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The report, "Climate Change and Land," is the second of three special reports from the United Nations panel. "Global Warming of 1.5ºC" was published last October, and a third report about oceans and the frozen world is expected later this year.
While this new report is global in scope — and particularly focuses on desertification, land degradation, deforestation and agricultural practices — there are some important recommendations that can be applied in New England to help mitigate climate change.
1. Rehabilitate and protect our forests and coastal wetlands
Not only are forests and coastal wetlands some of the most diverse and ecologically important ecosystems in New England, but they sequester a lot of carbon.
Trees also help improve soil and air quality, prevent erosion and keep surface temperatures cooler by providing shade, while coastal wetlands protect inland areas from flooding and sea-level rise.
“We need to be really careful when we convert a forest to development or we release nutrients into a bay in a way that degrades sea grasses [or] marshlands,” says Laura Marx, a forest ecologist with The Nature Conservancy. “All of those things have carbon, and sometimes I think we don’t recognize the impact of losing pieces of land that have the ability to sequester carbon.”
2. Use more climate-friendly farming techniques
Globally, about 23% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, forestry and other related land use activities. And according to the report, depending on how a farmer tills their land, soil erosion rates can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times faster than the rate at which new soil forms.
New England doesn’t have as much agriculture as some other areas, but we could still benefit from implementing more regenerative farming techniques, like going organic, growing cover crops, improving soil quality and tilling the land less.
3. Waste less food
According to the report, food waste accounts for 8-10% of total emissions, and we lose or waste about 25 to 30% of all food we produce. There’s not a ton in the report about what can be done in a region like New England — much of the focus is on developing countries — but as WBUR has reported, there are a lot of things you can do to reduce food waste.
4. Eat less meat
While the report stops short of saying we all need to go vegan, reducing the amount of meat and other animal products we consume will help our climate change problem. Pound for pound, whether it’s cows or chickens, animals raised for food use more resources, space and water than plants. Livestock also contributes to methane emissions by burping and farting.
“Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as those based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-[greenhouse gas] emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health,” the summary report states.
Marx adds that we should try to eat local products as much as possible to decrease transportation emissions and support local economies.
5. Act now (or at least soon)
The report's authors emphasize that the decisions we make now about land use and management will have a big impact on future climate and global environment.
Plus, the sooner we act, the sooner we can reap benefits like cleaner air and water, greater food security, lower rates of poverty and better community resilience, they say.
“The way we humans have been using land has contributed to the climate change problem — mostly through the emissions of greenhouse gases,” says Richard Houghton, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center and co-author of the IPCC report. “But we know enough that we can change our ways and actually use land to be part of the solution.”
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