Knowledge for better food systems

IPCC special report on climate change and land

In August 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a special report on climate change and land, covering a variety of interlinked topics including desertification, land degradation, food security, water scarcity, negative emissions, and policy options for both adaptation and mitigation.

The report finds that human activities affect over two-thirds of the global ice-free land surface. The global food system is estimated to produce 21-37% of human greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change has already affected food systems and land-based ecosystems and is worsening desertification and land degradation in some areas.

Some land-based options for responding to climate change can contribute to both adaptation and mitigation, including improved forest management, soil organic carbon management, restoration and conservation of ecosystems, and reducing food loss and waste. 

Options such as increasing agricultural productivity, changing diets and reducing food waste could potentially lead to lower conversion of land to farmland, freeing up land to be used for other climate mitigation options. Other options such as afforestation and bioenergy could use large areas of land.

The report estimates that changes in crop and livestock production and agroforestry could together mitigate 2.3-9.6 GtCO2 eq. yr-1 by 2050, while dietary changes (including plant-based foods such as legumes and nuts as well as animal-sourced food from low-emissions systems) could mitigate 0.7-8 GtCO2 eq. yr-1 by 2050.

The report finds that rapid emissions reductions across all sectors can lead to lower impacts of climate change on ecosystems and food production. Delaying emissions cuts, however, would lead to worse impacts, with “irreversible impacts on some ecosystems” in some high-emissions scenarios.

Below is a selection of media coverage and reactions:

Read the full report, IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse gas fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems, here. Download the summary for policymakers here (PDF link). See also the Foodsource building block What is land use and land use change?

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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