World Environment Day: Tackling climate change requires systems thinking and collective action

Bn-51-MIcAAa__PYesterday’s World Environment Day, the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment, focused on tackling climate change. This year’s theme is Raise your voice, not the sea level. First established in 1972, every year on 5th June countries around the world host seminars, events and environmental projects from cleaning up Kosovo to solar electric roofs in Barbados to plastic purges on the beaches of Sri Lanka. And there are the WED challenges.

This year is also the UN International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and part of the activities of WED were to raise awareness about the challenges SIDS face, their vulnerability to climate change and sea level rise and the urgent need to help protect the islands.

The message of WED is that our individual actions will aggregate into collective action with the power to transform, in this case mitigating climate change and its impacts. A draft of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change” recently released, supports this message stating that “effective mitigation will not be achieved if individual agents advance their own interests independently”. Emissions in one area, sector or emitted by one person have broader impacts for others. Greenhouse gas emissions largely produced in developed countries and emerging economies are putting small island states at risk, a problem requiring collective action.

The IPCC report states that without additional mitigation, global mean surface temperature increases by 2100 will be between 3.7 °C and 4.8 °C compared to pre-industrial levels (the range is 2.5 °C to 7.8 °C when including climate uncertainty). Agriculture, forestry and other land uses (AFOLU) contribute 24% of total direct GHG emissions, second only to electricity and heat production which accounts for 25% (followed by Industry at 21% and transport at 14%).

In order to increase the chances of maintaining global average temperature increases at below 2°C, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 need to be around 450ppm in 2100. Scenarios achieving this target all have reduced GHG emissions, by 40% to 70%, by the middle of the century and emissions near zero GtCO2 eq or below in 2100. Such scenarios represent significant opportunities for improving air quality, energy security, human health and ecosystem resilience but many trade-offs and co-benefits have not been identified or quantified and climate policies will need to be assessed both on their potential to help mitigate climate change and by their effects on sustainable development, poverty eradication and equity. [Read more…]

Innovation in the agriculture, forestry and other land uses sector could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half

SmithA new paper by Smith et al published in Global Change Biology asks the question, How much land-based greenhouse gas mitigation can be achieved without compromising food security and environmental goals? Authors attempt to answer this question by modelling the potential of supply- and demand-side mitigation options available in the Agriculture, Forestry and other land uses sector, as well as their impacts on one another and on food security.

On the supply side such practices as alternative uses for biomass, and land sparing, have the potential to reduce emissions by 1.5 to 4.3 Gt CO2 equivalent per year at carbon prices of between $20 and $100. For 2011, the International Energy Agency estimated annual emissions as 31.6 Gt CO2 equivalent. Seeking to reduce the carbon footprint of the AFOLU sector while at the same time increasing food production, is a core aim of sustainable intensification, which advocates using inputs in a more judicious manner to achieve greater outputs.

On the demand-side measures such as reducing food waste and shifting to less resource-intensive diets could reduce emissions between 1.5 and 15.6 Gt CO2 equivalent per year. Such solutions may also aid in the fight against food insecurity and hunger.

The paper advocates for action to be taken on both the supply- and demand-sides, which when their maximum potentials are totalled could mean a halving of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Sonja Vermuelen, Head of Research at CGIAR’s research programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in her blog on the paper, indicates the importance of policy, both for stimulating a shift to sustainable intensification but also the considerable changes in consumer behaviour that will be required. Political leadership, determination and significant innovation will be needed if we are to reach this goal.