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Land is a Critical Resource, IPCC report says
by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Aug. 2019
Land is already under growing human pressure and climate change is adding to these pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming to well below 2ºC can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest report.
The IPCC, the world body for assessing the state of scientific knowledge related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options, saw the Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) approved by the world’s governments on Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.
It will be a key scientific input into forthcoming climate and environment negotiations, such as the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14) in New Delhi, India in September and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December.
“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.
This report shows that better land management can contribute to tackling climate change, but is not the only solution. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2ºC, if not 1.5ºC.
In 2015, governments backed the Paris Agreement goal of strengthening the global response to climate change by holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5ºC.
Land must remain productive to maintain food security as the population increases and the negative impacts of climate change on vegetation increase. This means there are limits to the contribution of land to addressing climate change, for instance through the cultivation of energy crops and afforestation. It also takes time for trees and soils to store carbon effectively. Bioenergy needs to be carefully managed to avoid risks to food security, biodiversity and land degradation. Desirable outcomes will depend on locally appropriate policies and governance systems.
Land is a critical resource
Climate Change and Land finds that the world is best placed to tackle climate change when there is an overall focus on sustainability.“Land plays an important role in the climate system,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.“Agriculture, forestry and other types of land use account for 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time natural land processes absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry,” he said.The report shows how managing land resources sustainably can help address climate change, said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.
“Land already in use could feed the world in a changing climate and provide biomass for renewable energy, but early, far-reaching action across several areas is required” he said. “Also for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity.”
Desertification and land degradationWhen land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. This exacerbates climate change, while climate change in turn exacerbates land degradation in many different ways.“The choices we make about sustainable land management can help reduce and in some cases reverse these adverse impacts,” said Kiyoto Tanabe, Co-Chair of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.
“In a future with more intensive rainfall the risk of soil erosion on croplands increases, and sustainable land management is a way to protect communities from the detrimental impacts of this soil erosion and landslides. However there are limits to what can be done, so in other cases degradation might be irreversible,” he said.Roughly 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification. Drylands and areas that experience desertification are also more vulnerable to climate change and extreme events including drought, heatwaves, and dust storms, with an increasing global population providing further pressure.
The report sets out options to tackle land degradation, and prevent or adapt to further climate change. It also examines potential impacts from different levels of global warming.“New knowledge shows an increase in risks from dryland water scarcity, fire damage, permafrost degradation and food system instability, even for global warming of around 1.5°C,” said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.
“Very high risks related to permafrost degradation and food system instability are identified at 2°C of global warming,” she said.
Food security
Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).
“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 report records 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.
“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,” she said.
The report finds that there are ways to manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities in land and the food system.
Risk management can enhance communities’ resilience to extreme events, which has an impact on food systems.. This can be the result of dietary changes or ensuring a variety of crops to prevent further land degradation and increase resilience to extreme or varying weather.
Reducing inequalities, improving incomes, and ensuring equitable access to food so that some regions (where land cannot provide adequate food) are not disadvantaged, are other ways to adapt to the negative effects of climate change. There are also methods to manage and share risks, some of which are already available, such as early warning systems.
An overall focus on sustainability coupled with early action offers the best chances to tackle climate change. This would entail low population growth and reduced inequalities, improved nutrition and lower food waste.
This could enable a more resilient food system and make more land available for bioenergy, while still protecting forests and natural ecosystems. However, without early action in these areas, more land would be required for bioenergy, leading to challenging decisions about future land-use and food security.“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.
Land and climate change responses
Policies that are outside the land and energy domains, such as on transport and environment , can also make a critical difference to tackling climate change. Acting early is more cost-effective as it avoids losses.
“There are things we are already doing. We are using technologies and good practices, but they do need to be scaled up and used in other suitable places that they are not being used in now,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.
“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,” he said.
* Access the report via the link below:
Aug. 2019
Climate crisis reducing land’s ability to sustain humanity, says IPCC - ecosystems never before under such threat and restoration is urgent. (Guardian News)
The climate crisis is damaging the ability of the land to sustain humanity, with cascading risks becoming increasingly severe as global temperatures rise, according to a landmark UN report compiled by some of the world’s top scientists.
Global heating is increasing droughts, soil erosion and wildfires while diminishing crop yields in the tropics and thawing permafrost near the poles, says the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Further heating will lead to unprecedented climate conditions at lower latitudes, with potential growth in hunger, migration and conflict and increased damage to the great northern forests.
The report, approved by the world’s governments, makes clear that humanity faces a stark choice between a vicious or virtuous circle. Continued destruction of forests and huge emissions from cattle and other intensive farming practices will intensify the climate crisis, making the impacts on land still worse.
However, action now to allow soils and forests to regenerate and store carbon, and to cut meat consumption by people and food waste, could play a big role in tackling the climate crisis, the report says.
Such moves would also improve human health, reduce poverty and tackle the huge losses of wildlife across the globe, the IPCC says.
Burning of fossil fuels should end as well to avoid “irreversible loss in land ecosystem services required for food, health and habitable settlements”, the report says.
“This is a perfect storm,” said Dave Reay, a professor at the University of Edinburgh who was an expert reviewer for the IPCC report. “Limited land, an expanding human population, and all wrapped in a suffocating blanket of climate emergency. Earth has never felt smaller, its natural ecosystems never under such direct threat.”
Piers Forster, a professor at the University of Leeds, said: “This important report shows we need to substantially change the way we use our land to limit temperature change below 1.5C. In a nutshell we need less pasture [for livestock] and more trees.” The land-use advice was contained in an IPCC report in October.
Prof Jim Skea, from the IPPC, said the land was already struggling and climate change was adding to its burdens. Almost three-quarters of ice-free land was now directly affected by human activity, the report says.
Poor land use is also behind almost a quarter of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions – the destruction of forests, huge cattle herds and overuse of chemical fertilisers being key factors.
Emissions relating to fertilisers have risen ninefold since the early 1960s. Rising temperatures are causing deserts to spread, particularly in Asia and Africa, and the Americas and Mediterranean are at risk, the report says.
One of the most stark conclusions in the IPCC report is that soil, upon which humanity is entirely dependent, is being lost more than 100 times faster than it is being formed in ploughed areas; and lost 10 to 20 times faster even on fields that are not tilled.
The report recommends strong action from governments and business, including ending deforestation and enabling new forests to grow, reforming farming subsidies, supporting small farmers and breeding more resilient crops. Many of those solutions, however, would take decades to have an impact, the IPCC says.
Consumers in rich nations could act immediately by reducing their consumption of intensively produced meat and dairy foods – products that have a huge environmental impact.
“There is much more we could do in that space that we are not doing, partly because it is difficult,” said Pete Smith, a professor at the University of Aberdeen and a senior IPCC author. “You wouldn’t want to tell people what to eat, that would go down badly. But you could incentivise.”
The IPCC report suggests “factoring environmental costs into food”. Previous studies have suggested meat taxes, or subsidised fruit and vegetables. Meat production ties up most farmland and cutting consumption could release millions of square kilometres for forestry or bioenergy crops, the report says, as could cutting food waste.
Caterina Brandmayr, of the Green Alliance thinktank, said: “The key message from the IPCC is urgency: we need to act now to plant new forests, restore our ecosystems, and, yes, to eat less meat.”
David Viner, a professor at the University of East Anglia and a senior IPCC author, said: “Land is a vital resource and we have to look after it if we are going to have a sustainable future.”

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Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators
by UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
July 2019
The world is off track to meet most of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets linked to hunger, food security and nutrition, according to a FAO report.
"The report paints a grim picture. Four years into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, regression is the norm when it comes to ending hunger and rendering agriculture and the management of natural resources - be that on land or in our oceans - sustainable," said Pietro Gennari, FAO Chief Statistician.
"Being off track when it comes to reaching core pillars of the SDGs unquestionably puts at risk the achievement of the entire 2030 Agenda, and makes our overarching goal of ensuring an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations less attainable," said FAO Deputy Director-General for Climate and Natural Resources Maria Helena Semedo.
In the first report of its kind, FAO analysed, in a visual way, major global trends and data from up to 234 countries and territories on 18 indicators of four SDGs (2, 6, 14 and 15) under the UN agency''s custodianship.
Key findings
Hunger on the rise
More than 820 million people are still hungry today. The number of hungry people in the world has been on the rise for three years in a row, and is back to levels seen in 2010-2011. In parallel, the percentage of hungry people out of the total population has slightly increased, from 10.6 percent in 2015 to 10.8 percent in 2018.
Small-scale food producers'' earnings are about half that of larger food producers
Small-scale food producers - who represent the majority of all farmers in many developing countries - face disproportionate challenges in accessing inputs and services, and as a result, their incomes and productivity are systematically lower compared to larger food producers.
In most countries, the incomes of small-scale food producers are less than half of those of larger food producers. Differences in the productivity of small-scale food producers compared to larger food producers are also noticeable, though less pronounced than with regard to incomes
High food price volatility in many developing countries
During 2016-2017, food price anomalies affected over a third of Land-Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs), one in four countries in Africa and Western Asia, and one in five countries in Central and Southern Asia. Moderate increases in general food prices, on the other hand, affected all regions.
More than half of local livestock breeds at risk of extinction
On average, 60 percent of local livestock breeds are at risk of extinction in the 70 countries that had risk status information. Specifically, across the world, out of 7155 local livestock breeds (i.e. breeds occurring in only one country), 1940 are considered to be at risk of extinction. Examples include the Fogera cattle from Ethiopia or the Gembrong goat of Bali.
However, this could be even higher as for two thirds of the local livestock breeds, especially in the Middle and Near East, Africa and Asia, there is no data on the animals'' risk status.
The report also warns of "no progress in conserving animal genetic resources and notes that ongoing efforts to preserve these resources appear inadequate". For example, less than one percent of local livestock breeds across the world have enough genetic material stored that would allow the breed to be reconstituted in case of extinction.
Some progress in conserving plant genetic material
The conservation of plant genetic material is faring somewhat better.
At the end of 2018, global holdings of plant genetic materials conserved in gene banks in 99 countries and 17 regional and international centers totalled 5.3 million samples - a nearly three percent increase over the previous year. This is mainly due, however, to the transfer of existing materials to better, indicator-compliant storage facilities, rather than a reflection of newly added diversity collected from the field.
Efforts to secure crop diversity continues to be insufficient, cautions the report, particularly for crop wild relatives, wild food plants and neglected and underutilized crop species.
Overfishing and uneven implementation of international instruments for sustainable fisheries of concern
One third of the world''s marine fish stocks are overfished today, compared to only 10 percent in 1974.
The report notes that despite some recent improvements in fisheries management and stock status in developed countries, the proportion of stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels has decreased significantly in developing countries.
Moreover, some 30 percent of countries still have a low or medium implementation record of the key international instruments combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and some 20 percent of countries have a low or medium implementation record of the key instruments to promote access of small-scale fishers to productive resources, services and markets.
Water under stress
Water stress affects countries in every continent. The majority of countries that have registered high water stress since 2000, however, are concentrated in Northern Africa, Western Asia and Central and Southern Asia.
Most forest loss in the tropics
Between 2000 and 2015, the world lost an area of forest the size of Madagascar, due mainly to the conversion of forestland for agricultural use. Most of this loss is recorded in the tropics of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia.
However, the rate of forest loss has slowed down globally in the period 2010-15 and this loss was partly compensated by the increase of forest area in Asia, North America and Europe.
What needs to be done to reverse worsening trends
The report puts forward a number of recommendations aimed at reversing these worsening trends.
First, many of the problems mentioned above would probably be less acute if there was sufficient investment in the agricultural sector (including fishery and forestry).
However, the report finds that public expenditure in agriculture has been declining with respect to its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In particular, the Sub-Saharan African region and Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand) registered the lowest relative values of public investment in agriculture.
Promoting productivity growth and strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of small-scale food producers is also critical to reversing the trend of rising hunger and reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty, the report stresses.
Price anomalies contributed to undermining people''s access to food and nutritional status in many developing countries. These could be addressed by improving information on prices and on food supply and demand of basic food stuffs, allowing markets to function more efficiently.
Improvements in water productivity and irrigation in agriculture and reduced losses in municipal distribution networks, industrial and energy cooling processes are among the main issues to be tackled when it comes to water stress.
Finally, all countries need to urgently implement transformational changes in fishery management and governance. This would also have a positive economic impact: overall, rebuilding overfished stocks could increase annual fishery production by 16.5 million tonnes and annual revenues from fishing by $32 billion.
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