Last week saw the summary for policymakers of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) approved by the world’s governments.
Land is already under growing human pressure and climate change is adding to these pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming to well below 2 degrees C can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors, including land and food, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said.
The report will be a key scientific input into forthcoming climate and environment negotiations, such as the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14) in New Delhi, India in September and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December.
“Governments challenged the IPCC to take the first ever comprehensive look at the whole land-climate system. We did this through many contributions from experts and governments worldwide. This is the first time in IPCC report history that a majority of authors – 53 per cent – are from developing countries,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.
The report shows that better land management can contribute to tackling climate change but is not the only solution. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2 degrees C, if not 1.5 degrees C.
Responding to publication of the report, the Rainforest Alliance said it was “an essential resource and benchmark for policy decision-makers and business leaders.
“While almost everyone is now familiar with the idea that greenhouse gas emissions must be curbed through technological advances and reduced reliance on fossil fuels, there is much opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through changes in agriculture, forestry and other land-use practices, which account for about 24 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions,” Rainforest Alliance said.
“Research confirms that forests and other ‘natural climate solutions’ are critical in mitigating climate change, thanks to their carbon sequestering and storage capabilities. In fact, natural climate solutions can help us achieve 37 per cent of our climate target, even though they presently only receive 2.5 per cent of public climate financing.
“Through its 30-year history, always focused on the nexus of agriculture and deforestation, the Rainforest Alliance’s work directly addresses the issues raised in the IPCC special report,” said Han de Groot, CEO of the Rainforest Alliance.
“We must change how agriculture works. And while that certainly means changing farming practices to be more environmentally sustainable, it also must entail a change in how farmers are remunerated for their hard work, the way companies source their ingredients, and what we consume.”
“It is important to acknowledge that the food we eat and the way it’s grown has a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions,” said Aparajita Bhalla, Director Market Transformation, Sectors, for the Rainforest Alliance.
“But acknowledging the links between deforestation, land degradation, food security, and climate change is not enough. The work has already started. We need to keep moving towards a more sustainable agriculture system and reap the climate benefits such a system would provide.”
The Global Coffee Platform (GCP) told C&CI that the IPCC’s special report was a sobering reminder to policy makers and the entire world about the urgent need to act. “In particular, it is also a chance for the coffee sector to acknowledge the role it plays and continue to demonstrate leadership by embedding climate smart agriculture throughout supply chains,” said the GCP.
The GCP said its network of members and partners have been working together for many years towards climate smart agriculture. “Despite the progress made, it is time that we increase the collective impact of these efforts by co-investing much more in existing programmes and scaling up successful initiatives across the coffee world,” said the GCP.
“The key to this is ensuring that coffee farmers are, at the very least, living a reasonable and dignified life, so that together as business partners, we can collectively create a coffee sector that preserves its surrounding ecosystems whilst thriving.”
The GCP said it wanted to extend an invitation to global coffee stakeholders everywhere who want to optimize their sustainability investments in climate smart agriculture to act now by getting involved with the GCP and collaborate with its network of 140+ members and partners.
“Interested stakeholders can also gain excellent insight from the recently published Coffee Climate Catalogue, a comprehensive guide to adaptation strategies in the coffee sector by GCP, IDH, coffee & climate, the Specialty Coffee Association and Conservation International, or the online learning series to guide private sector investment put together by GCP, the Alliance for Resilient Coffee and Sustainable Food Lab.”
Richard Scobey, President of the World Cocoa Foundation, told C&CI, “This UN report highlights the importance of land management if the world is to have any chance of keeping climate change within tolerable limits.
“Food production is the main driver of deforestation and the loss of forests contributes to climate change by releasing carbon into the atmosphere and depriving the world of a carbon sink.
“The cocoa and chocolate industries have stepped up to the challenge of ending the destruction of forests. It has joined with producer governments to pledge to no further conversion of forest land for cocoa production, and to commit to the phased elimination of illegal cocoa production and sourcing in protected forest areas.
“In line with the IPCC Report recommendations, the industry is scaling up investment in improved land management, agroforestry, and climate-resilient production techniques. Much more needs to be done and we plan on working with all concerned to make sure cocoa and chocolate production no longer endanger our planet.”
C&CI’s regular contributor Dr Peter Baker said, “For most readers, the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land will contain few surprises. But it is a useful compendium, in numbing detail, on the extent of the effect that the global food system has on climate – estimates vary between 21 to 37 per cent of total net anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“More than this, it also documents the magnitude of land degradation, due both to unsustainable farming practices and climate change – land temperatures are now 1.4°C higher than the pre-industrial era, half a degree more than the global figure which includes oceans.”
Dr Baker said the report states that the largest potential for reducing agriculture-related emissions is through reduced deforestation and degradation, a shift towards plant-based diets and reduced food and agricultural waste.
Specific commodities are not covered in detail though coffee and cocoa are both mentioned in respect to their agroforestry potential. The authors are aware however that current field data indicates contrasting outcomes, which require field scale research programmes to inform agroforestry system design, species selection and management practices.
“Here we reach the nub of the problem,” said Dr Baker. “The report is about the science and does not cover the specifics of how humanity can fund and rapidly research and implement solutions on a massive scale.
“The success of industrial agriculture has been that it works in a similar fashion across scales with solutions to problems that come out of a bag or bottle. Its failure has been the massive externalities that have been accumulating in the environment to the point that they can no longer be ignored.
“What the report calls for is to plug knowledge gaps that are ‘due in part to the highly contextual and local nature of land and climate measures and the long time periods needed to evaluate land use change in its socio-economic frame.’
“How this can be achieved, how much it would cost and who will pay for it, remain unsaid – and to be fair it was clearly not the remit of the report to do that.
“Undoubtedly governments will have to play a leading role, but the level of response needed is completely at odds with the neoliberal ‘government-lite’ view of the world that has predominated over the past generation,” said Dr Baker. “This still prevails in many countries where electorates are now widely disenfranchised and hence unwilling to accept that, for instance, they must eat significantly less meat.
“The report therefore tacitly implies nothing short of a revolution but it is difficult to see how present political structures can achieve this. The situation recalls the prophetic words of Kurt Vonnegut nearly 30 years ago: ‘We’ll go down in history as the first society that wouldn’t save itself because it wasn’t cost-effective.’”
(photo: Marlon del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR)