IPCC land report: Contentious issues raised and resolved
Several contentious issues arose prior to the adoption of the IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land. The SPM was adopted in Geneva on 7 August after a hectic week of negotiations on a line-by-line basis, between authors of the report and governments.
SPEAKING to the Third World Network, a developing-country negotiator said that the agriculture sector in developing countries had been under real attack in the SPM in terms of being negatively cast as a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with grave implications for food security and the poor in developing countries. The negotiator told TWN that the SPM in this regard was considerably amended in the approved version and the importance of agriculture from the lens of adaptation was stressed.
The contentious issues which arose included texts on ‘population and consumption’ without any reflection of differentiation between regions; the approach to the ‘global food system’; the lack of exploration of the link between ‘urbanisation and land’ in the report; focusing on mitigation over adaptation, thereby undermining food security; exceeding the limits of adaptation and its link to ‘migration and conflicts’; ‘livestock-related emissions’; and what ‘near-term efforts’ entail.
The discussions on these issues are summarised below, where the language of the final approved SPM is compared with the earlier version (of 30 July) which was presented and negotiated among the government delegates and the IPCC authors.
Population and consumption
The following paragraph in relation to population and consumption became contentious. Paragraph A1.3 read as follows: ‘Rapid population growth and changes in per capita consumption have caused unprecedented rates of global land and freshwater use. Irrigation now accounts for (about) 70% of global freshwater use. Biodiversity has declined largely because of deforestation, cropland expansion and unsustainable land-use intensification. Since 1961, the consumption of food calories per capita globally has increased by about one third, and the per capita consumption of meat and vegetable oils has more than doubled, but over 820 million people are still undernourished. Dietary changes have led to about 2 billion adults becoming overweight or obese. At the same time, around 25-30% of total food produced is wasted.’
Some developing countries led by India objected to the lack of differentiation between developed and developing countries in food consumption, dietary changes, nature of food production, irrigation and population growth. India expressed disappointment that the paragraph did not reflect differentiation. On food waste, India questioned the 25-30% figure and added that there existed different reasons for such waste, ranging from lack of technology to overproduction and throwaway culture.
In response to India, the author said that any government would have to consider ‘the global picture’ as well.
India also wanted clarity around the year 1961 in the sentence, asking for the sentence to be framed in a historical context and suggesting the addition of ‘since the pre-industrial period’. There were several objections by the developed countries to India’s suggestions; however, a compromise was found in the form of a footnote after lengthy discussions in a contact group. The footnote clarified that data was available since 1961 and it did not imply that the changes started only in 1961. The footnote also clarified that land use changes have been taking place from well before the pre-industrial period.
Further, Zimbabwe sought clarity on what kind of per capita consumption was being talked about; Cuba suggested including economic or GDP growth as well as population; while Bolivia supported India and Cuba and said there was no focus on unsustainable production.
The United States wanted consumption defined and said that obesity was a multi-causal system and the sentence was misleading for attributing obesity to a single cause. Norway said the description of consumption and calories could be linked to climate change.
After further discussions, the paragraph was split into two and the following formulations were agreed:
‘A1.3. Data available since 1961* show that global population growth and changes in per capita consumption of food, feed, fibre, timber and energy have caused unprecedented rates of land and freshwater use with agriculture currently accounting for [about] 70% of global freshwater use. Expansion of areas under agriculture and forestry, including commercial production, and enhanced agriculture and forestry productivity have supported consumption and food availability for a growing population. With large regional variation, these changes have contributed to increasing net GHG emissions, loss of natural ecosystems (e.g. forests, savannahs, natural grasslands and wetlands) and declining biodiversity.’ (* The appended footnote reads: ‘This statement is based on the most comprehensive data from national statistics available within FAOSTAT, which starts in 1961. This does not imply that the changes started in 1961. Land use changes have been taking place from well before the pre-industrial period to the present.’)
‘A1.4. Data available since 1961 shows the per capita supply of vegetable oils and meat has more than doubled and the supply of food calories per capita has increased by about one third. Currently, 25-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted. These factors are associated with additional GHG emissions. Changes in consumption patterns have contributed to about 2 billion adults now being overweight or obese. An estimated 821 million people are still undernourished.’
Land surface temperature increase
The following paragraph in relation to the difference between the rise of average land surface temperature and the global land-ocean average surface temperature increase saw a lengthy exchange among the governments and the authors.
Paragraph A2.1 read as follows: ‘Average land surface air temperature has increased by 1.52°C (very likely range from 1.39°C to 1.66°C) from 1850-1900 to 1999-2018. Over the same period global land-ocean mean surface temperature has increased by 0.86°C.’
Several governments including Luxembourg, Germany and Spain called for consistency with the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C global warming (released in 2018), while others such as the US called for the use of numbers to be avoided, since the text gave the impression that the world had already crossed 1.5°C. In response, the authors said that it was a very important finding and that many did not understand that land is warming faster than the global average. The authors also ‘failed to understand’ why some of the governments did not want to tell the ‘truth’. In the discussions that continued, India proposed the addition of references to ‘pre-industrial times’.
After further discussions, the following formulation was agreed to: ‘Since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900) the observed mean land surface air temperature has risen considerably more than the global mean surface (land and ocean) temperature (GMST). From 1850-1900 to 2006-2015 mean land surface air temperature has increased by 1.53°C (very likely range from 1.38°C to 1.68°C) while GMST increased by 0.87°C (likely range from 0.75°C to 0.99°C).’
Emissions from the global food system
A paragraph in relation to emissions from the global food system was discussed at length. Paragraph A3.6 read: ‘The global food system accounts for the majority of AFOLU (agriculture, forestry, and other land use) emissions but also energy emissions from storage, transport, packaging, processing, retail, and preparation of food (including food waste), totalling 22-35% of all anthropogenic emissions. Without intervention, emissions from the food system are projected to increase by about 30-40% by 2050, due to increasing demand based on population and income growth and dietary change.’
India said it was not comfortable with expressing emissions from the food system as a certain percentage of total anthropogenic emissions, and cited doubts regarding the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s life-cycle analysis used to determine such numbers.
(Similar discussions had taken place on a table titled ‘Net anthropogenic emissions due to AFOLU and non-AFOLU and global food systems’, where India had opposed the presentation of the emissions from the food system as a percentage of total anthropogenic emissions, citing doubts on the FAO data source. The reference was removed in the table and India wanted the related paragraph to also reflect the same.)
Saudi Arabia and Algeria wanted clarification on the 22-35% reference and stressed that when one spoke about industrial usage, it was different in industrialised countries and developing countries. Saudi Arabia also referred to the lack of mention of market-distorting subsidies provided by developed countries to their farmers.
The United Kingdom and Switzerland called for inclusion of all emissions from the entire global food system.
In relation to the second sentence, India stressed that food security was important for developing countries, and that the sentence was framed in a manner that appeared to make the vulnerable population responsible for future emissions, which was not acceptable. Brazil too said it was important to see the context of food security rather than talk of increasing emissions. Switzerland expressed sympathy for what India said and added that a more refined statement which included the production and consumption approach should be included.
Following the discussions, further formulations emerged which referred to total emissions from the AFOLU sector as a percentage of total net anthropogenic emissions rather than singling out the food system. The revisions also took into account large regional differences in the contributions to emissions from different components of the food system.
The following text was finally approved: ‘Total net GHG emissions from AFOLU emissions represent 12.0 +/- 3.0 GtCO2eq yr-1 during 2007-2016. This represents 23% of total net anthropogenic emissions. Other approaches, such as global food system, include agricultural emissions and land use change (i.e., deforestation and peatland degradation), as well as outside farm gate emissions from energy, transport and industry sectors for food production. Emissions within farm gate and from agricultural land expansion contributing to the global food system represent 16-27% of total anthropogenic emissions. Emissions outside the farm gate represent 5-10% of total anthropogenic emissions. Given the diversity of food systems, there are large regional differences in the contributions from different components of the food system. Emissions from agricultural production are projected to increase, driven by population and income growth and changes in consumption patterns.’
Urbanisation and future warming
A paragraph in relation to future warming and urbanisation trends became contentious. The proposed paragraph read: ‘Future warming and urbanisation trends will enhance warming in cities and their surroundings (heat island effect), especially during heat waves. Night-time temperatures are more affected than daytime temperatures. Increased urbanisation will also intensify extreme rainfall events locally or downwind of urban areas.’
India said that the impact of urbanisation and pressures on resources had been neglected and added that the report was missing this very significant dimension on urbanisation’s impact on land. It called for a more balanced statement on urbanisation and pressure on natural resources. In response, the authors informed governments that the land report did not look at every relationship between urbanisation and land and that it was only focused on one aspect, which was the heat island effect. India then called for a knowledge gap to be included to reflect the limited scope of urbanisation in the report.
The paragraph was thus revised and approved: ‘Both global warming and urbanisation can enhance warming in cities and their surroundings (heat island effect), especially during heat related events, including heat waves. Night-time temperatures are more affected by this effect than daytime temperatures. Increased urbanisation can also intensify extreme rainfall events over the city or downwind of urban areas.’
The issue came up again in a related paragraph that read: ‘Urban expansion is projected to lead to conversion of cropland leading to losses in food production. A projected 5% conversion of current global cropland due to urban expansion by 2050 would correspond to a 7% loss of food production, integrated response option for addressing adaptation, desertification and land degradation, and good security relevant for urban areas include management of urban expansion, green infrastructure and urban and peri-urban food production. Some of these options can have mitigation co-benefits, including carbon sequestration and reduced cooling and transport energy demand, as well as contribute to ecosystem services and promoting sustainable development.’
India expressed concern that since the impact of urbanisation on land had not been studied in the report, the paragraph could be misinterpreted because aspects of population, growth, incomes, consumption and food security also had close relationships with urbanisation. Following further discussions in a huddle, the revised text was approved with a footnote which says that the ‘land systems considered in this report do not include urban ecosystem dynamics in detail…’.
The approved paragraph with the footnote reads: ‘Urban expansion is projected to lead to conversion of cropland leading to losses in food production. This can result in additional risks to the food system. Strategies for reducing these impacts can include urban and peri-urban food production and management of urban expansion, as well as urban green infrastructure that can reduce climate risks in cities.’ (The accompanying footnote reads in full: ‘The land systems considered in this report do not include urban ecosystem dynamics in detail. Urban areas, urban expansion, and other urban processes and their relation to land-related processes are extensive, dynamic, and complex. Several issues addressed in this report such as population, growth, incomes, food production and consumption, food security, and diets have close relationships with these urban processes. Urban areas are also the setting of many processes related to land-use change dynamics, including loss of ecosystem functions and services, that can lead to increased disaster risk. Some specific urban issues are assessed in this report.’)
Land responses contributing differently to adaptation and mitigation
A headline statement (which is an overarching highlighted conclusion of the SPM) addressing responses contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation became contentious for treating adaptation and mitigation on par. The statement read: ‘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 is context specific. There are barriers to adaptation and limits to the contribution that land-related responses can make to climate change mitigation globally.’
India said that it would be appropriate to signal in a headline statement that the burden of adaptation is on a large part of the world’s population who are among the most vulnerable and that the potential for adaptation is separate from the potential for mitigation, which should be highlighted.
Following an exchange with the authors, the final approved statement reads: ‘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.’
Exceeding the limits of adaptation and migration and conflicts
A proposed sentence on exceeding the limits of adaptation read: ‘Exceeding the limits of adaptation will trigger escalating losses or result in undesirable changes, such as forced migration (low confidence), conflicts or poverty (medium confidence).’
The contention arose over the robustness of the findings as there was very little literature available establishing links to migration and conflicts. The authors explained that there was not much literature on the subject. They added that a few studies talked of migration but they were not certain about the trigger as a result of exceeding the limits of adaptation, and that in relation to conflict and poverty, a few more studies were available and in any case the authors had reflected whatever literature was available.
The US said that these were multi-causal situations, which should be made clear. The US and Luxembourg said that there was no consensus in the literature that exceeding limits to adaptation would trigger migration, conflict and poverty. The European Union said it had concerns about including low-confidence statements. India said that it was important to reflect on limits to adaptation. Trinidad and Tobago said that irrespective of the fact that it was a low-confidence statement, it should be included.
Following discussions, the approved sentence reads: ‘In some situations, exceeding the limits of adaptation can trigger escalating losses or result in undesirable transformational changes (medium confidence), such as forced migration (low confidence), conflicts (low confidence) or poverty (medium confidence).’
A sentence on reductions in the emissions intensity of livestock products and its link to GHG emission reductions read: ‘Reductions in the emissions intensity of livestock products that also lead to absolute reductions in GHG emissions are useful mitigation strategies.’
During the discussions, India said that it had ‘mounting discomfort’ with references to areas without any differentiation between developed and developing countries. It said that it was not talking of differentiation in the political sense nor in a policy-prescriptive sense, but in the ways in which the world existed. The US proposed adding ‘different farming and pastoral systems can achieve reductions in the emissions intensity of livestock products’.
With still no agreement, governments huddled on the sentence and the following was eventually approved: ‘Different farming and pastoral systems can achieve reductions in the emissions intensity of livestock products. Depending on the farming and pastoral systems and level of development, reductions in the emissions intensity of livestock products may lead to absolute reductions in GHG emissions.’
A paragraph on what near-term efforts comprise was discussed at length. The proposed paragraph read: ‘Near-term capacity-building efforts for resource management and governance can strengthen technology transfer for mitigation and adaptation in the land sector. Knowledge transfer between stakeholders and policymakers can help enhance the use of natural resources for food security under a changing climate. Education about sustainable land management practices, agricultural extension, and expansion of access to agricultural services to producers and land users can address land degradation.’
During the discussions, the EU asked why the focus was on strengthening technology transfer when the underlying chapter mentioned several things including deploying response measures.
India asked why a loaded term such as ‘governance’ figured in the text and added that many other things besides strengthening technology transfer were required. The word ‘governance’ was subsequently removed. India also said that adaptation was more important when one was dealing with poor farmers. Iran seconded India on the governance issue.
Bolivia said means of implementation (MOI) should be included in the sentence. In response, the EU said MOI was a standing technical term from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which meant money but in the context of the land report, they were not talking about money but about setting standards and deploying response measures. The US agreed with the EU.
Saudi Arabia said it would be important to add ‘finance support’ to the formulation. Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Angola, Brazil and China supported Saudi Arabia.
Following a huddle, a revised text was presented which included the team ‘enabling financial mechanisms’ and the paragraph was approved. The approved text read: ‘Near-term capacity-building, technology transfer and deployment, and enabling financial mechanisms can strengthen adaptation and mitigation in the land sector. Knowledge and technology transfer can help enhance the sustainable use of natural resources for food security under a changing climate. Raising awareness, capacity building and education about sustainable land management practices, agricultural extension and advisory services, and expansion of access to agricultural services to producers and land users can effectively address land degradation.’
Another sentence on whether prompt action could reduce vulnerability or risks of people was discussed at length. The sentence in question read: ‘Prompt action on climate mitigation and adaptation aligned with sustainable land management and sustainable development could deliver immediate benefits in most countries and reduce the vulnerability of millions of people to climate extremes, desertification, land degradation and food and livelihood insecurity.’
Several developing countries objected to the use of the term ‘vulnerability’, and countries agreed to replace ‘vulnerability’ with ‘risk’. Bolivia also wanted to include the word ‘support’ alongside ‘prompt action’, but this was objected to.
Further, India and Saudi Arabia stressed that adaptation was context- and region-specific, and that action required support in terms of finance, technology and capacity building. This too was not agreed. Instead, Norway proposed the inclusion of ‘short-lived climate forcers’ and their role in near-term global and regional climate mitigation. India opposed the inclusion, saying these gases were being dealt with elsewhere.
The approved sentence reads as follows: ‘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.’
Economic value of ecosystem services
A sentence on the total annual economic value of the world’s terrestrial ecosystem services was discussed at length. The sentence read: ‘The total economic value of the world’s terrestrial ecosystem services has been estimated to be approximately equivalent to the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011.’
Bolivia and India were opposed to the economic valuation in terms of GDP and said that various approaches existed to measure the value of ecosystem services. Bolivia said while it was not against the global GDP approach, the sentence gave the impression that this was the only approach. Tanzania also expressed concerns along the same lines. The sentence was changed to include ‘in one economic approach’, with the value in a footnote.
The approved sentence reads: ‘In one economic approach, the world’s terrestrial ecosystem services have been valued on an annual basis to be approximately equivalent to the annual global Gross Domestic Product.’ (The accompanying footnote reads: ‘i.e. estimated at $75 trillion for 2011, based on US dollars for 2007.’)
In other comments, developing countries called for replacing ecosystem services with ecosystem functions and services and poverty reduction with poverty eradication in the text, which were done in the relevant places.
Edited by Meena Raman
*Third World Resurgence No. 341/342, 2019, pp 34-38