25th Oct 2019 | 23:06
LAND IS A CRITICAL RESOURCE
‘Land is a critical natural asset’.1 It is even more fitting that under consumer, investor and societal pressures to deliver climate change adaptation objectives, the debate about the role of land becomes ever more prevalent and deliberated. Land performs numerous social, economic and environmental functions, from carbon storage to settlements, and biodiversity to nutrition. Conflicts of interest arise from the different functions and priorities of land, through which opportunity costs and trade-off must be made. A number of these decisions come at the expense of the environment, despite supporting other key functions. This article will investigate into drivers behind the land use, before outlining more sustainable approaches that might benefit land’s multiple stakeholders.
Interestingly, climate change is in itself a key reason as to why land use has undergone changes. Often it is spoken about land impacting changes in climate, but the return effect is also well documented. The forecasted rise in temperatures would improve food and vegetation through ‘the greater uptake of crops previously grown only in warmer climates, such as grapes’2, but would reduce the availability of water for soils and wildlife, combined with projected heavier rain and flooding of nutrients. Thus, it becomes imperative to construct a reciprocal relationship between land use and climate change in order to preserve a sustainable method where land can fulfil its multiple purposes.
Expanding on the land use side, it is evident to see just how scarce land availability is, and opportunity costs are ever-increasing through urbanisation and growing demand for housing, food, nutrients inter alia. To remain productive in addressing these demands, it consequently ‘means there are limits to the contribution of land to addressing climate change’.3 Policymakers, national, continental and international, have reinforced this, one famous example being the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) since its launch in 1962. Such a policy highlights the trade-off and puzzle that land poses, advancing food production at the expense of ‘soil fertility through intensive monoculture farming’ and ‘reduced functioning of semi-natural habitats’.4
Inspecting this two-way relationship, there are three solution mechanisms which I believe ought to be considered in order to construct a more sustainable land-use model. The first two, which should not come as too much of a surprise, are to find innovative solutions to using land and fresh approaches to tackle climate change. The third way would be to look at the functions that land possesses and find ways to alter the demand for these services (or find alternatives other than land to provide them), as a means of reducing the burden on land for the provision of such services. These three mechanisms are the ones that this article will look at in greater detail.
Beginning with innovations in land use, discovering new ways to improving the productivity of forests and agriculture would reduce the land mass required for food production (new technologies would be a natural solution to examine here). Larger swathes of agricultural land can be released for alternative purposes, be it afforestation or reforestation, or even left to provide settlements for an ever-growing global population. The IPCC has highlighted ‘immediate opportunities to implement cost-effective, low-carbon practices’ through ‘better soil and livestock management’, replacing any carbon-intensive methods that farmers are dependent upon.5 The main challenges of these executions are not so much related to the potential that they can provide, nor the projected success of them, but whether there are measures in place to deliver that potential. A lack of expertise, insufficient research efforts and a strong tendency of inertia are all combustible elements that combine to create a barrier to success for land innovations and transformations. One such company who has broken from the norm is Growing Underground, a hydroponics farm growing green 33 metres below ground (something to perhaps look at when resolving land conflicts) and keeping production ‘within the closed-loop system removing any risk of agricultural run-off’.6 The more initiative is taken to tackle inertia, the faster the improvements.
Land itself cannot perform all the necessary changes to facilitate a sustainable future, and indeed the methods to prevent climate change from offloading further environmental damage to land will need to be called upon. ‘Agriculture is particularly sensitive to climate change’ particularly through the rise in temperatures and evaporation of water for biodiversity purposes, as well as frequent droughts in areas of low altitude. Factor in the increased pace of the hydrological cycle and evaporation, scarcity of water will only mount, having profound effects on land and its functions.7
The role of technological innovations has been cited in the article already, but some of the overlooked possibilities of getting through the land-climate conundrum may actually lie slightly outside this. This brings us to the third approach to creating more sustainable land use, on changes in consumer behaviour. Alterations in diet to reduce meat consumption and, in turn, production would allow for a greater release of agricultural land for other means, whilst yielding positive environmental impacts simultaneously. Government procedures to promote healthier nutrition and lifestyles, in addition to further educational practices focusing on health or food waste, evidence that there is more outside of the land-climate relationship that can be brought in to solve this sustainability puzzle and as such, it is something that ought to be put into consideration in the near future.
1Committee on Climate Change (2018) Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change, London: Committee on Climate Change.
3Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2019) Land is a Critical Resource, IPCC report says, Geneva: IPCC.
4Committee on Climate Change (2018) Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change, London: Committee on Climate Change.
5Committee on Climate Change (2018) Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change, London: Committee on Climate Change.
6Growing Underground (2019) From Farm to Fork in Under Four Hours, Available at: http://growingunderground. com/ (Accessed: 20th October 2019).
7Mendelsohn, R. (2011) The Impact of Climate Change on Land, Available at: https://www.lincolninst.edu/publications/conference-papers/impact-climate-change-land (Accessed: 20th October 2019).
Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they are created. I seek to publish content that dives into environmental, social and governance problems, and provide an insight into them through a unique lens and a deeper level, highlighting common misconceptions and assumptions.