The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released today sounds the alarm on the urgent action needed to keep the 1.5 degree temperature rise limit within reach, with global climate commitments falling drastically short of the target. At the same time, the IPCC assessment highlights the important role of land in tackling rising greenhouse gas emissions.
“To keep the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris within reach, we need to cut global emissions by 45 percent this decade. But current climate pledges would mean a 14 percent increase in emissions,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his statement on the release of the Panel’s Working Group III AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change report.
In addition to major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, major cuts in other sectors will also be necessary. Land contributes a quarter of all emissions. At the same time, land-based ecosystems absorbed around 30 per cent of the carbon emissions generated through human activity in the last decade and could provide 20 to 30 percent of the mitigation required to ensure global warming stays below 1.5oC towards 2050 .
“The latest IPCC report offers a sobering, yet hopeful assessment, clearly showing that land-based solutions can provide a significant contribution to global efforts to tackle climate change,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
“If managed sustainably, land can deliver large-scale greenhouse gas emission reductions. But this will require us to urgently rethink the way we approach agriculture, forestry and other land use activities,” he added.
“The Sixth Assessment Report provides an important context to consider future global policy action on issues such as land restoration and early action on drought, which are on the agenda of the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD to be held on 9-20 May in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire,” Thiaw observed.
The IPCC report documents that net greenhouse gas emissions rose 12% between 2010 and 2019 and were 54% (21 GtCO2-eq) higher than in 1990 . Overall, emissions from the land sector – agriculture, forests, land use and land use change – fell from 13 to 11 percent of the total emissions across all sectors during this period.
“There is an urgency to restore the one billion hectares of degraded lands by 2030 to cut land-based emissions massively. We must strengthen the land’s ability to absorb and store carbon emissions – and that means ensuring it remains healthy. What’s more, restoring land back to health will also enable us to simultaneously increase food production from existing agricultural land and restore ground water sources that we are losing.
– UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw
The report warns that the land’s natural ability to hold and remove carbon is not infinite. Moreover, the carbon sink potential of land declines with every passing year of increased warming. More so, if we fail to take the actions needed to make the land resilient to climate change.
The report lays out that there are both synergies and trade-offs between climate action and the pursuit of other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many of which are tied to competing demands for land. For example, the pressure to convert natural forests or grasslands as demand for food, water and urban growth increases, land-based emissions may also increase. This is particularly the case for developing countries.
This indicates it will be important to recover degraded land. To do this effectively, however, the obstacles to the effective use of land-based actions, including insecure land tenure and fragmentation in land ownership, must be overcome. And it will mean ensuring future land management is sustainable to avoid reversals, such as restored land being degraded once more.
The IPCC confirms that addressing land degradation can have multiple synergies with the SDGs, particularly when supported by frameworks designed to help manage trade-offs while promoting responsible governance and the involvement of local communities and indigenous peoples, particularly when supported by frameworks such as Land Degradation Neutrality within the UNCCD .
To realize the opportunities land provides while addressing the challenges of the interaction of climate change and land degradation, UNCCD is developing policy tools to ensure future land use planning fully integrates municipal, agricultural and conservation objectives. In essence, doing the right thing in the right places at the right scales. The Convention also promotes policies that put carbon back where it belongs, in the soil, where it contributes to biodiversity, land productivity and even water security in the face of increasing drought.
The Working Group III report is the last of the three reports issued by IPCC as part of the sixth assessment of the status of climate change. Working Group I Report, titled AR6 Climate Change 2022: The Physical Science Basis, was released in August 2021. Working Group II Report, titled, AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, was released in February 2022. The Synthesis Report will be the last of the AR6 products and is scheduled to be released in September 2022.
 IPCC, 2022: Technical Summary. In Climate Change 2022: Mitigation Of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Technical Summary
 IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers. Climate Change 2022: Mitigation Of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
For more information, contact:
Xenya Scanlon, UNCCD Chief of Communications, xscanlon [at] unccd.int
Wagaki Wischnewski, UNCCD Head of News and Media, press [at] unccd.int