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Sustainable land use for mitigation


The latest IPCC report highlights that a change in diets for richer nations, and smarter land use, could ensure food security and mitigation of potential climate impacts.

Land surface processes — agriculture, forestry and other land use — account for 28% of anthropogenic emissions. However, natural land processes absorb about a third of the emissions from fossil fuel burning and energy production.

Although only 1% of the world’s land surface is taken up by infrastructure, according to the latest IPCC report (, there have been great changes to the surface throughout human history,
> with 12–14% of ice-free land now being used for cropping,
>37% being grasslands that are used for grazing and other purposes, and
>22% being managed or planted forests.
This leaves only about 28% of ice-free land untouched or minimally touched by humans, highlighting that there are many areas ripe for better management and use. Such improvements could lessen, but not solve, the need for climate mitigation.

Food security and diet feature heavily in the new report, as it is essential for survival that regional food supply is maintained. Productivity will need to be maintained or increased in a changing climate, but improved systems are needed to reduce the losses from production and waste that account for about a third of food produced.

Food has already been in the spotlight this year, with the release in January of the EAT–Lancet commission1, which focused on diet, health and planetary boundaries (as discussed in our March editorial2) and found that a change in diet would benefit both human and planetary health. That message is reinforced by the IPCC report. Dietary changes, particularly in the richer nations which have high levels of meat consumption, would free up land for other uses, as well as reducing emissions by up to 8 Gt CO2-equivalent per year, relative to business as usual.

Deforestation, degradation and desertification all threaten land carbon sinks. Approximately 500 million people live in areas at risk of desertification, and climate change exacerbates the risks in these areas as well as drylands.

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