It may come as a surprise to some but the main finding of the UN’s IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land was not that cows are responsible for global warming, as some press reports seem to suggest.
The report is long so a short summary might be useful – and some of the key points are given below.
The key thing to remember is that the report is global – land degradation is happening on a massive scale in many parts of the world and this is impacting lives today.
However, the IPCC report concludes: “Land is both a source and sink of greenhouse gases – sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors including climate change.
“Many response options can be applied without competing for land and have the potential to provide multiple co-benefits … most of the response options assessed contribute positively to sustainable development and other societal goals.”
This statement underpins the importance of ‘One Agriculture’ – a concept based on the understanding that everything is interconnected. Agri-Tech East is considering at its 2019 REAP conference the innovation that is required to deliver this approach to food systems.
There is much already underway to mitigate adverse environmental impacts and promote sustainability; at REAP there will be a discussion on this and insights into emerging agri-tech at the research institutes and a start-up showcase of entrepreneurial thinking.
The statistics in the IPCC report are sobering
- 70% of available land is already in human use – it is a finite resource
- 1/4 of this land is subjected to human induced degradation – deforestation is a major cause but soil erosion from conventional tillage is 100 times higher than the rate of soil formation
- Agriculture uses 70% of global fresh-water use – it is a limited resource
- Food production has increased rapidly since 1961 – cereal production has increased by 240% through land expansion and yield improvement. Ruminant livestock has increased by 50%. Irrigation water volume has doubled
- 1/3 of land’s potential net primary production (energy from sun converted into carbohydrate by plants) is now used for food, feed, fibre, timber and energy.
- Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) activities accounted for 23% of total net anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gas (GHGs) – which means 77% of emissions are from other sources (point A3, p7)
- Land is both a source and sink of greenhouse gases – sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors including climate change
Adaptation and mitigation response options (B, p19)
These options include, but are not limited to:
- sustainable food production
- improved and sustainable forest management
- soil organic carbon management
- ecosystem conservation and land restoration
- reduced deforestation and degradation
- reduced food loss and waste
Immediate impacts include the conservation of high-carbon ecosystems such as peatlands, wetlands, rangelands, mangroves and forests.
Many options do not require land use change
Improved management of cropland and grazing lands, improved and sustainable forest management and increased soil organic carbon content, do not require land use change and do not create demand for more land conversion.
Further, a number of response options such as increased food productivity, dietary choices and food losses and waste reduction can reduce demand for land conversion, thereby potentially freeing land and creating opportunities for enhanced implementation of other response options.
Most of the response options assessed contribute positively to sustainable development and other societal goals.
Many response options can be applied without competing for land and have the potential to provide multiple co-benefits. A further set of response options has the potential to reduce demand for land, thereby enhancing the potential for other response options to deliver across each of climate change adaptation and mitigation, combating desertification and land degradation, and enhancing food security.
Innovation required to deliver the adaption and mitigation options
Improved value chain management – such as dietary choices, reduced post-harvest losses, reduced food waste can contribute to eradicating poverty and eliminating hunger while promoting good health and wellbeing.
Increased knowledge of adaptation limits for crops – also assessment of the potential for maladaptation eg for irrigation systems, pests and diseases to the combined effects of climate change and desertification.
Water harvesting and micro-irrigation – also knowledge to restore degraded lands using drought-resilient ecologically appropriate plants.
Ways to reducing dust and sand storms – this would include the creation of “green walls”, and “green dams” using native and other climate resilient tree species and other methods.
Cleaner energy sources – wind and solar energy infrastructures were suggested as promoting health of women and children.
Understanding of comparative benefits of farming systems – agroforestry, perennial pasture phases and use of perennial grains, have the potential to reduce erosion and nutrient leaching while building soil carbon.
Precision livestock production – options include better grazing land management, improved manure management, higher-quality feed, and use of breeds and genetic improvement. Different farming and pastoral systems can achieve reductions in the emissions.
Reduction of food loss and waste – this can lower GHG emissions and reduce the land area needed for food production. During 2010-2016, global food loss and waste contributed 8-10% of total anthropogenic GHG and currently 25-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted. Technical options such as improved harvesting techniques, on-farm storage, infrastructure, transport, packaging, retail and education can reduce food loss and waste across the supply chain.
Improved systems of payments and incentives – Land-use zoning, spatial planning, integrated landscape planning, regulations, incentives (such as payment for ecosystem services), and voluntary or persuasive instruments (such as environmental farm planning, standards and certification for sustainable production, use of scientific, local and indigenous knowledge and collective action), can achieve positive adaptation and mitigation outcomes.
Improved technology for data visualisation and consensus building – Inclusiveness in the measurement, reporting and verification of the performance can support sustainable land management. Integrated landscape planning and policy choice can be improved by involving stakeholders in the selection of indicators, collection of climate data.
REAP 2019: innovating for One Agriculture
Food systems, human health, animal health and the environment are inextricably linked by best practice in agriculture. This brings with it a huge opportunity to create sustainable, productive and profitable farming enterprises.
With its vision of ‘One Agriculture’, the REAP 2019 conference will be reviewing the opportunities that emerging agri-tech offers to mitigate the grand challenges facing society.
Agri-Tech East brings together inspirational thinkers, disruptive technologies and pragmatic achievers to make things happen. Come to REAP and be a part of this vibrant cluster.
More information: reapconference.co.uk