Fri, Aug 09, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Report warns of climate tradeoffs

AFP, GENEVA, Switzerland

Humanity faces increasingly painful tradeoffs between food security and rising temperatures within decades unless it curbs emissions and stops unsustainable farming and deforestation, a landmark climate assessment said yesterday.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading authority on climate change, warned that efforts to limit global warming while feeding a booming population could be wrecked without swift and sweeping changes to how land is used.

Its 1,000-page report on land use and climate change highlighted the need to protect tropical forests as a bulkhead against warming.

However, it offered a sobering take on the hope that reforestation and biofuel schemes alone could offset environmental damage.

These megaprojects could endanger food security and reducing emissions would be central to averting disaster, it said.

“This is a perfect storm. Limited land, an expanding human population and all wrapped in a suffocating blanket of climate emergency,” said Dave Reay, a professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh.

Plants and soil suck up and store about one-third of all emissions.

Intensive exploitation of these resources also produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, while agriculture guzzles up 70 percent of the Earth’s freshwater supply.

As the global population balloons toward 10 billion by mid-century, land management would play a key role in limiting or accelerating the worst excesses of climate change, the report says.

The report warned that any delay in reductions — across industry, transport, agriculture and infrastructure — “would lead to increasingly negative impacts on land and reduce the prospect of sustainable development.”

It also presented a string of looming tradeoffs in using land for climate change mitigation.

Forests could be regenerated to cool the planet, but with industrial farming covering one-third of land, there is limited space.

Bioenergy in the form of vegetation used to sequester carbon also has potential, but room for that must be carved from crop land, pastures or forests.

The report said that a “limited” allocation of land for bioenergy schemes could benefit the climate, but warned that deployment at a scale needed to draw down billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year “could increase risks for desertification, land degradation, food security and sustainable development.”

Not only does agriculture and its supply lines account for as much as 37 percent of all emissions of human origin, industrialized production and global food chains contribute to vast food inequality, it adds.

The report considers a quintet of human development projections, from a low-consumption global society that feeds itself sustainably, to a resource-intense future where arable land is squeezed out by huge-scale bioenergy projects.

However, under all scenarios, one axiom held true: the higher the temperature, the higher the risk.

“New knowledge shows an increase in risks from dryland water scarcity, fire damage, permafrost degradation and food system instability, even for global warming of around 1.5°C,” IPCC cochair Valerie Masson-Delmotte said.

“There are solutions in the hands of farmers, but there are also solutions in the hands of each of us, when we buy food and don’t waste food,” Masson-Delmotte added.

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