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Putting People at the Center of Climate Action - WRI

In December 2015 world leaders held hands on a stage in Paris, united in their commitment to limit global temperature rise to below 2oC (3.6°F) and ideally to 1.5oC (2.7°F).  The Paris Agreement remains the world’s best shot at avoiding runaway climate change. Implemented wisely, it can also unlock the inclusive growth story of the 21st century, improving lives around the world.

More frequent and severe wildfires, storms, and record heatwaves are devastating communities. In the first half of 2019 such events displaced a record 7 million people. Climate change is disrupting lives and livelihoods, with the poorest hit hardest. New studies show that even half a degree of warming can lead to millions more people being impacted and much greater economic damage. Inaction, or inadequate action, will mean more lives lost, mass migration, major economic disruptions and worsening inequality.

A mounting body of evidence shows the potential benefits of bold climate action

  • Global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could deliver $26 trillion in net global economic benefits between now and 2030 according to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. It could generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030, equivalent to the total workforce of the UK and Egypt today, and avoid over 700,000 deaths from air pollution.
  • In cities, investments in existing low-carbon technologies and practices could cut 90% of greenhouse gas emissions. These would require an investment of $1.8 trillion (approximately 2% of global GDP) a year but generate annual returns worth $2.8 trillion in 2030 from the energy and material cost savings alone.
  • Transforming food and land-use systems can unlock significant social and economic benefits, including an estimated $4.5 trillion in new business opportunities each year by 2030, a doubling of rural income growth and over 120 million new jobs in poor rural communities, improved global food security, all while freeing up 1.5 billion hectares (3.7 billion acres) of land by 2050.
  • At the same time, we need to adapt to the climate change that is already locked in as a result of past emissions. The Global Commission on Adaptation recently found that investing $1.8 trillion in five key areas to build resilience globally could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits between 2020 and 2030.
  • The conditions to finance an ambitious program of climate action are better than ever, given that real interest rates for long-term government borrowing in parts of the world are at zero or even negative. The international community must seize these oppportunities and step up finance and other support to the poorest and most vulnerable, to ensure a rapid and just transition to a resilient, low-carbon and inclusive growth path. 

Improving agricultural practices and land use is a critical aspect of the interrelated challenges of feeding the world, ensuring sustainable rural livelihoods, and addressing climate change. 820 million people are malnourished and regularly go hungry. More than two-thirds of the global poor (more than 500 million people) live in rural areas, where they often experience inequitable access to land and resources, and poor access to markets — which can lead to heavy losses of produce before it’s even sold.

By 2050, the world will need to feed nearly 10 billion people. The difference between the amount of food produced in 2010 and the amount needed to feed nearly 10 billion people is estimated at 7,400 trillion calories. That’s a 56% increase from what we produced in in 2010. But we simply cannot use 56% more land. Instead, we must sustainably increase productivity on current agricultural land to avoid further expansion into natural areas.

A recent report from the Food and Land Use Coalition suggests that key improvements in food and land use systems could indeed improve global food security, while at the same time leading to doubled rural income growth and over 120 million new jobs in poor rural communities. Total economic gains from transforming food and land-use systems could reach $5.7 trillion a year by 2030, linked to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, preservation of natural capital, improved human health, and gains in agricultural productivity and food distribution systems.

So-called “climate-smart agriculture”’ covers a myriad of old and new production systems, including holistic landscape farming and techniques ranging from intercropping and integrated crop-livestock management to improved water, soil and nutrient management. Done effectively, climate-smart agriculture can lead to higher productivity that creates better jobs and income for farmers, mitigates greenhouse gas emissions, and increases climate resilience.

Farmers in Niger, for example, have adopted improved landscape management approaches, greatly increasing tree and shrub cover on cropland by interplanting nitrogen-fixing trees and allowing roots and stumps to regenerate. The strategy has substantially increased productivity on 5 million hectares (12.4 million acres) of land, restored at least 250,000 hectares (617,763 acres) of severely degraded land, and provided food for 2.5 million people.

Recent analysis by the Global Commission on Adaptation indicates that an investment of $1.8 trillion between 2020 and 2030 could yield benefits of $7.1 trillion over this period. These benefits include avoided losses to farmers’ livelihoods, to workers’ jobs and wages; avoided damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure; and avoided deaths, trauma and illness.

Climate adaptation can especially benefit the poor, who tend to live in areas more exposed to natural hazards like landslides or flooding. The social gains of adaptation will be greater and more equitable if poor and vulnerable populations participate in the planning and design of public policies, contributing unique local knowledge and voicing their specific needs.

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