Climate crisis now impacting the ability of land to sustain human life on earth: UN report

We must change the way we use land and produce food if we are to save the planet, a UN climate report warns.

Climate crisis now impacting the ability of land to sustain human life on earth: UN report

We must change the way we use land and produce food if we are to save the planet, a UN climate report warns.

With more droughts and dust storms, rising sea levels, increased rainfall and lower agricultural output in parts of Africa, the climate crisis is now impacting the ability of land to sustain human life on earth.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) focuses on the role of agriculture production and land use and their impact on emissions and rising temperatures. The report, Climate Change and Land, is the work of 107 leading scientists from 52 countries. It took more than two years to produce and includes 7,000 academic studies on climate change.

Major findings in the report include the fact that humans directly affect more than 70% (likely 69-76%) of the global, ice-free land surface. It also found that agriculture and forestry accounted for around 13% of CO2, 44% of methane, and 82% of nitrous oxide emissions from human activities globally during 2007-2016.

Global warming has contributed to many weather-related changes the report stated: "Warming has resulted in an increased frequency, intensity and duration of heat-related events, including heatwaves in most land regions. Frequency and intensity of droughts has increased in some regions (including the Mediterranean, west Asia, many parts of South America, much of Africa, and north-eastern Asia) and there has been an increase in the intensity of heavy precipitation events at a global scale."

Other effects of climate change as identified in the report include "ongoing coastal erosion". The IPCC report states: "Ongoing coastal erosion is intensifying and impinging on more regions with sea-level rise adding to land-use pressure in some regions."

The frequency and intensity of dust storms have also increased, again due to land use. These dust storms have an increasingly negative impact on human health, especially in Central Asia and on the Arabian Peninsula.

However, it is not just weather-related events that are being caused by climate change and how we use land, the report warns, but food security is also being affected. In many lower-latitude parts of the world, yields of some crops such as maize and wheat have declined.

Climate change has also resulted in lower animal growth rates and productivity in pastoral systems in Africa. Based on local knowledge, climate change has affected food security in drylands, particularly in Africa, and high mountain regions of Asia and South America. The report also said that there is "robust evidence" that agricultural pests and diseases are responding to climate change with both "increases and decrease in infestations".

In terms of actions that can be taken to reduce the negative impact of climate change on ecosystems and societies - the report said sustainable land management is central to mitigating further damage.

Sustainable food production, reducing deforestation and food loss and waste can help to tackle climate change, help wildlife and boost livelihoods. Conserving peatlands, wetlands, grasslands, mangroves and forests can also have an immediate impact.

However, the UN scientists warn that just tackling emissions from land is not enough to curb climate change. Greenhouse gases from all sectors must be slashed to keep global warming to well below 2C or 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

A Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment spokeswoman welcomed the report: "Land use is pivotal in ensuring our continuing food needs are met and better land management is one of our most powerful tools in responding to the climate challenge. Not only does it play an important role in sequestering carbon, but it is also a significant resource for renewable energy."

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