Change food production and stop abusing land, major climate report warns

Land degradation, including deforestation, produces almost a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Pictured: An aerial view over a chemically deforested area of the Amazon jungle caused by illegal mining activities in the river basin of the Madre de Dios region in southeast Peru, on May 17, 2019.

Story highlights

  • The IPCC report highlights the vicious cycle of climate change and land degradation
  • Land use produces almost a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions
  • To stave off the worst effects of climate change, humans need to stop converting land

(CNN)Humans have damaged around a quarter of ice-free land on Earth, United Nations scientists warned in a major report Thursday, stressing that further degradation must be stopped to prevent catastrophic global warming.

The warning comes almost a year after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in a landmark report that we only have until 2030 to drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and prevent the planet from reaching the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
    The second IPCC report highlights the vicious cycle of climate change and land degradation.
    "We humans affect more than 70% of ice-free land, a quarter of this land is degraded. The way we produce food and what we eat contributes to the loss of natural ecosystems and declining biodiversity," said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of the IPCC.
    Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of droughts, flooding and heat waves, which can irreversibly destroy natural ecosystems and lead to food shortages.
    Deforestation and agriculture also fuel global warming, by weakening land's capacity to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases.
    "When land is degraded, it reduces the soils ability to take up carbon and this exacerbates climate change. In turn, climate change exacerbates land degradation in many different ways. Today 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification," Masson-Delmotte said.
    Scientists say that we must immediately change the way we manage land, produce food and eat less meat in order to halt the climate crisis.
    But the report does offer hope, there are major opportunities to reverse the damage, the IPCC notes.
    Planting trees on farmland, known as agroforestry, better soil management and reducing food waste are win-win solutions which can boost land productivity and reduce emissions.
    Here are five key takeaways from the IPCC report:

    Land the size of South America has been degraded

    Human use takes up over 70% of the world's ice-free land surface, according to the IPCC report.