IPCC report: Climate protection and land use

Changing diets and sustainable agriculture could do much to save CO2

Changes in land use can drive climate change but also counteract it. © Ben Goode / iStock
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Our actions are decisive: A new IPCC special report underlines the importance of land use, but also of our diet for the KIima. For even a conversion of meat-based and less sustainable food production could save a large part of the emissions that are caused by human land use. After all, this is responsible for 23 percent of the world's anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether through agriculture, deforestation or development: Man has changed the earthly land and shaped as before him no other being. On the one hand, this provides for the food supply of the world population, on the other hand, however, deforestation and overuse lead to ever greater degradation and erosion of land areas. But this has an impact on the climate: as forests and other vegetation dwindle, the ability of land ecosystems to absorb and store CO2 decreases.

Now, a new Special Report of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) reiterates how closely land use and climate are interlinked. It shows how the different forms of land use affect greenhouse gas emissions and the climate system. However, the researchers also explain which measures would be suitable for slowing down warming without jeopardizing food security.

Greenhouse gas extractor and sink at the same time

"Land systems play a significant role in the climate system: agriculture, forestry and other forms of land use account for 23 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, " says Jim Skea, head of IPCC Working Group III. Specifically, between 2007 and 2016, around 13 percent of global CO2 emissions, 44 percent of methane emissions and 82 percent of nitrous oxide emissions from human activities were related to land use.

"At the same time, land ecosystems also absorb nearly one third of total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel and industry use, " reports Skea. Whether emission or absorption predominates, it varies depending on the land use and the region. But due to the impact of climate change, this balance could shift significantly. Increasing heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and forest fires contribute to damaging the vegetation and increasing erosion. display

"Climate change creates additional pressures on land systems, exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure and nutrition systems" It's in the IPCC report.

What brings more sustainable agriculture and forestry?

But how can you counteract this? Theoretically, extensive afforestation and the cultivation of energy crops as a substitute for fossil fuels would be an option. The problem, however, is that a large part of the field is needed to ensure the food supply of humanity. Transforming them could therefore lead to even more lack and hunger. "There are therefore limits to the contribution of land use change to climate protection, " says the IPCC.

But the IPCC researchers also show how both could be meaningfully combined: "Many reaction options can also be applied without competing for land, " they clarify. Specific measures would be above all a more sustainable management of fields and forests and a regeneration of degraded areas. However, afforestation, protection of moorland and avoidance of fertilizer methods that promote nitrous oxide release from soil could also contribute.

"The total technical reduction potential from agriculture and livestock farming as well as agroforestry is estimated at 2.3 to 9.6 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2050, " the report said. As a result, these measures alone could offset a major part of the approximately twelve gigatons of emissions from this area.

Nutrition can move a lot

But it is even closer to everyday life: An almost as big effect could be achieved by changing the diet, as the IPCC report shows. As a result, changes in diets alone could save 0.7 to 8 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. "Some diets require more land and water and produce more emissions of greenhouse gases than others, " says Debra Roberts, director of IPCC Working Group II. These include, above all, a meat-laden diet.

Forgoing the daily meat could therefore contribute a lot to climate protection, as the IPCC Special Report confirms. "A balanced diet of plant-based foods such as grains, vegetables and fruits, as well as animal feed, produced sustainably in low-emission systems, are major ways of tackling climate change, " says Roberts.

Against the waste

However, reducing food waste can also make a significant contribution. According to the report, around one third of all food produced worldwide is wasted rather than eaten. Reducing this share would allow for more sustainable land-use management, food security, and low emissions, according to the IPCC Special Report.

Source: IPCC Special Report "Climate Change and Land Systems"

- Nadja Podbregar