CALL TO ACTION

New climate report underscores need for responsible land use

Unsustainable land use reduces land productivity and invariably undermines food and nutritional security

In Summary

• In regions where climate change is causing decline in annual rainfall, the population of mosquitoes will decrease and malaria transmission rates will fall.

• Climate change also comes with a stiff economic penalty.

Across the globe, we are dealing with extreme weather events: drought, cold, heatwaves, floods, sea-level rise, hurricanes and typhoons.
Across the globe, we are dealing with extreme weather events: drought, cold, heatwaves, floods, sea-level rise, hurricanes and typhoons.
Image: REUTERS

Some like US President Donald Trump may choose to deny it, but climate change is real. Across the globe, we are dealing with extreme weather events: drought, cold, heatwaves, floods, sea-level rise, hurricanes and typhoons.

Other impacts of climate change include changes in disease ranges. For instance, the range of vector-borne diseases like malaria is expanding to a higher altitude in Eastern Africa. In regions where climate change is causing decline in annual rainfall, the population of mosquitoes will decrease and malaria transmission rates will fall.

Climate change also comes with a stiff economic penalty. A study published in the journal Nature in 2018 by Marshal Burke et al, found that the accumulated benefits of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will exceed $20 trillion, with the poorer countries benefiting the most. Moreover, the study shows that there will be considerable reductions in global economic output if global temperatures rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius.

 

According to the US National Climate Assessment report, the costs of climate change range from damaged and abandoned coastal properties, to wages lost in extremely hot summers, to premature deaths due to air pollution and exposure to disease like West Nile virus.

Earth’s climate is influenced by many interacting systems. These include industrial and energy systems, water and food production systems.

A Special Report on Climate Change and Land released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes how land-based operations, especially food production, is contributing to global warming.

Land use change, especially through deforestation, conversion of grassland and wetlands into farmland, have supported unprecedented expansion of land for crop and livestock production. Human land use at varying intensities currently affects about 60-80 per cent of forest and an estimated 70-90 per cent of natural systems, such as grasslands and wetlands. It is estimated that land under crops has increased by over 240 per cent globally. Similarly, land for fibre production, especially cotton, has increased by about 162 per cent.

Based on recent estimates, agriculture, forestry and other land use activities account for around 13 per cent of carbon dioxide, 44 per cent of methane, 82 per cent of nitrous oxide, representing 23 per cent of total net anthropogenic global greenhouse gas emissions, which is higher than 14 per cent that comes from transportation activities. The energy sector accounts for 35 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Land degradation depletes vital soil nutrients. Conversion of forests and wetlands alters landscape hydrology. Moreover, land degradation and deforestation release tons of greenhouse gases and also leads to lower land productivity and low agricultural yields.

Africa can no longer demand emission reductions from the advanced industrialised economies of Europe, North America and China. Agriculture, forestry and other land use contribute significantly to dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, unsustainable land use reduces land productivity and invariably undermines food and nutritional security.

 

We owe it to posterity to maintain a livable planet by addressing the long-term effects of land use and land use change on climate.