on 08 Aug 2019 by Michael Banks
Michael Banks is news editor of Physics World magazine.
Climate change is putting an increased pressure on land resources and hampering its ability to sustain growing human populations. That is the conclusion of a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released today, which also says that keeping global warming below 2 ºC can only be achieved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food.
Taking over two years to put together, the special report on climate and land examines how humans use land and how it contributes to climate change. The report was prepared by 107 scientists from 52 countries who assessed over 7000 scientific publications. It is the first comprehensive look at the land-climate system and is only the second special report to involve all three of the IPCC’s “working groups”.
Climate change is undermining food security and will cause declined yield and increase pricesValérie Masson-Delmotte
The report reaches three overarching conclusions: land is under growing human pressure; land is part of the solution to tackle climate change; and that land alone cannot solve these problems. Physicist Valérie Masson-Delmotte from the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement in Paris, who is a co-chair of the IPCC’s working group I, notes that about 500 million people are negatively impacted by climate change by living in degraded land areas. “Land is a critical resource,” she says. “Climate change is undermining food security and will cause declined yield and increase prices.”READ MORE1.5 °C warming limit needs ‘unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’
Indeed, the IPPC’s report describes how dietary choices could help to mitigate climate change. “Diets high in meat are impacting climate change,” says Jim Skea from Imperial College London, who is a co-chair of the IPPC’s working group III. “Reducing food loss and waste needs to improve and balanced diets could reduce the impact of climate change.” Although Skea is keen to emphasize that the IPCC does not recommend what diets people should eat, he says the report highlights that “certain types of diets have a low carbon footprint”.
The IPCC approved a summary of the report for policymakers at a meeting this week in Geneva, Switzerland. “Early action is the most cost effective — climate change creates additional stresses on land,” notes climate scientist Hans-Otto Pörtner from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Bremerhaven, Germany, who is co-chair of the IPCC’s working group II. “Near-term actions will help reduce the loss of biodiversity and restore natural ecosystems and local knowledge can contribute to tackle the challenges of climate change.”
The IPCC will release a special report on the ocean and cryosphere on 25 September. The body’s sixth assessment report on climate change will follow in 2021/22.