New IPCC report on climate change and land adopted by governments
A new report prepared by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that extreme weather and climate events may lead to increased displacement of peoples, disrupted food chains, threatened livelihoods and exacerbated stresses for conflict.
MEMBER governments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) adopted the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems (also called the Land Report) and the underlying assessment report on 7 August in Geneva at the 50th Session of the IPCC.
The IPCC meeting, which was initially scheduled to end on 6 August after it began on 2 August, spilled over to the next day, after five days of intense negotiations over the key messages from the report. The SPM was negotiated line-by-line among governments and authors of the report.
The SPM comprises four sections: (i) ‘People, land and climate in a warming world’; (ii) ‘Adaptation and mitigation response options’; (iii) ‘Enabling response options’; and (iv) ‘Action in the near-term’.
Under the section on ‘People, land and climate in a warming world’, the SPM highlights that since the ‘pre-industrial period, the land surface air temperature has risen nearly twice as much as the global average temperature’. ‘Climate change, including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes, has adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions,’ the SPM states.
The SPM also states that in 2015, about 500 million people lived within areas which experienced desertification between the 1980s and 2000s and that the highest numbers of people affected were in South and East Asia, the Sahara region including North Africa, and the Middle East including the Arabian Peninsula.
The SPM adds that ‘warming has resulted in an increased frequency, intensity and duration of heat-related events, including heat waves in most land regions’, and that ‘frequency and intensity of droughts has increased in some regions (including the Mediterranean, West Asia, many parts of South America, much of Africa, and north-eastern Asia) and there has been an increase in the intensity of heavy precipitation events at a global scale’.
The report also states that climate change has affected food security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns and greater frequency of some extreme events, and that the stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increase.
The report states that climate change can ‘amplify environmentally induced migration both within countries and across borders, reflecting multiple drivers of mobility and available adaptation measures’. The report warns that ‘extreme weather and climate or slow-onset events may lead to increased displacement, disrupted food chains, threatened livelihoods, and contribute to exacerbated stresses for conflict’.
Under the section on ‘Adaptation and mitigation response options’, the SPM states that ‘many land-related responses that contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation can also combat desertification and land degradation and enhance food security. The potential for land-related responses and the relative emphasis on adaptation and mitigation is context specific, including the adaptive capacities of communities and regions. While land-related response options can make important contributions to adaptation and mitigation, there are some barriers to adaptation and limits to their contribution to global mitigation’.
The SPM states that while some response options have immediate impact, others take decades to deliver measurable results. ‘Examples of response options with immediate impacts include the conservation of high-carbon ecosystems such as peatlands, wetlands, rangelands, mangroves and forests. Examples that provide multiple ecosystem services and functions, but take more time to deliver, include afforestation and reforestation as well as the restoration of high-carbon ecosystems, agroforestry, and the reclamation of degraded soils,’ the SPM says.
It adds that ecosystem-based adaptation can promote nature conservation while alleviating poverty and provide co-benefits by removing greenhouse gases and protecting livelihoods, while there are limits to the deployment of land-based mitigation measures such as bioenergy crops or afforestation. ‘Widespread use at the scale of several millions of km2 globally could increase risks for desertification, land degradation, food security and sustainable development,’ the report states.
In relation to solutions that help adapt to and mitigate climate change, the report states that while solutions contributing to combating desertification are site- and regionally specific, these ‘include inter alia: water harvesting and micro-irrigation, restoring degraded lands using drought-resilient ecologically appropriate plants; agroforestry and other agroecological and ecosystem-based adaptation practices’.
The report also states that the ‘reduction of food loss and waste can lower GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and contribute to adaptation through reduction in the land area needed for food production. During 2010-2016, global food loss and waste contributed 8-10% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions. Currently, 25-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted’.
In the section on ‘Enabling response options’, the SPM states that ‘policies that operate across the food system, including those that reduce food loss and waste and influence dietary choices, enable more sustainable land-use management, enhanced food security and low emissions trajectories. Such policies can contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, reduce land degradation, desertification and poverty as well as improve public health. The adoption of sustainable land management and poverty eradication can be enabled by improving access to markets, securing land tenure, factoring environmental costs into food, making payments for ecosystem services, and enhancing local and community collective action.’
It is also stated that ‘insecure land tenure affects the ability of people, communities … to make changes to land that can advance adaptation and mitigation’ and could result in increased vulnerability and decreased adaptive capacity. The SPM also refers to indigenous and local knowledge and says that agricultural practices that include such knowledge can ‘contribute to overcoming the combined challenges of climate change, food security, biodiversity conservation, and combating desertification and land degradation’.
Also, the SPM says that policies such as financial transfers, health and education spending, and subsidised credit could help address land rights and barriers to women’s participation in sustainable land management.
Under the section on ‘Action in the near-term’, the SPM states that ‘rapid reductions in anthropogenic GHG emissions across all sectors following ambitious mitigation pathways reduce negative impacts of climate change on land ecosystems and food systems. Delaying climate mitigation and adaptation responses across sectors would lead to increasingly negative impacts on land and reduce the prospect of sustainable development.’
‘Acting now may avert or reduce risks and losses, and generate benefits to society. Prompt action on climate mitigation and adaptation aligned with sustainable land management and sustainable development depending on the region could reduce the risk to millions of people from climate extremes, desertification, land degradation and food and livelihood insecurity,’ the report states.
The other highlights, called headline statements, of the SPM include the following:
‘Land provides the principal basis for human livelihoods and well-being including the supply of food, freshwater and multiple other ecosystem services, as well as biodiversity. Human use directly affects more than 70% (likely 69-76%) of the global, ice-free land surface. Land also plays an important role in the climate system.’
‘Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) activities accounted for around 13% of CO2, 44% of methane (CH4), and 82% of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from human activities globally during 2007-2016, representing 23% of total net anthropogenic emissions of GHGs. The natural response of land to human-induced environmental change caused a net sink of around 11.2 GtCO2 yr-1 during 2007-2016 (equivalent to 29% of total CO2 emissions); the persistence of the sink is uncertain due to climate change. If emissions associated with pre- and post-production activities in the global food system are included, the emissions are estimated to be 21-37% of total net anthropogenic GHG emissions.’
‘Changes in land conditions, either from land-use or climate change, affect global and regional climate. At the regional scale, changing land conditions can reduce or accentuate warming and affect the intensity, frequency and duration of extreme events. The magnitude and direction of these changes vary with location and season.’
‘Climate change creates additional stresses on land, exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems. Increasing impacts on land are projected under all future GHG emission scenarios. Some regions will face higher risks, while some regions will face risks previously not anticipated. Cascading risks with impacts on multiple systems and sectors also vary across regions.’
‘The level of risk posed by climate change depends both on the level of warming and on how population, consumption, production, technological development, and land management patterns evolve. Pathways with higher demand for food, feed, and water, more resource-intensive consumption and production, and more limited technological improvements in agriculture yields result in higher risks from water scarcity in drylands, land degradation, and food insecurity.’
‘Most of the response options assessed contribute positively to sustainable development and other societal goals. Many response options can be applied without competing for land and have the potential to provide multiple co-benefits. A further set of response options has the potential to reduce demand for land, thereby enhancing the potential for other response options to deliver across each of climate change adaptation and mitigation, combating desertification and land degradation, and enhancing food security.’
‘Although most response options can be applied without competing for available land, some can increase demand for land conversion. At the deployment scale of several GtCO2yr-1, this increased demand for land conversion could lead to adverse side-effects for adaptation, desertification, land degradation and food security. If applied on a limited share of total land and integrated into sustainably managed landscapes, there will be fewer adverse side-effects and some positive co-benefits can be realised.’
‘Many activities for combating desertification can contribute to climate change adaptation with mitigation co-benefits, as well as to halting biodiversity loss with sustainable development co-benefits to society. Avoiding, reducing and reversing desertification would enhance soil fertility, increase carbon storage in soils and biomass, while benefitting agricultural productivity and food security. Preventing desertification is preferable to attempting to restore degraded land due to the potential for residual risks and maladaptive outcomes.’
‘Sustainable land management, including sustainable forest management, can prevent and reduce land degradation, maintain land productivity, and sometimes reverse the adverse impacts of climate change on land degradation. It can also contribute to mitigation and adaptation. Reducing and reversing land degradation, at scales from individual farms to entire watersheds, can provide cost effective, immediate, and long-term benefits to communities and support several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with co-benefits for adaptation and mitigation. Even with implementation of sustainable land management, limits to adaptation can be exceeded in some situations.’
‘Response options throughout the food system, from production to consumption, including food loss and waste, can be deployed and scaled up to advance adaptation and mitigation. The total technical mitigation potential from crop and livestock activities, and agroforestry is estimated as 2.3-9.6 GtCO2e.yr-1 by 2050. The total technical mitigation potential of dietary changes is estimated as 0.7-8 GtCO2e.yr-1 by 2050.’
‘Future land use depends, in part, on the desired climate outcome and the portfolio of response options deployed. All assessed modelled pathways that limit warming to 1.5ºC or well below 2°C require land-based mitigation and land-use change, with most including different combinations of reforestation, afforestation, reduced deforestation, and bioenergy. A small number of modelled pathways achieve 1.5ºC with reduced land conversion and, thus, reduced consequences for desertification, land degradation, and food security.’
‘Appropriate design of policies, institutions and governance systems at all scales can contribute to land-related adaptation and mitigation while facilitating the pursuit of climate-adaptive development pathways. 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.’
‘Acknowledging co-benefits and trade-offs when designing land and food policies can overcome barriers to implementation. Strengthened multilevel, hybrid and cross-sectoral governance, as well as policies developed and adopted in an iterative, coherent, adaptive and flexible manner can maximise co-benefits and minimise trade-offs, given that land management decisions are made from farm level to national scales, and both climate and land policies often range across multiple sectors, departments and agencies.’
‘The effectiveness of decision-making and governance is enhanced by the involvement of local stakeholders (particularly those most vulnerable to climate change including indigenous peoples and local communities, women, and the poor and marginalised) in the selection, evaluation, implementation and monitoring of policy instruments for land-based climate change adaptation and mitigation. Integration across sectors and scales increases the chance of maximising co-benefits and minimising trade-offs.’
‘Actions can be taken in the near-term, based on existing knowledge, to address desertification, land degradation and food security while supporting longer-term responses that enable adaptation and mitigation to climate change. These include actions to build individual and institutional capacity, accelerate knowledge transfer, enhance technology transfer and deployment, enable financial mechanisms, implement early warning systems, undertake risk management and address gaps in implementation and upscaling.’
‘Near-term action to address climate change adaptation and mitigation, desertification, land degradation and food security can bring social, ecological, economic and development co-benefits. Co-benefits can contribute to poverty eradication and more resilient livelihoods for those who are vulnerable.’
In the line-by-line negotiations of the SPM, intense exchanges among governments took place and several difficult issues had to be resolved through contact groups and ‘huddles’, which took long hours to reach consensus.
Some of the contentious issues included defining a global food system, importance of adaptation in agriculture for developing countries, importance of poverty eradication and ensuring food security in mitigation measures, the lack of land-urban interaction in the report, and representation of population growth and per capita consumption.
Among the governments which often intervened were India, Bolivia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, France, Germany, the European Union and Norway. (See following article.)
Following the adoption of the report, the United States made a statement at the closing plenary of the session, saying that its acceptance of the report did not imply that the US ‘endorses’ the findings or the contents of the report since there had been no line-by-line negotiations of the report. In relation to the SPM, the US said that since the underlying content was not subject to agreement, the approval of the SPM should not be understood as ‘endorsement’ of the report’s key findings.
The Land Report is one of three special reports that the IPCC has prepared during its current sixth assessment cycle. The special report on 1.5°C global warming was released in October 2018, and the special report on the ocean and cryosphere in September 2019 (see the article ‘IPCC report warns of ocean warming and dire impacts’ in this issue).
Indrajit Bose is a senior researcher with the Third World Network.
*Third World Resurgence No. 341/342, 2019, pp 30-33