IPCC release new Report - Climate Change and Land

By Chris O'Connor BHort GradDipSustAgric

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on 08 August 2019. Titled Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystem, the paper was prepared by over 100 eminent scientists from over 50 countries including Australia. The report is part of a broader series and follows on from the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC released in October 2018.

Covering a range of issues around the interactions of land, climate and society, the report highlights some worrying issues. It does however supply some ways in which society can overcome these issues; several of these could prove to be significant opportunities for the industry.

Land provides the basis for human well being and life through the provision of food, water and a range of other ecosystem services, without these we would not be able to survive. Our intensive use of land and global warming are however causing negative impacts to the land and climate. Globally increased warming has manifested itself in an increased frequency, intensity and duration of heat related events, as well as increased frequency and intensity of drought globally. Conversely there has also been an increase in intense rainfall events and dust storms.

The IPCC advises that urgent action is required to stop and reverse the overexploitation of land resources. This would buffer against a range of pressures, including climate change, on society and our eco system.

A key recommendation in the report notes that retaining existing forests, restoring degraded forest and afforestation are response options to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Forested areas act as carbon sinks which draw in and store CO2 and directly affect regional surface temperatures through the exchanges of water. Additional benefits can be realised as increased forest coverage can decrease land degradation and desertification and improve biodiversity. These land-based approaches however can compete with other land uses making their application challenging.

A further area of interest which was discussed was that Agriculture and the food system are intrinsically linked with climate and as such are key to global climate change responses. Our current agricultural practices contribute significant amounts to the anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases. During the 2007-2016 period agriculture, forestry and other land use accounted for 23% of all anthropogenic sources of GHG’s including 13% of CO2, 44% of methane an 82% of nitrous oxide (N2O), which represents a key area for improvement.

Without steps to mitigate climate change food security becomes a more significant area of concern; This can be seen through pressures on crops increase from climate extremes, pattern changes in pests, disease and pollinators develop, crop quality deterioration and increasing prices on both the supply and demand side of production. Apart from the impacts to humanity, poor food security will lead to an increase in population migration and armed conflict.

Combining supply-side actions such as efficient production, transport, and processing with demand-side interventions such as modification of food choices, and reduction of food loss and waste, will reduce Green House Gas emissions and enhance our food system resilience. On the supply side the report suggests the adoption of sustainable integrated agricultural systems such as Agroecology, and precision agriculture as options of managing on farm production.

On the demand side, a key recommendation of the report was that the consumption of healthy and sustainable diets presents major opportunities for reducing Green House Gas emissions from food systems with the co-benefit of improving health outcomes. Examples of healthy and sustainable diets are those high in coarse grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds; and low in energy-intensive animal-sourced and discretionary foods and with a carbohydrate threshold. For the nursery sector this presents opportunity in the increased supply of starter plant materials to the plant-based food production sectors along with opportunities for the development of improved varieties of plant materials.

The above barely begins to cover what is a detailed and coherent stocktake of our current knowledge of the situation and, possible responses. Given the magnitude of the impacts of climate change to our industry, country, and more importantly to humanity it is worthwhile following the discussion, building your knowledge and looking for opportunities to improve on where we are going wrong.

The full report can be downloaded at https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl-report-download-page/