Countries should ensure sustainable land use - GulfToday

Countries should ensure sustainable land use

Land-Erosion

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has cautioned that humanity faces increasingly painful trade-offs between food security and rising temperatures within decades unless emissions are curbed and unsustainable farming and deforestation halted.

The warning deserves serious attention of the world community and corrective measures need be initiated in all earnestness.

More than 500 million people today live in areas affected by erosion linked to climate change, which makes it imperative that all countries commit to sustainable land use to help limit greenhouse gas emissions before it is too late.

As pointed out by Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of one of three Working Groups that contributed to the bumper 1,200-page UN report, humans affect more than 70 per cent of ice-free land and a quarter is already degraded.

This soil degradation has a direct impact on the amount of carbon the earth is able to contain.

Food wastage is another huge challenge. Amid recent reports that more than 820 million people are undernourished around the world, Co-chair of another Working Group, Jim Skea, highlighted the fact that up to 30 per cent of food is lost or wasted.

In future, countries should consider all options to tackle loss and waste, thereby reducing the pressure on land and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, including by growing plant-based, or so-called “bio” fuels.

It is estimated that globally some 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year. A reduction in that shocking figure presents what the UN Habitat agency calls “an enormous opportunity for tackling food insecurity.”

The reality is that the world is witnessing changing food systems. Technological advances, digitalisation, novel foods and processing methods provide a wealth of opportunities to simultaneously enhance food safety, and improve nutrition, livelihoods and trade.

At the same time, climate change and the globalisation of food production, coupled with a growing global population and increasing urbanisation, pose new challenges to food safety.

Food systems are becoming even more complex and interlinked, blurring lines of regulatory responsibility, as experts point out. Solutions to these potential problems require intersectoral and concerted international action.

As global hunger mounts obstinately, a commitment to zero tolerance for food waste from both consumers and food industry is the need of the hour.

Forests, an enormous carbon sink, can be regenerated to cool the planet. But with industrial farming covering a third of land today, there’s 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 existing forests.

The world population is expected to reach 9 billion in 2050. Farmers need to find new productive ways to farm food and diversify their crops.

Diet matters too.

NASA climate scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig, a co-author of the UN report, suggests that if people change their diets, reducing red meat and increasing plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and seeds, the world can save as much as another 15% of current emissions by mid-century. It would also make people healthier.

In the worst-case scenario, food security problems change from moderate to high risk with just a few more tenths of a degree of warming from now.

As the IPCC’s exhaustive report rightly cautioned, efforts to limit global warming while feeding a booming population could be wrecked without swift and sweeping changes to how we use the land we live off.