This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released another damning report on how climate change will seriously impact the future of our planet. This report comes from the second group out of three IPCC working groups, which focuses on assessing the effects of climate change such as extreme weather and rising temperatures, and how people and society can adapt to accommodate these changes.
Here are the main points which we at Land Life are particularly concerned about and are working on a daily basis to improve.
Climate will affect almost half of the world’s population:
The report’s findings cover a lot of ground and form yet another alarming wake-up call that underlines the importance of immediate action. The areas that are considered “highly vulnerable” to climate change, meaning that they will be impacted the most initially, are populated by roughly half of the global population. That’s between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people, and it is the most vulnerable people who will be hit the hardest. It is definite that all regions and walks of life will be affected, with no inhabited region escaping the impact of extreme weather and rising temperatures.
Species are experiencing mass die-offs, including trees, corals and animals. One of the main alarming wake-up calls in the report is the effects of key ecosystems losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, as they morph from carbon sinks into sources of carbon emissions.
What this means is that there is even more focus on restoring ecosystems to a healthy, functioning state. Restoring degraded land, of which there are currently 2 billion hectares globally, as well nurturing broken ecosystems back to health is essential to combating climate change. It is also essential to adapt this restoration to changing temperatures so that these ecosystems can thrive in the long run. This restoration needs to be done in the best possible way. Planting large-scale non-native monocultures, which will lead to loss of biodiversity and poor climate change resilience, was placed among the ‘Worst Practices and Negative Adaptation Trade-offs’ for temperate forests. Resilient ecosystems are going to be essential to not only nature’s survival but humanity’s too. Healthy ecosystems provide necessary resources, such as food and clean water, emphasizing global society’s reliance on nature.
When asked for a reaction to the report, Harrie Lovenstein, Land Life’s Head of Research & Development said, “if we wait for the perfect solution we might be too late, we need to work with the science we have and take some risks to make proper change.” He continued, “although I’m worried about the acceleration, it just makes me realize there is no time to waste. We need to change gear and push ecosystem restoration to the forefront of our priorities.”
The report underlines the need to conserve 30% to 50% of the Earth’s land, freshwater, and ocean areas – echoing the 30% goal of the U.N.’s Convention on Biodiversity. Maintaining or restoring natural species and structural diversity was placed among the ‘Best Practices and Adaptation Benefits’, with very positive impacts. This leads to more diverse and resilient systems. Ignoring biodiversity considerations, and using misleading targets like the ‘numbers of trees planted’ can potentially contribute to policy failure and the misuse of carbon offsets. These practices give tree planting a bad name and can cause more harm than good.
Maladaptation has been observed across many regions and systems and occurs for many reasons including inadequate knowledge, short-term, fragmented, single-sectoral, and/or non-inclusive governance planning and implementation. These decisions ignore the risks of adverse effects that can be maladaptive by worsening the impacts of and vulnerabilities to climate change.
Another aspect of the report that really stands out emphasizes how crucial it is that we work together to adapt and mold society to fit the changes that will certainly come, and avoid those that can still be avoided. IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts reported, “our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment.” Cross collaboration is the way forward, and engagement is necessary from all actors. Without it, there is little chance that all the necessary changes will be made.
What’s Next for Land Life:
This IPCC report is somber, but all is not lost yet. What it reiterates, again and again, is that nature’s future and society’s future are inextricably intertwined. What we do really does make an impact and what we don’t do is to our own detriment. Helen Adams, a lecturer at Kings College London and lead author of the report said, “so much depends on what we do as a society . . . the future depends on us, not the climate.” This means action is needed, and it needs to be action that is done in the right way, focusing on restoring ecosystems and working at scale.
This report underlines the importance of Land Life’s work and hammers home the key reasons why we do the work we do. What we are aiming for is to restore future ecosystems. We are revegetating degraded lands, but we don’t want to establish ecosystems that flourished in past climates. Based on the scientifically proven relationships between plant traits and climate, and soil and climate projections, we can select the species and species combinations that fit best in a future climate.
When asked about Land Life’s future work, Land Life’s Head of Resilience, Dr. Koen Kramer said, “we are developing the approaches to building ecosystems that are robust, adapted to local conditions, and resilient to future climatic extremes. Careful documentation of this species selection and decision-making process is important to be able to learn, improve and share what we did and why.”
The future doesn’t have to look bleak, but the window for change is now and it’s getting narrower, so we must jump through it.