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As scorching temperatures continue to break records across Europe, unprecedented wildfires break out in the Arctic, and polar sea ice cover drops—again—to an all-time low, never before has the climate crisis been so palpable, for so many people.
The increasing intensity and frequency of climate extremes impacts life on earth in many ways.
Ocean and terrestrial ecosystems, which we all depend on, are equally affected, as is our planet’s capacity to sustain our growing needs.
A special report issued on 8 August 2019 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change unveils how climate change, land management and global food security interact with each other, creating complex feedback loops.
By contributing to desertification and land degradation, the climate crisis is seriously threatening land ecosystems, biodiversity and global food security. Unsurprisingly, people living in degraded or dry areas, often already suffering from a lack of resources and water, will be most affected.
But just as climate extremes exacerbate land degradation processes across the globe, “Sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies,” note the report authors. Several solutions can be used to provide some respite in the short, medium and long term.
Using nature’s healing power
Agriculture, forestry and other land use account for 24 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Panel’s 2014 Fifth Assessment Report.
Agroforestry, reforestation and afforestation programmes, particularly in tropical regions, can go a long way towards reducing land degradation and act as carbon sinks, thereby both mitigating and helping ecosystems cope with a changing climate.
These nature-based solutions, which feature a holistic approach to land use by leveraging the existing resources nature has in stock, enable us to make use of the planet’s intrinsic restorative capacity.
Protecting vulnerable carbon sinks
Similarly, a warmer climate is associated with higher greenhouse gas emissions through permafrost thawing and deforestation, among others, so protecting and preserving peatlands and other vulnerable carbon sinks is crucial to slowing the release of greenhouse gases from these natural sources. The more we wait, the more severe the risks, points out the report.
Current levels of global warming are amplified by increased water scarcity, soil erosion, vegetation loss, wildfire damage, permafrost thawing, coastal degradation and crop yield declines, says the report.
Harnessing the power of collective action
As governments take note and communities, international organizations and agribusiness act to implement society-wide changes to rapidly shift to sustainable food production and land use, we, as individuals also need to do our part.
“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,” note the report authors.
With a staggering 25 to 30 per cent of food produced being lost or wasted, better post-harvest practices, storage, transportation and consumer education are needed to address food waste.
There are other ways individuals can do their share: through everyday choices, we can contribute to reduce our use of water, switch to a more sustainable diet based on plants and reduce our consumption of non-reusable, toxic products, such as single-use plastics that are choking and polluting the planet’s ecosystems.
While some adjustment and sacrifice might be needed, “Many response options can be applied without competing for land and have the potential to provide multiple co-benefits,” adds the report.
“Developing and enabling access to cleaner energy sources is one such solution,” says UN Environment ecosystems expert Musonda Mumba.
“By reducing the need to burn wood and charcoal for energy, clean energy technologies help reduce carbon emissions and slow down deforestation practices, while providing socioeconomic and health benefits, particularly for women and children.”
There will be no silver bullet to solve this man-made crisis, but there is hope in that, by acting fast and at all levels of society, we will be able to scale back at least part of the unfolding disaster. Only we cannot afford to wait for the next report to remind us that the time to act is now.
The UN Climate Action Summit will take place in New York City on 23 September 2019, to increase ambition and accelerate action on the global climate emergency and support the rapid implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The 2019 UN Climate Action Summit is hosted by UN Secretary General António Guterres.