500 Million Threatened By Desertification

GENEVA, Switzerland

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new special report on climate change and land use August 8, part of a series of such examinations authorized by the United Nations designed to assist governments in understanding the effects of climate change and necessary policy decisions.

The report, prepared by international experts from 52 countries, examines land use and its degradation. The panel identifies increased desertification and emphasizes that climate change is creating additional stress on land use.

IPCC warns that these trends have already put pressure on food production and that the pressure will increase due to continuing effects of floods, drought, and extreme weather. It suggests that, without swift interventions, eventually the global food supply will shrink.

The report points out that over 500 million people live in places threatened by desertification where soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming. Climate change will aggravate and perhaps accelerate the degradation.

Currently, at least 10 percent of the world’s population is undernourished and cross-border migration patterns can be observed globally. What is of particular concern is that such patterns could erupt on more that one continent simultaneously.

It is well documented that food shortages affect poorer parts of the world more severely than richer parts andacknowledged by experts that migration flows are already effecting a redefinition of politics in Europe and North America.

The report offers recommendations to address a food crisis, suggesting a major assessment of agriculture, land use, and consumer behavior. Suggestions include measures such as consuming less meat and wasting less food. But any solution to the aggregate problem would also require political will and capital, financial support and a general willingness for change.

In addition to desertification the report examines the loss of land through agriculture. Draining wetlands, for instance in Indonesia, for palm oil production causes release of carbon dioxide, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation, for instance the Amazon in Brazil, for grazing cattle, removes the carbon-sink capacity of the trees as well as increases methane production from cattle.

The authors urge changes in how food is produced and distributed, including better soil management, crop diversification and fewer restrictions on trade. They also call for shifts in consumer behavior, noting that at least one-quarter of all food worldwide is wasted.

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