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Summary for Policy Makers of the IPCC’s Landmark Special Report on Climate Change and Land adopted at the WMO in Geneva

It has been a hot, hot summer across the globe and most abnormally and penetratingly so in Europe and North America. It is quite clear, global emissions are reaching record levels. According to scientific reports, “the last four years were the four hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3°C since 1990” (Guterres, 2019). Additionally, these reports also show that “sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and we are starting to see the life-threatening impact of climate change on health, through air pollution, heatwaves and risks to food security” (Guterres, 2019). All of these events have serious implications for water, food security and livelihood for millions of children, men and women in developing countries of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. The United Nations (UN) warns that world food security is increasingly at risk due to 'unprecedented' climate change impact (UN News, 2019).

It is in this context that the approval of the highly awaited Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s second Special Report on Climate Change and Land was conducted in Geneva, on August 2-7, 2019. The approval process -which characteristically went into overtime, extending from the scheduled closure of August 6th well into the day time of the next day- led to the final adoption and presentation of the report to the general public through a live streamed press conference, followed by an interactive public dialogue at the office of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on August 8..

The full title of the report, Climate Change and Land: An IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, reflects the breadth of the report, which covers: greenhouse gas fluxes related to land; interactions between climate change and desertification, land degradation and food security; land-related impacts and risks; response options that help adapt to climate change; response options that reduce land-related emissions or enhance the take-up of carbon by land systems; and links to sustainable development more broadly.

The IPCC is the world body for assessing the state of scientific knowledge related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options; hence, its report will be a key scientific input into upcoming climate negotiations such as the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP14) in New Delhi, India in September 2019 and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December 2019.

The report, as noted by the expert IPCC panel presenters in the public discussion, shows that better land management can contribute to tackling climate change, but is not the only solution. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2ºC, if not 1.5oC. Nonetheless, the report shows how managing land resources sustainably can help address climate change.

The high powered panel presentation which featured contributions by the Chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee (Republic of Korea); Elena Manaenkova, Deputy Secretary-General, WMO; Jian Liu, Chief Scientist & Science Division Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); IPCC Vice Chair Youba Sokona (Mali); the co-chairs of the three working groups of the IPCC, including Priyadarshi Shukla (India), Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III; and Eduardo Calvo (Peru), co-Chair of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.

Dr. Sokona, who is also the Special Adviser on Sustainable Development of the South Centre, in presenting key aspects of the land report shared insights into the development process of the report. He shared that the report was prepared by 107 experts from 52 countries (who acted as Coordinating Lead Authors (15), Lead Authors (71), and Review Editors (21). He highlighted the growing number of female (40%) and developing country authors (53%) and noted that this was the first IPCC report for which the majority of authors were from developing countries.

The panel of experts presented the following information and key messages of the Land Report:
Land already in use could feed the world in a changing climate and provide biomass for renewable energy.
Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger.
Climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).
Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics, increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions.
There will be different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
About one third of food produced is lost or wasted. Causes of food loss and waste differ substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing this loss and waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security.
The Climate Change and Land Report is the second of three IPCC special reports to be launched during the current 6th assessment cycle (2018-2022). The first was the widely acclaimed Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, which looked at global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change. A third report, the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate will have its Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) released on September 25th, in Monaco.

The Summary for Policymakers presents the key findings of IPCC Reports, based on the assessment of the available scientific, technical and socio-economic literature relevant to climate change. The SPM of the Land report is available here: https://ipcc.ch/report/srccl.

The flagship report of the IPCC, the 6th Assessment Report (AR6), and its Synthesis Report will be finalized in the first half of 2022, following the completion of all three working groups’ contributions in 2021. Working Group III (which focuses on climate change mitigation, assessing methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere) is led by Co-Chairs Jim Skea, based at Imperial College London, and Priyadarshi Shukla, based at Ahmedabad University. South Centre’s staff, Dr. Mariama Williams, is the co-Coordinating Lead Author for chapter 15, investment and finance of that report.

The land report will provide a valuable input into the Climate Action Summit to be hosted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 23 September later this year as ‘natured based’ solutions (led by China and New Zealand) is one of the six key thematic areas to be considered at the summit. The other areas include[1]:
Climate Finance and Carbon pricing: mobilizing public and private sources of finance to drive decarbonization of all priority sectors and advance resilience (led by France, Jamaica and Qatar);
Energy Transition: accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, as well as making significant gains in energy efficiency (led by Denmark and Ethiopia);
Industry Transition: transforming industries such as Oil and Gas, Steel, Cement, Chemicals and Information Technology (led by India and Sweden);
Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action: Advancing mitigation and resilience at urban and local levels, with a focus on new commitments on low-emission buildings, mass transport and urban infrastructure; and resilience for the urban poor (led by Kenya and Turkey);
Resilience and Adaptation: advancing global efforts to address and manage the impacts and risks of climate change, particularly in those communities and nations most vulnerable (led by Egypt and United Kingdom).
The UN Secretary-General is asking potential participants to come to New York with “concrete, realistic (ambitious) plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050” (Guterres, 2019).

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