Land management for forestry and agriculture can support global climate targets if it is backed by strong domestic and international policies, but will need to consider a “wide range of landowners” and “billions of consumers in diverse contexts,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes in yesterday’s report on climate change mitigation.
“Working with multiple stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities, is essential to break down the silos of the past” in land management policy, William Sutton, lead for the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program (FOLUR) Impact Program, told The Energy Mix.
“True transformation requires change across the multiple users of the land,” he added.
The Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Uses (AFOLU) sector offers some of the most important options available for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that can be achieved by a “concerted, rapid, and sustained effort by all stakeholders, from policy-makers and investors to landowners and managers,” the IPCC writes. Forests—along with peatlands, wetlands, and other natural ecosystems—can provide the largest climate improvements, with agricultural strategies like cropland and grassland management offering the second greatest source of potential.
Over the period from 2010-2019, the sector accounted for 13 to 21% of the greenhouse gases produced by human activity. But while they’re a significant source of emissions, managed and natural lands also acted as a net carbon sink, absorbing roughly a third of all emissions during that same time. According to the IPCC, AFOLU can provide 20 to 30% of the global mitigation needed for a 1.5 or 2°C pathway by 2050, though it cannot be a substitute for reducing emissions in other sectors.
However, climate change impacts, and competition for land and land-based resources, can make environmental goals a lower priority, especially in regions where AFOLU climate strategies are threatened by “insufficient institutional and financial support, uncertainty over long-term additionality and trade-offs, weak governance, insecure land ownership, the low incomes and the lack of access to alternative sources of income, and the risk of reversal.”
But “despite these impediments to change, AFOLU mitigation options are demonstrably effective and with appropriate support can enable rapid emission reductions in most countries,” the IPCC says.
Governments will need to establish strong policies that directly address emissions and use land-based strategies to limit global warming, including stronger land tenure protections, better agricultural and forestry management, and paying for ecosystem services. Consumer behaviour campaigns can also have an impact, the IPCC says, focusing on “sustainable healthy diets” that “promote all dimensions of individuals’ health and well-being; have low environmental pressure and impact; are accessible, affordable, safe and, equitable; and are culturally acceptable.”
The IPCC lists “establishing and respecting tenure rights and community forestry” as an important step in supporting successful AFOLU policies. A recent report published by the Forest Declaration Platform also emphasized the role of land protections for Indigenous peoples and other local communities (IPLCs), concluding that IPLC’s land is essential to maintaining global climate pathways that align with the Paris climate agreement’s 1.5°C target.
“Research consistently shows that IPLCs are effective forest stewards that manage ecosystems sustainably, act as agents of restoration, and protect against illegal and unsustainable deforestation,” the report states. But “displacing Indigenous communities from their land interferes with and degrades the biocultural and natural systems on which Indigenous communities and lands thrived, with disastrous effects on the ecosystems left behind.”
Supporting AFOLU mitigation measures will also require greater financing by the international community. While initiatives like FOLUR can mobilize financing by aligning governments with private sector financing, transparent reporting and verification to accurately monitor the effects of AFOLU management changes is important for engaging a wide range of actors, like private businesses, NGOs, and Indigenous Peoples, the IPCC says.
Ultimately, specific actions to drive AFOLU carbon sequestration and emissions reduction will need to overcome obstacles that are unique to different ecological, social, and economic contexts. But land-based strategies can draw on past examples of regulations and policies based on Indigenous, local, and scientific knowledge.
“Indigenous Peoples, private forest owners, local farmers, and communities manage a significant share of global forests and agricultural land and play a central role in land-based mitigation options,” the IPCC says.
“Scaling successful policies and measures relies on governance that emphasizes integrated land use planning and management framed by [sustainable development goals], with support for implementation.”