Fighting climate change

The special report on "climate change and land", brought out by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has added a new dimension to the fight against global warming. It has included judicious utilisation of land amongst the prerequisites to stave off the climate crisis. The report contends that slashing of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuels alone cannot limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as agreed under the Paris climate accord. Well-judged alterations in land use are imperative to tame the forces that are triggering changes in weather patterns. The report points out that climate change, marked by more frequent weather extremes like droughts, intense downpours and floods, deteriorates land due to erosion and other factors. The degraded lands, in turn, abet climate change because of their reduced capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

According to the report, nearly 23 per cent of the total human-generated GHGs emanate from deforestation, agriculture, animal rearing and other land-based activities. If pre- and post-food production activities such as transportation of inputs and output, energy consumption and food-processing are also taken into account, the land sector’s share in GHGs mounts to 37 per cent. This can be curtailed only by reversing deforestation, expanding area under perennial vegetation and stopping further damage to available land. Normally, land and oceans are believed to imbibe 50 per cent of the GHGs generated through the natural carbon cycle. This level needs to be maintained or, in fact, enhanced by ensuring that afforestation and reforestation together exceed deforestation.

India’s elaborate action plan on climate change, which envisages simultaneous action on several fronts, has an important component on using forests to suck out GHGs from the atmosphere. The target is to create an additional carbon sink of about 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes by 2032 through expansion of forest cover. However, going by the track record so far, this seems a tall order. In fact, the emphasis laid earlier on reclamation of degraded lands as part of the soil and water conservation programmes has also waned with time. The estimates made by a local agency indicate that nearly 30 per cent of the country’s geographic area is undergoing land degradation. Non-agricultural lands, pastures and village common lands are suffering from neglect. Arable lands are deteriorating because of over-irrigation, imprudent input application and flawed agronomic practices. All this needs to be curbed. The land use needs to be based strictly on its carrying capacity.

Significantly, the IPCC’s land report has been timed appropriately in view of the forthcoming two important UN ministerial summits. The first one is the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Combating Desertification (COP 14) to be held in New Delhi early next month. The other is the Conference of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 25) scheduled for December in Santiago, Chile. This report is set to be one of the key inputs for both these meets. The report’s alarmist finding that soil is eroding up to 100 times faster than it is formed through natural processes should, hopefully, spur the countries to revisit their climate action plans. The new aim should be to achieve the twin objectives of arresting land degradation and diminishing GHG discharges. Any laxity on this count may prove costly.

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