasizes:

  • an increasing concentration of poverty in the dryland areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where 41% and 12% of the populations, respectively, live in extreme poverty;
  • links between climate change and sustainable development, including that climate change and land use threaten the poorest populations;
  • some options for large-scale land-based carbon dioxide (CO2) removal, including bioenergy or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), that could come with trade-offs for several of the SDGs, including SDG 15 (life on land);
  • the importance of attaining greater levels of gender equity in sustainable land-based solutions for addressing climate change; and
  • other land-based negative emissions techniques that could remove CO2 while providing co-benefits, such as avoiding further deforestation, increasing food productivity and increasing carbon stores of soils.

The report looks at the IPCC’s integration efforts at multiple levels, including through cooperation with other organizations. The SRCCL refers to the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and its thematic assessment report on land degradation and restoration, as well as the land degradation neutrality (LDN) concept and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification’s (UNCCD) Global Land Outlook. The report thus represents an important scientific contribution to, among others, the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the UNCCD in New Delhi, India, in September, and the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC in Santiago, Chile, in December.

In a statement following the report’s release, UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw reaffirmed that action on land degradation is critical to avert the worst climate change impacts and that the potential of land must be part of the climate solution. He said those issues in the report within the UNCCD’s scope will be presented to COP 14, and that he expects the SRCCL to “strongly influence” decisions made during the UNCCD COP.

The SRCCL is the first IPCC report to: have a majority of authors from developing countries, with women accounting for 40% of Coordinating Lead Authors (CLAs); encompass the missions of all three Rio Conventions; and be undertaken jointly by the IPCC’s three WGs, in cooperation with the Task Force on National GHG Inventories (TFI). WG I addresses the physical science basis of climate change; WG II deals with climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and WG III focuses on options for reducing emissions and mitigating climate change.

IPCC-50 convened from 2-7 August 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland, bringing together more than 350 participants from over 120 countries.

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Courtesy: International Institute for Sustainable Development

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