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Time to rethink land use

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report – released in Geneva today – shows how improved land management can tackle climate change.

To support policymakers in responding to the reality that a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from land use, agriculture and forestry, the report is pressing for swift actions, including the roll out of early warning systems for extreme weather and climate events – which impact food security. With the promotion of better diets also highlighted as being vital to tackling climate change.

“Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” explained 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.”

Internationally-renowned agricultural scientist, Dr Howard-Yana Shapiro, echoed this call for a shift to more plant-based diets, during a speech in Melbourne last year,

“Food production is the biggest threat to our planet – 70% of the biodiversity loss, 70% of the fresh water use, 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions come directly from that,” he said. “While 85% of the marine stocks are exploited.”

To reverse the trend, Shapiro supports the push for more plant-based foods. “Let’s breed plants that are ‘more nutritious, that are higher-yielding, that are resilient to climate change, resistant to pests and disease and water and nutrient sufficient,” he added.

One major obstacle remains the widespread reliance on industrial meat production, which continues to rise worldwide. According to a UN report, called Livestock’s Long Shadow, raising animals for food is a top three contributor to water pollution, soil desertification, loss of rainforests, loss of biodiversity and climate change. Meaning animal agriculture in this form is more harmful to the climate than the combined impact of all transportation. According to European think tank, Chatham House, nations will have to slash their meat consumption drastically, or the Paris Climate Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2°C above pre-industrial levels is unachievable.

With over 821 million people currently starving worldwide; and a global population that is predicted to hit 10 billion by 2050, up from 7.8 billion today, the race is on to build sustainable food systems that can support the Paris targets. Something the authors of the new IPCC paper believe will be more easily achieved if decision makers get on board with revolutionising the way land is used.

Diversity of voice

The Special Report on Climate Change and Land released today is the first ever report from the IPCCC, the world body for assessing the state of scientific knowledge related to climate change, where more than half the authors come from developing countries.

“Governments challenged the IPCC to take the first ever comprehensive look at the whole land-climate system. We did this through many contributions from experts and governments worldwide. This is the first time in IPCC report history that a majority of authors – 53% – are from developing countries,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.

The launch of this historic report is another step in building a global system of actions that can deliver adaptation and mitigation policies robust enough to feed a growing population sustainably, while also tackling climate change: and is a call to action for a transformation in farming methods.

“At the current levels of human activities, natural land which for centuries has been an asset to climate change has now become a major source of carbon. Uncultivated land is abundant with vegetation that helps absorb carbon dioxide, but now a quarter and a third of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from land use. Our industrialised farming practices are in fact the largest contribution to soil erosion and pollution, and perhaps the biggest hurdle we face is to try and teach about half a billion farmers globally to re-work their agricultural model to be carbon sensitive. I hope the IPCC report creates a larger conversation and grabs the attention of the global political corridors and the general public, and creates a top down and bottoms up process for change,” added Andre Laperrière, Executive Director of Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN).

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Written By

Susan is the co-founder of Innovators Magazine and a consultant for OnePoint5 Media. Susan is also a member of the UNFCCC-led Resilience Frontiers Nexus group and co-chair of the APOPO Foundation UK board.

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