Climate crisis requires shift from damaging land use, major report warns

Posted on 08 August 2019

EU must slash emissions, tackle deforestation, overhaul farming policy.
The EU must tackle deforestation and overhaul farming policy, while slashing emissions

GENEVA, Switzerland (8 August 2019) 

The way we currently use land is both a major contributor to climate change and placing unsustainable demands on the land systems on which humans and nature depend, according to an authoritative new report presented in Geneva today.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, explores the relationship between climate, people and land in a warming world. It warns that climate change is placing additional stress on land, increasing degradation, biodiversity loss and food insecurity.

Dr Stephen Cornelius, chief advisor on climate change and IPCC lead for WWF, said: 
“This report sends a clear message that the way we currently use land is contributing to climate change, while also undermining its ability to support people and nature. We need to see an urgent transformation in our land use. Priorities include protecting and restoring natural ecosystems and moving to sustainable food production and consumption.  

“Good land choices are fundamental to tackling the climate crisis. A shift to sustainable land management must be accompanied by the necessary rapid and deep cuts to fossil fuel emissions if we are to meet the 1.5°C  goal of the Paris Agreement. Action on one alone is not enough.”

Ester Asin, WWF European Policy Office’s Director, said:
“Averting climate catastrophe means slashing the carbon we emit, and helping our planet to absorb the rest. Right now, the EU is failing at both.  It must heed the stark warning of the IPCC and kick-start unprecedented action. It must urgently increase its climate targets, end all support to fossil fuels, and enforce ambitious climate action across all land use sectors, from halting deforestation to overhauling farming policy. Doing so would be a win-win, helping restore both our climate and Europe’s biodiversity.” 

To play its part in tackling climate change and keeping global heating to 1.5°C, the EU must emit zero net greenhouse gases by 2040. The EU must take action in several areas, notably:
  • Agreeing an EU net zero emissions target for 2040, and increasing the 2030 climate target to 65% emissions reductions, as soon as possible.
  • Phasing out coal and fossil fuels in a socially fair manner, including by ending subsidies for them and ensuring a strong decarbonisation strategy for industry, whilst providing support to people in regions in need to make the transition.
  • Turning the recent EU plan on deforestation into powerful legislation which ensures that no product linked to deforestation or ecosystem destruction may enter the EU market.  
  • Reforming the Common Agricultural Policy to encourage farmers to move towards climate- and nature-friendly farming, such as protecting and boosting the carbon content of farmed soils or cutting the EU’s production and consumption of animal products.
More information:  Humans use approximately 72% of the global ice-free land surface, with land use contributing around 23% of total human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through deforestation, habitat conversion for agriculture, and livestock emissions. The removal of forests, conversion of peatlands and other natural ecosystems releases carbon, while at the same time contributing to unprecedented biodiversity loss and land degradation. The food sector alone is responsible  for 75% of deforestation worldwide, with the greatest pressure on forests taking place in the tropics. It is also a major driver of savannah and grassland conversion.

Climate change is already affecting the four pillars of food security - availability, access, utilisation and stability - through increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and greater frequency of some extreme events. 

The report highlights the synergies and trade-offs inherent in our land choices. WWF considers an integrated suite of sustainable land management tools necessary to secure a climate safe future, while supporting food security and nature. Nature-based climate solutions should play a key role. For instance, mangroves help increase climate resilience, while providing a range of ecosystem services to local communities and supporting fish nurseries.

The science presented in the report further underlines that climate, people and nature are fundamentally linked. Efforts to mitigate climate change and halt nature loss must go hand in hand, and be fully integrated with climate adaptation and food security considerations.

Land-based mitigation options make up to a quarter of total mitigation proposed by countries in their country climate plans, submitted to the UN under the Paris Agreement. 

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 ecosystems was considered at the IPCC’s 50th Session, Geneva, Switzerland. 2-6 August.

Scott Edwards  |  WWF International | |  +44 7887 954116
Mandy Jean Woods  |  WWF International | 
Sarah Azau |  WWF European Policy Office | | +32473573137
Deforestation from monoculture farming
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