The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its Special Report on land last week in Geneva that has an important warning for Nepal’s food security and how the country’s agriculture should adapt to the climate emergency.
Nearly 80% of Nepal’s farms are rain-fed and were already vulnerable to droughts, but the climate crisis has made monsoons more erratic with more extremes in weather. But while the climate affects crops, farming methods and cropping patterns also emit greenhouse gases, the report says.
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Land and the vegetation on it absorbs carbon dioxide, but the soil and crops are also responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. This complex two-way process is the focus of the latest Special Report, which carries a stark warning that inter-linkages between climate, land degradation and food production need to be addressed together to achieve a sustainable future for land and humanity.
“For Least Developed Countries like Nepal which are exposed to food insecurity and subject to desertification and land degradation, there is no sustainable future without sustainable land use,” says Manjeet Dhakal, adviser to the Least Developed Countries (LDC) support group at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The report warns that under the current emissions trajectory that will bring the planet to 3°C of global warming by the end of the century, high to very high risks are to be expected with tropical crop yield decline and food shortages. Limiting warming to 1.5°C can effectively limit those risks.
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The report says it is important for land to remain productive for food security as the world’s population expands, and crops are affected by the impact of global climate change. But this also means that there are limits to how much alternative land use can help in reducing global heating through the changes in cultivation patterns and through afforestation to expand carbon sinks.
The report shows how managing land resources sustainably can help address climate change, said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II that issued the report. “Land already in use could feed the world in a changing climate and provide biomass for renewable energy, but early, far-reaching action across several areas is required also for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity,” he said.
But land is already under growing human pressure and climate change is adding to these pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming to well below 2ºC can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food, the IPCC Special Report said.
The solution is better land management but reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2ºC, if not 1.5oC.
The Special Report titled Climate Change and Land will be presented to the a conference on desertification in New Delhi in September and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago in December.
“Climate change has already directly affected pastoral systems in Africa, as well as food security in high-mountain regions of Asia like Nepal,” says Dhakal, “we are already seeing a vicious cycle of land degradation contributing to food insecurity.”
The report says that when land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. This exacerbates climate change, while climate change in turn exacerbates land degradation in many different ways.
“Ecosystem restoration as well as re- and afforestation can provide key avenues for land-based mitigation and adaptation if implemented sustainably,” Dhakal adds.
Roughly 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification. Dry lands and areas that experience desertification are also more vulnerable to climate change and extreme events including drought, heat waves, and dust storms, with an increasing global population providing further pressure.
The report sets out options to tackle land degradation, and prevent or adapt to further climate change. It also examines potential impacts from different levels of global warming.
“New knowledge shows an increase in risks from dry land water scarcity, fire damage, permafrost degradation and food system instability, even for global warming of around 1.5°C,” said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I. “Very high risks related to permafrost degradation and food system instability are identified at 2°C of global warming.”
Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilisation (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).
A large part of the problem is over-consumption, with one third of food produced is lost or wasted. Causes of food loss and waste differ substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing this loss and waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security.
“Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. “Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.”
The report finds that there are ways to manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities in land and the food system. This can be the result of dietary changes or ensuring a variety of crops to prevent further land degradation and increase resilience to extreme or varying weather.
Reducing inequalities, improving incomes, and ensuring equitable access to food so that some regions (where land cannot provide adequate food) are not disadvantaged, are other ways to adapt to the negative effects of climate change. There are also methods to manage and share risks, some of which are already available, such as early warning systems.
An overall focus on sustainability coupled with early action offers the best chances to tackle climate change. This would entail low population growth and reduced inequalities, improved nutrition and lower food waste.