GENEVA, Switzerland, August 8, 2019 (ENS) – Climate change is pressuring all four pillars of the world’s food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability), finds a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger, the report concludes.
“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.
Land is already under increasing human pressure and climate change is adding to these pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming to well below 2º Celsius can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food, the IPCC said in its latest report issued August 8.
The IPCC, the world body for assessing the state of scientific knowledge related to climate change, its impacts, future risks, and possible response options, saw its “Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land” approved by the world’s governments on August 7 in Geneva.
It will be a key scientific input into upcoming 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.
“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.
The report reveals that since the pre-industrial period the temperature over land has already increased 1.53°C compared with the global average of a 0.87°C increase, taking into account air above both oceans and lands. The temperature rise is impacting food security and driving desertification and land degradation.
Ahead of the report’s release, Greenpeace Switzerland activists unveiled a banner outside the UN meeting saying, “Less Meat = Less Heat. Climate Action NOW!”
“Defending and restoring our forests and changing our food system by eating less meat will help turn the climate and biodiversity crisis into new hope for nature and people. Our land and biodiversity is under enormous pressure, as seen by the devastating fires in Siberia. We need to make some hard choices because we cannot use up our land twice and we’re already over-using it,” said Dr. Christoph Thies, forests and climate campaigner at Greenpeace Germany.
“To protect our climate and feed the world demands action now,” said Thies. “Governments are now compelled to update and enhance their climate action targets in light of the IPCC’s report.”
Governments challenged the IPCC to take the first comprehensive look at the whole land-climate system. The UN body for assessing the science related to climate change did this through many contributions from experts and governments worldwide.
More than 100 scientists from 52 countries assessed the latest scientific knowledge about climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. This is the first time in IPCC report history that a majority of authors – 53 percent – are from developing countries.
Their 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, preferably below 1.5ºC, compared to pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate.
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 that land can make 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.
The report, 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 percent 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,” Pörtner said. “Also for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity.”
When land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. This worsens climate change, while climate change in turn worsens 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,” Tanabe said.
Roughly 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification. These areas 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.
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 on land and within 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.
Policies that are outside the land and energy domains, such as on transport and environment, can also make a critical difference in 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,” said Zhai, “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.”