The recently (Aug 7) released Special Report on Climate Change and Land by the IPCC (https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl-report-download-page/) offers a comprehensive review of the nexus between global warming/climate change and land use change. As I have already suggested in the “About this blog,” land use changes are a critical aspect of global anthropogenic change; i.e. the Anthropocene. The new report stresses how a changing climate (increased air temperatures, evapotranspiration, altered precipitation regimes, etc.) impact soils and vegetation. The latter underlie ecosystem health, including agroecosystems, as well as intact “undisturbed” terrestrial ecosystems such as rainforests, peatland, and coastal forests. These are critical harbors of biodiversity, as well as essential elements in the provision of ecosystem services upon which human well-being depends, such as carbon sequestration and clean water.
Land use changes associated with agriculture, forestry, livestock, road construction, and urbanization degrade these critical services, thereby threatening our ability to sustainably provide food, fiber and other essential goods and services to a continually growing, telecoupled global population. Imprudent and ill-planned (or adhoc) conversion of various terrestrial ecosystems in pursuit of food, fiber and mineral resources has led to land degradation, desertification and biodiversity loss at both a scale and speed that are without precedent.
The report emphasizes the urgent need to rein in these unsustainable practices in order to both guarantee our ability to provide food for the world, as well as provide a crucial sink for growing carbon emissions. According to the report, reducing forest deforestation and degradation are critical elements in mitigating green house gas emissions. Furthermore, transitioning the global population to a much more plant-based diet from one that is significantly animal-sourced, will reduce risks from climate change as well as help reduce agricultural extensification.
Only a wide-ranging and comprehensive approach to managing both our energy and land resources will provide sustainable, equitable and healthy outcomes for the global population. Immediate steps need to be taken, because the longer business as usual behaviors continue, our ability to deploy a wide variety of remedies will be increasingly foreclosed. Reducing green house emissions and altering detrimental land use practices are thus interconnected, inseparable and our failure to change both may lead to both irremediable impacts to ecosystems and the goods and services upon which humanity relies.
Image: Photo by Tobias Quartey on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/v55hpwzuZmI