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Integral role of sustainable land management in climate action


Blog by Jyoti Narsude, PhD researcher in the School of Geography.

Land degradation

Land degradation is becoming a major environmental problem worldwide due to excessive irrigation, use of fertilizers with pesticides, problematic agricultural practices, water and air pollution, and ineffective waste management. Around 25% of land has been degraded globally. As land degrades, it emits greenhouse gases such as carbon and nitrous oxide from the soil into the atmosphere. Recently, scientists found that globally we are losing 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil per year, and if this situation continues, by 2050 95% of all land will become degraded.

Globally, around 3.2 billion people are affected by problems associated with land degradation, especially people in developing countries, rural communities, farmers, and people living below the poverty line. In 2050 the global population will increase to 9.8 billion, leading to a tremendous increase in demand and pressure on agricultural products such as food, fibre, and fuel. However, if agricultural land is overused to satisfy the needs of society, soil function can be reduced, which can ultimately lead to the loss of integrity of the land.

Land management

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes that afforestation and energy crop production lead to decarbonization from land management. Hence, to increase the land area under nature-based land management practices, we need to educate people on climate science and its interaction with land as an ecosystem, including integrating land ecology (by cultivating crops with trees through activities such as public participation in decision-making) and innovative research ideas that can help to sustain ecosystem services.

An example of a natural land management solution includes the involvement of Indigenous people, where a transference of their traditional knowledge to the next generations, along with the participation of women as the heart of the natural ecosystem, play a vital role.

A decrease in the ecological functions of land can be due to a lack of government policies, insufficient funds, and a lack of education for farmers regarding sustainable land management. Under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to secure land rights and efficient policy implementation to ensure sustainable land management practices.

The 10th anniversary of the Warsaw Framework for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) has been celebrated by countries and organizations, with 60 developing countries participating. Leaders from government, civil society, and business sectors also agreed at The Forest and Climate Leaders Partnership COP28 Ministerial to actively work further on the Declaration on Forest and Land Use, decided at COP26 in 2021. National packages regarding forest, climate, and nature have been announced by countries including Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, and Papua New Guinea.

Land covered with natural forest is closely linked with local livelihoods. Nature-based land management activities with sufficient governance have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, and soil and water erosion; regulate socioeconomic and ecological services; and resolve issues such as food insecurity and lack of productivity of land. Suggestions for these management activities include:

  • Regenerative agriculture practices – this can efficiently enhance the resilience of soil and includes the prevention of soil water erosion, regulation of infiltration, and a potential reduction in biodiversity loss.
  • Adaptation of agroforestry systems – determining the objectives behind land use, agroforestry systems (including silvoarable systems, silvopastoral systems, hedgerows, and shelterbelts) can effectively enhance the functioning of soil and water, the biogeochemical cycle, with increasing productivity of land leads to foster economic growth and wellbeing of society.
  • Adaptation of indigenous plant species – helps to prevent the evolutionary adaptive changes of non-native species on terrestrial ecosystems as it can maintain and increase the soil fertility that increases the rate of carbon sequestration.
  • Adopting flexible local government policies around adaptation – public education to ensure adaptive sustainable approach towards land management tools in a broader context. An inclusive system of stakeholders, communicators, and policymakers can develop incentives for social, economic, and ecological growth.
  • International financial support for developing countries – including global stocktakes to reduce food hunger in the world, with beneficial use of terrestrial ecosystems.

COP28 saw conversations related to sustainable land management, including sustainable agriculture and nature-friendly solutions, with an ecosystem-based approach to protect and restore the resilience of terrestrial ecosystems. However, my hope for the upcoming COP29, is for scientific subsidiary bodies to find out the carbon sources and sink of carbon in terrestrial ecosystems to emphasize climate change mitigation and achieve country-based net-zero targets. Moreover, to face the problems that arise from climate change, community-based education needs to adapt by bridging the gap between policymakers and the public.

Featured image: Chris Bambrick, Flickr.