Africa, Americas, Europe, Planet, Asia Pacific, Climate Change

Linking land use to climate

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal | Oct 05, 2018

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For anyone concerned about conservation and climate change, the wildfires sweeping across tens of thousands of hectares this summer – from California to Scandinavia, Greece to northern England – are doubly heartbreaking. They are further evidence of the risks we face in a warming world, while at the same time they are releasing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, destroying precious natural habitats, endangering human life and generating huge economic losses.

Wildfires should also serve as a reminder of the importance of land use to addressing climate change. Agriculture, forestry, and other land uses account for more than 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year – only the energy sector emits more. Better forest and habitat conservation, alongside climate-smart food production and consumption, can deliver up to 30% of climate solutions needed by 2030, while helping to deliver numerous sustainable development objectives.

At the Responsible Business Forum in Singapore, climate action and food are two of the five main areas of focus, elevating further the critical land-climate connection. Indeed, over the summer, WWF launched the 30X30 Forests, Food and Land Challenge with a broad coalition of partners and joined them in San Francisco—along with thousands of others—for the Global Climate Action Summit. Together, businesses, states, city and local governments, civil society, and other stakeholders have pledged to take action across every sector of the economy for better forest and habitat conservation, food production and consumption, and land use, with the overall goal of delivering 30% of the climate solutions needed to meet the Paris Agreement by 2030.

The 30X30 Challenge outlines three calls to action needed to achieve this goal:

  • Cutting food waste in half by 2030, while promoting conscientious consumption. Doing so would free up 7 million square kilometers of agricultural land, and reduce global emissions by 2 billion tonnes each year;
  • Sequestering an additional one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in forests, grasslands and soil each year by the same date, through non-state actor conservation, improving forest and soil management, climate friendly agriculture and forestry, and restoring habitats and degraded lands;
  • Unlocking finance, creating more transparent supply chains, fostering public-private cooperation, and protecting local rights to enable better production of food and fiber.

In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, there’s an economic rationale for better land stewardship, too. According to the recent New Climate Economy report, shifting to more sustainable forms of agriculture and ensuring strong protections for the world’s forests could deliver more than $2 trillion each year in economic benefits, while improving food security, creating jobs, and helping to tackle climate change.

We believe we are pushing at an open door – or, perhaps, plowing a rich furrow; a growing number of giant consumer goods companies have pledged to eliminate deforestation throughout their supply chains. More than $13 billion has been committed to REDD+ projects, which aim to protect and restore standing forests. Forty-five countries and regions have pledged to restore more than 156 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands, including through these initiatives in Latin America and Africa.

At the Global Climate Action Summit, several announcements illustrated the momentum that’s growing for land-based, food-related solutions to climate change.

  • The Global Environment Facility announced $500 million in funding for a new Food, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program.
  • Investors with $5.6 trillion in assets have joined a coalition of more than 100 businesses supporting conservation of the Brazil’s Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savannah.
  • Walmart announced a new strategy to work with Unilever to eliminate deforestation in Sabah, Malaysia, and to replicate similar engagements with suppliers in other jurisdictions.

There is simply no viable response to climate change without a revolution in how we use land to grow food, fiber, and fuel. And it’s not up to national governments alone. While official state parties to the UN’s climate change effort have a role to play, local governments, communities and the private sector are picking up the mantle of leadership and have an opportunity to demonstrate progress on the ground.  

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