A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published today stresses once again the serious climate impact caused by land management.
Data available since 1961 show that global population growth and changes in per capita consumption of food, feed, fibre, timber and energy have caused unprecedented rates of land and freshwater use, with agriculture currently accounting for ca. 70% of global fresh-water use. The report notes in particular, that vegetable oils and meat supplies has more than doubled and food calories per capita has increased by about one third. In this context, currently, 25-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted.
Soil erosion from agricultural fields is estimated to be currently 10 to 100 times higher than the soil formation rate.
Increases in global mean surface temperature, relative to pre-industrial levels, affect processes involved in desertification (water scarcity), land degradation (soil erosion, vegetation loss, wildfire, permafrost thaw) and food security (crop yield and food supply instabilities). Changes in these processes drive risks to food systems, livelihoods, infrastructure, the value of land, and human and ecosystem health. Increased atmospheric CO2 levels can also lower the nutritional quality of crops. The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases.
This dramatic situation, in which we are reaching a point of no return, is causing growing food crises and leading to increased migrations. In drylands, climate change and desertification are projected to cause reductions in crop and livestock productivity, modify the plant species mix and reduce biodiversity. The dryland population vulnerable to water stress, drought intensity and habitat degradation is projected to reach 178 million people by 2050 at 1.5°C warming, but up to 277 million people if temperature will be over 3°C.
With this new report the scientific community warns us once again, tirelessly, that the man-made climate crisis has a lot to do with the way we are feeding ourselves and how we farm the land on our planet. Every human being on the planet interacts with the food system every day, and many of us, especially those in the Global North, do have the ability to choose more sustainable foods and drastically reduce our intake of high-impact foods, in particular beef raised in industrial breeding systems, choosing quality meat coming from extensive, sustainable small-scale farms. But the reports leaves a hope.
A sustainable land and forest management can prevent and reduce land degradation, maintain land productivity, and sometimes reverse the adverse impacts of climate change on land degradation.
Reducing and reversing land degradation, at scales from individual farms to entire watersheds, can provide cost effective, immediate, and long-term benefits to communities. Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as those based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-GHG emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.