U.N. Panel: Time Running Out to Prevent Worst Impacts of Climate Change

The latest report from the United Nations panel warned that more needs to be done to accelerate the trend of slowing emissions, especially in the agricultural sector.

Apr. 27, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis

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It is not too late for the world to act and counter the impacts of ris­ing global tem­per­a­tures, the United Nations has warned.

The lat­est report pub­lished by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) focuses on how research, tech­nol­ogy and coop­er­a­tion can enable mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies against the worst con­se­quences of cli­mate change.

We can­not only offer tech­nol­ogy and mit­i­ga­tion options with­out work­ing on enabling local con­di­tions. We need to shift the par­a­digm.- Rachid Mrabet, research direc­tor, Moroccan National Institute for Agricultural

The report asks for rapid action and lists a detailed series of inter­ven­tions and strate­gies that may be employed to pre­vent the steady rise of global tem­per­a­tures. It also con­sid­ers the insti­tu­tional, finan­cial, social and envi­ron­men­tal issues related to these inter­ven­tions and strate­gies.

We have the sci­ence. We have the tech­nol­ogy. We now need a coor­di­nated effort both on an inter­na­tional and local level,” Rachid Mrabet, direc­tor of research at the National Institute for Agricultural Research in Morocco and a co-author of the report, told Olive Oil Times.

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Governance and insti­tu­tional capac­ity are essen­tial. Finance is cru­cial. We need all play­ers to act, from cit­i­zens to indus­try, to gov­ern­ments and local insti­tu­tions. We have the means,” he added.

The lat­est IPCC report is the third install­ment of the organization’s Sixth Assessment Report. The pre­vi­ous parts demon­strated the evi­dence that a cli­mate dis­as­ter is already under­way, explored its impacts and how human­ity and the nat­ural world can or will adapt.

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The new report is devoted to what is being done and could be done to mit­i­gate cli­mate change, focus­ing on mit­i­ga­tion-enabling con­di­tions.

In a note, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres remarked on the sig­nif­i­cance of this crit­i­cally impor­tant” report pro­duced by hun­dreds of sci­en­tists from dozens of coun­tries over almost four years.

This is the report that gives us options. It offers strate­gies to tackle the crit­i­cal ques­tions of our time,” he said. How can we reduce green­house gas emis­sions? How can we sequester car­bon? How can the build­ings, trans­port, cities, agri­cul­ture, live­stock and energy sec­tors be more sus­tain­able?”

IPCC experts said ris­ing green­house gas (GHG) emis­sions showed signs of slow­ing down from 2010 to 2019 com­pared to the pre­vi­ous decade. However, since 1990, anthro­pogenic GHG emis­sions have been steadily ris­ing from all sources with sig­nif­i­cant accel­er­a­tions in fos­sil fuel-related emis­sions.

Very rel­e­vant mit­i­ga­tion poten­tial is there,” Mrabet said. What we need is tech­nol­ogy trans­fer from the Global North to the Global South, which has slowed down with the Covid-19 pan­demic.”

Also, financ­ing is needed, with larger sums devoted to forestry and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture,” he added. We have to cope with many dif­fer­ent social con­texts, where poverty and food inse­cu­rity still touch mil­lions of peo­ple.”

We need to look at the local cul­ture, ways and soci­eties,” Mrabet con­tin­ued. We have to respect that and work with insti­tu­tions. We can­not only offer tech­nol­ogy and mit­i­ga­tion options with­out work­ing on enabling local con­di­tions. We need to shift the par­a­digm.”

Should emis­sions not be cur­tailed soon, researchers believe global sur­face tem­per­a­tures will eas­ily exceed 1.5 ºC com­pared to the pre-indus­trial era.

If we do not act, we are head­ing towards a sce­nario in which tem­per­a­tures could have grown over 2 °C or even dou­ble that by the end of the cen­tury,” Mrabet said.

According to the report, to stay within the 1.5 °C limit, GHG emis­sions should peak before 2025, and by 2023 global emis­sions should be slashed by 43 per­cent.

Only net-zero global emis­sions will allow global tem­per­a­tures to sta­bi­lize, warned the sci­en­tists. Exceeding 1.5 °C will expose the planet to an unpre­dictable state of cli­mate extremes and unprece­dented stress to the ecosys­tem.

Agriculture, forestry and land man­age­ment accounted for 13 to 21 per­cent of global anthro­pogenic GHG emis­sions from 2010 to 2019. It is believed that man­aged and nat­ural ecosys­tems acted as car­bon sinks in the same period, absorb­ing around one-third of all car­bon diox­ide emis­sions deriv­ing from human activ­i­ties.

According to the report, defor­esta­tion is declin­ing but still accounts for 45 per­cent of all agri­cul­ture, forestry and land man­age­ment emis­sions.

Researchers noted that these three sec­tors can pro­vide between 20 and 30 per­cent of the global mit­i­ga­tion needed to reach the 1.5 °C or 2 °C lim­its by 2050.

Protection and restora­tion of forests, peat­lands, coastal wet­lands, savan­nas and grass­lands are cru­cial in the mit­i­ga­tion effort.

Agriculture mit­i­ga­tion poten­tial is enor­mous, with up to 4.1 giga­tons of car­bon diox­ide per year com­ing from crop­land and grass­land soil car­bon man­age­ment, agro­forestry, use of biochar, improved rice cul­ti­va­tion and live­stock and nutri­ent man­age­ment.

When we con­sider the land, we also have to con­sider cities, which are get­ting larger and larger,” Mrabet said. They are land, and they have mul­ti­ple needs, like food. Vertical farms, which are now fea­si­ble, can help mit­i­gate their impact.”

The report high­lights how food sys­tems account for approx­i­mately 23 to 42 per­cent of global GHG emis­sions and how they impact house­holds’ car­bon foot­print even more than energy.

According to the report, food accounts for 48 to 70 per­cent of the total impact on water and land. As meat, dairy and processed food con­sump­tion rise, so does the house­holds’ over­all impact, given the high methane and nitrous oxide emis­sions con­nected to such food pro­duc­tion.

As a result, the researchers believe that the whole food sys­tem, from pro­duc­tion to con­sump­tion, should undergo pro­found changes to meet the cli­mate tar­gets.

The report explic­itly asks for the imple­men­ta­tion of plant-based diets, the reduc­tion of food waste and build­ing with wood, bio­chem­i­cals and bio-tex­tiles. Such strate­gies would reduce land needs, pro­vid­ing crit­i­cal space for refor­esta­tion and restora­tion while also decreas­ing emis­sions that fuel ris­ing tem­per­a­tures.

Emerging food tech­nolo­gies such as cel­lu­lar fer­men­ta­tion, cul­tured meat, plant-based alter­na­tives to ani­mal-based food prod­ucts, and con­trolled envi­ron­ment agri­cul­ture can sub­stan­tially reduce direct GHG emis­sions from food pro­duc­tion,” IPCC sci­en­tists wrote. These tech­nolo­gies have lower land, water, and nutri­ent foot­prints and address con­cerns over ani­mal wel­fare.”

The report high­lights mea­sures such as dietary guide­lines sus­tained by food labels to encour­age novel food sys­tems, which the researchers believe should be manda­tory as they empower cit­i­zens and increase aware­ness on rel­e­vant issues such as ani­mal wel­fare and fair trade.

The con­tin­ued loss of bio­di­ver­sity makes ecosys­tems less resilient to cli­mate change extremes, and this might hin­der the progress of the agri­cul­ture, forestry and land man­age­ment mit­i­ga­tion poten­tials, the report fur­ther warned.

We need to work simul­ta­ne­ously on all sec­tors,” Mrabet said. Agriculture and food, of course, but also trans­port, energy, build­ing and so on. We have to change our behav­ior, the way we con­sume food and use energy. Our life should move towards becom­ing emis­sions-neg­a­tive as oppo­site to the cur­rent emis­sion-pos­i­tive sit­u­a­tion.”

Agriculture, forestry and land man­age­ment mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies do not only apply to larger coun­tries, noted the researchers, as many smaller coun­tries and regions, par­tic­u­larly with wet­lands, have dis­pro­por­tion­ately high lev­els of mit­i­ga­tion poten­tial den­sity from the three sec­tors.

According to Guterres, these find­ings and the other IPCC reports pub­lished since COP26 in Glasgow will pave the way for COP27, the fol­low­ing inter­na­tional sum­mit on cli­mate change that will take place next November in Egypt.

I’m con­fi­dent that these will be cen­tral to the cli­mate talks, deci­sion-mak­ing and action on a global, regional and national level,” he said.



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