Unprecedented land use a climate change "threat multiplier"

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows how unprecedented land exploitation, including farming and forestry, is contributing to climate change, says report co-author and leading expert from The Australian National University (ANU).

The report also notes land potentially offers solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including reforestation and storing carbon in soil.      

Professor Mark Howden, Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute and an IPCC Vice Chair, is in Geneva for the release of the new report on the relationship between land use and climate change.

“Climate change is rapidly ramping up existing threats to the land, reducing its ability to feed and support populations around the world and impacting on ecosystems,” Professor Howden said.

“At the same time, the land sector is currently contributing to climate change, even as it potentially offers some of the solutions to reducing greenhouse gases.

“This report confirms the world has a double-edged sword hanging over its head.   

“We ignore the interactions between climate change and the land at our peril.

“If left unchecked, the current situation threatens to make climate change worse, and leave the world hungry and with increasingly damaged ecosystems.”

Professor Howden noted land use and the global food system produce 29 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Land-based ecosystems also absorb 22 per cent of GHG emissions.

“With the right management, there is potential to reduce the land sector’s GHG emissions and increase the land’s carbon sinks,” Professor Howden said.    

“But the land sector alone cannot address climate change.  Reducing our fossil fuel emissions remains absolutely vital.”

Professor Howden said integrating land management and climate change policy was also crucial.

“Better land management not only delivers win-wins for farmers, communities, governments and biodiversity but also helps address climate change,” he said.

“The IPCC’s latest report highlights yet again that climate change is not some distant future threat – it’s relevant to all of us now and it is in our own interests to address it urgently.

“Improving our management of the land and tackling climate change the same time will bring multiple economic, health and environmental benefits.”

The IPCC’s land report is released at 6pm AEST today.

Professor Howden is available for interview at select times from Geneva.

For media assistance, contact James Giggacher +61 436 803 488 or the ANU Media Team on +61 2 6125 7979 or at <media@anu.edu.au>.

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