Issue 3&4/2019

IPCC warns of ecosystem collapse

Margit Hildebrandt, 23 Aug 19
Human exploitation of the Earth’s ecosystems is leaving them barely able to recover, besides accounting for almost a quarter of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, global warming is severely impairing food production.

These are the main conclusions of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 8 August, authored by a team of 107 researchers from 52 countries – more than half of them from emerging economies in a first for the IPCC.

The team spent two years analysing more than 7,000 recent studies on the interactions between the earth’s surface, land use and the atmosphere. According to the report, mean temperatures over land have risen by 1.5C since pre-industrial times – almost twice the increase recorded in average global temperature. This has led to a rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, causing crop failures in many parts of the world.

Alarming numbers

The authors calculate that agriculture is responsible for the largest share (70%) of freshwater use, and that the area of land used by the sector has doubled in the last 58 years – as have the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, and consumption of meat. In many parts of the world this is associated with a loss of natural ecosystems such as savannas and grasslands and a decline in biodiversity, with deserts growing in numerous regions.

Measures suggested by the authors to combat these trends include reducing food waste, avoiding fertilisers that release greenhouse gases, and conservation of peatlands, which function as carbon sinks.

 

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