Land degradation, key cause of climate change

PP Sangal | Updated on December 04, 2019 Published on December 04, 2019

Land degradation, a fallout of rising global consumption, must be arrested with a sense of urgency. This calls for lifestyle shifts

The 14th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), hosted by India, adopted the ‘New Delhi Declaration’ recently, which asserts that land degradation is largely responsible for climate change or global warming.

Top researchers from France’s ‘National Centre for Scientific Research’ and the ‘Atomic Energy Commission’, along with ‘Weather Office Metro-France’, recently pointed out that global temperature may rise by 6-7 degrees Celsius by 2100, which is much above the threshold limit of two degrees decided in the Paris Agreement. The researchers used updated models that have higher resolution and provide a better understanding of ‘Atmospheric Physics’.

A more recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report has warned that oceans are likely to witness higher acidification, oxygen levels will decline, and ‘El Nino’ and ‘La Nina’ phenomenon will become more frequent.

In view of this, the Science Advisory Committee to the UN Climate Summit in New York said that the current NDCs (nationally determined contributions), in pursuance of the Paris Agreement, would not be enough to restrict the temperature rise to two degrees.

Global movement

There are no deniers of climate change except the US Administration under Donald Trump, which is extremely unfortunate. No one can ignore the voices of young school children around the world who are now coming together in the millions to participate in global movements such as‘Extinction Rebellion’ and ‘Fridays for Future’, led by Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg.

Now, there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between ‘climate change’ and ‘land degradation’. For satisfying the present-day life-style of the people, a large number of different kinds of items needs to be produced. This consumption pattern, which had its origin in the rich West, has gradually spread to other parts of the world too.

This has led to the need to construct millions of houses, buildings for factories/offices, roads, dams, coal-fired plants, etc. Apart for these, there’s the need to produce food for the billions around the globe and, crucially, other animals. The requirement for huge tracts of land for these activities led to large-scale de-forestation, especially owing to the industrialised West. Now, the poorer countries of the East are also destroying their forests, though they are doing so to fight their abject poverty.

In short, deforestation, which in itself raises carbon emissions by 25 per cent, along with all human activities pursued on the land, is the real cause of climate change in the form of extreme weather conditions like intense and untimely rains, floods, soil erosion, and high temperatures (the 2015-19 period is considered the hottest ever).

This, in turn, causes more damage to the land . So, we are trapped in a vicious circle and are not able to get out of it. The deliberations at the 14th COP to UNCCD revolved mainly around land degradation and exploitation of Nature to satisfy our existing lifestyle. The conference has stressed that land restoration is the cheapest solution to abate climate change and suggested the following measures to be taken by all nations :

Restore at least 150 million hectares of degraded land the world over by 2030 so as to increase the Earth’s capacity to absorb two giga tonnes of carbon di-oxide. By investing $1 in land restoration, a return of $10 can be expected with prudent farm practices and water management. India has already increased its land restoration target to 26 million hectares from 21 mha committed earlier in its NDCs.

Although many countries have accepted to be carbon neutral by 2030, they would require financial help. The prospects of getting any support from climate fund created under the Paris Agreement are bleak and, thus, the 14th COP has specifically suggested involvement of the private sector by providing some incentives for investment.

Stop building infrastructure on danger zones such as flood plains or at the foot of unstable hills and build climate-resilient houses in big cities/towns. And, completely avoiding civic structures not geared to cope with sudden demands of extreme climate events.

Recognise the vital role of women in land restoration and assure land tenure security to locals. Also incorporate indigenous knowledge for land restoration.

Thus, to stop further land degradation, the present non-sustainable lifestyle. Mahatma Gandhi had asserted long ago that Nature has given us enough for our need but not for our greed. This is very relevant in the context of the climate crisis today.

The writer is a former UN consultant

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Published on December 04, 2019
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