By Will Bugler
Climate change is undermining human’s ability to provide enough food as pressures on soils mount. At the same time, poor land use practices are increasing global greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change and making adaptation and resilience efforts more difficult. This stark warning comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land, released yesterday.
The report, which is the most comprehensive study ever undertaken into the land-climate system, shows that better land management has the potential to save huge amounts of greenhouse-gas emissions. However, the growing demand for food will mean that most land must remain productive, and therefore it will not be possible to limit global warming to 2˚C, let alone 1.5˚C through land management alone.
The report found that climate change is contributing to land degradation through increased rates of erosion and desertification. “In a future with more intensive rainfall the risk of soil erosion on croplands increases,” said Kiyoto Tanabe, Co-Chair of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, “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.
The report provides some indications of the risks to land productivity from different levels of climate change. It finds that even at 1.5˚C of warming, there will be serious impacts on food and water security, making adaptation efforts essential. “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 fact that many scientists believe 2˚C of warming is likely to be a best-case scenario, clearly indicates that adaptation efforts should consider the implications of climate change at 3˚C and 4˚C of warming.
The report indicates that climate change poses a direct threat to global efforts to improve nutrition and end hunger. It shows how 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 finds that to successfully feed the world population in the future, it is likely that dietary habits will need to change, shifting towards plan-based diets, and away from consumption of meats, especially beef, lamb and other ruminants.
The report also shows that there are ways to manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities in land and the food system, with positive results for communities’ resilience to extreme events. 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.
Download a copy of the report here.