The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change is a body of the United Nation responsible for studying climate change and designing a global response to it. From time to time, IPCC publishes its latest findings in its annual reports. The Special Report on Climate Change and Land addresses greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes in land-based ecosystems, land use and sustainable land management concerning climate change adaptation and mitigation, desertification, land degradation, and food security.
People, Land, and Climate in a Warming World
Land provides the principal basis for the livelihood of humans and their well-being including the supply of food, fresh water, and multiple other ecosystem services. Land-use is so important because humans use more than 70% of the global ice-free land surface for development. Apart from human use, land also plays an important role in the climate system. It is both a source and sink of GHGs and plays a key role in the exchange of energy, water, and aerosols between the land surface and atmosphere.
People use 1/3rd of the world’s land for food, feed, fibre, timber, and energy production. But, these land ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change and weather extremes. Data collected since 1961, has shown us that global population growth and changes in the consumption of food, feed, fibre, timber, and energy have all caused unprecedented rates of land and freshwater use. Currently, agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater use and although the commercial expansion of areas under agriculture and forestry have supported the consumption and food availability for a growing population, these changes have contributed to increasing net GHG emissions. They have also led to the loss of natural ecosystems like forests, natural grasslands, wetlands, and savannahs, which has led to a decline in biodiversity.
Research also shows us that the supply of vegetable oils and meat has more than doubled since 1961. However, 25-30% of the total food produced is still lost or wasted. This is a startling revelation since an estimated 821 million people in the world are still undernourished and he change in climate has not helped either. The increases in frequency and intensity of extremes have adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions.
As a result of this increase, the duration of heatwaves and droughts have also increased in some regions especially in the Mediterranean, West Asia, parts of South America, Africa, and north-eastern Asia. In regions such as the Arabian Peninsula, the broader Middle East, and Central Asia, dust storms have increased over the last few decades. This data also shows us that global warming has led to shifts in climate zones in many world regions. As a consequence of this, many plant species and animal species have experienced changes in seasonal activities. Crop yields in many lower-latitude regions have been negatively impacted and animal growth rates and productivity have decreased. With an increase in population, we can expect the urban expansion to lead to the conversion of cropland leading to further losses in food production. To reduce these impacts, the management of urban expansion as well as urban green infrastructure is needed in cities.
Adaptation and Mitigation Response Options
Some land-related options are already being taken that contribute to climate change adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable development. These options include sustainable food production, improved and sustainable forest management, soil organic carbon management, ecosystem conservation and land restoration, and reduced food waste and loss. However, the successful implementation of these response options depends on the consideration of local environmental and socio-economic conditions. These response options will contribute positively to sustainable development and other societal goals.
Eradicating poverty and ensuring food security can benefit from applying measures promoting land degradation neutrality in croplands and forests, which contribute to combating desertification while mitigating and adapting to climate change. Developing, enabling, and promoting access to cleaner energy sources and technology can contribute to mitigating climate change. Sustainable forest management can maintain or enhance forest carbon stocks and can maintain forest carbon sinks. Response options to the food systems from production to consumption, including food loss and waste can be deployed and scaled up to advance adaptation and mitigation.
Diversification in the food system can reduce risks from climate change. Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-GHG emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health. Reduction of food loss and waste can lower GHG emissions and contribute to adaptation through a reduction in the land area needed for food production.
During 2010-2016, food loss and waste contributed about 8-10% of total GHG emissions. However, technical options such as improved harvesting techniques, on-farm storage, infrastructure, transport, packaging, retail, and education can reduce food loss and waste across the supply chain. By 2050, reduced food loss and waste can free several million km2 of land.
Enabling Response Options
Mutually supportive climate and land policies have the potential to save resources, amplify social resilience, support ecological restoration, and foster engagement and collaboration between multiple stakeholders. Public health policies to improve nutrition, such as increasing the diversity of food sources in public procurement, health insurance, financial incentives, and awareness-raising campaigns, can potentially influence food demand, reduce healthcare costs, contribute to lower GHG emissions and enhance adaptive capacity.
Influencing demand for food, through promoting diets based on public health guidelines, can enable more sustainable land management and contribute to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Agricultural practices that include indigenous and local knowledge can contribute to overcoming the combined challenges of climate change, food security, biodiversity conservation, and combating desertification, and land degradation. Empowering women can bring synergies and co-benefits to household food security and sustainable land management.
Action in the Near Term
Near-term actions include actions to build individual and institutional capacity, accelerate knowledge transfer, enhance technology transfer and deployment, enhance financial mechanisms, implement early warning systems, undertake risk management and address gaps in implementation and upscaling. This can help enhance the sustainable use of natural resources for food security under a changing climate.
Raising awareness, capacity building and education about sustainable land management practices, agricultural extension and advisory services, and expansion of access to agricultural services to producers and land users can effectively address land degradation. This, in turn, will lead to reduced land and food-related vulnerabilities and can create more resilient livelihoods, reduce land degradation and desertification, and loss of biodiversity.
Finally, all these co-benefits can contribute to poverty eradication and could reduce the risk to millions of people from climate extremes and food insecurity.