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Science Day Session 2

Introducing the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land

Facilitator: Mariam Akhtar-Schuster
Opening remarks: Mariam Akhtar-Schuster and Annette Cowie
Introduction to the report: Jim Skea (Co-Chair, Working Group III), Minal Pathak (Technical Support Unit Working Group III, Drafting Author, SPM), and Alisher Mirzabaev (Coordinating Lead Author)
Panel: Annette Cowie, Fatima Denton (Coordinating Lead Author), Jagdish Krishnaswamy (Coordinating Lead Author), Alisher Mirzabaev, Minal Pathak, Jim Skea and Lindsay Stringer Lead Author; University of Leeds) 

The intention of this session:

This session was dedicated to the presentation of the Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems that had been developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), known as the Special Report on Climate Change and Land. This Special Report was approved and accepted at the 50th Session of the IPCC held from 2 to 7 August 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the two-year development phase of the Special Report the UNCCD-SPI and the IPCC regularly interacted within the framework of their respective mandates. This included nomination of experts on the basis of the IPCC nomination process, participation in the IPCC call for the review of the drafts, and participation in IPCC meetings. As requested by the UNCCD Parties, the UNCCD-SPI also sought pathways to further consolidate cooperation with the IPCC.

The structure of the session:

Professor Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III for the development of the Sixth Assessment cycleand co-coordinator of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land was invited by the SPI to present the outcomes of the SRCCL, together with authors of this special report and a representative of the technical support unit (TSU). Jim Skea gave an overview of the development of the report; Minal Pathak from the TSU provided an overview of the major findings, and Alisher Mirzabaev, the coordinating lead author of the chapter on ‘desertification’ provided specific insight into the findings of his chapter.

To conclude Session 2, the presenters together with other authors of the Special Report, namely Annette Cowie (lead author), Fatima Denton (coordinating lead author), Jagdish Krishnaswamy (coordinating lead author) and Lindsay Stringer (lead author) formed a panel to discuss the findings with the experts attending the Science Day.

SPI member Mariam Akhtar-Schuster coordinated the interactive dialogue between the IPCC experts and the experts attending the Science Day during this panel to allow all seven IPCC experts to interact with the participants. 

Questions included:

  • What experiences have emerged from coordinating the involvement of different scientific communities in the development of the Special Report, and what opportunities do the IPCC in future for cooperation between the ‘climate expert community’ and the ‘land expert community’?
  • Climate change is changing the potential of land’s productivity worldwide. Does the Special Report on Climate Change and Land provide information on how knowledge about desertification and land degradation can support proactive responses in regions where higher temperatures and water scarcity are changing the potential of land? 
  • How can we transform agriculture in order to adapt agriculture to changing climates?
  • Some land-based options could compete with current land uses. How much land is needed for mitigation? What are the trade-offs, particularly concerning food security?
  • What opportunities and challenges emerged from collaboration between natural and social scientists during the development of this IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land?

Major aspects emerging from this session:

The IPCC experts highlighted that land degradation is a driver of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The combined effects of climate change and land degradation are having an impact on poverty and food security. Currently, nearly 10% of drylands are affected by desertification hotspots, as shown by declining vegetation productivity, affecting 20% of the drylands population. Desertification results from processes including soil erosion, soil salinization, and reduced water availability associated with climate change.

The IPCC experts highlighted that land degradation is often assessed from loss of land cover or plant growth. The Special Report on Climate Change and Land however also shows the social dimensions of the climate change and land degradation interactions, because changes to the status of land affects human wellbeing, economic functions and the productive capacity. In this regard, the importance of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices was emphasized as a measure that reduces risk of land degradation and contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The IPCC experts highlighted however that the adoption and implementation of SLM practices and technologies can be hampered by a lack of access to credit and markets. Collective action, climate insurance, extension services and early warning systems are also required to foster SLM to support land-based climate change adaptation and mitigation. Importantly, good governance will be necessary, including a mix of regulatory policies and incentives, land planning instruments and land tenure reform, to facilitate adoption of SLM.

Jim Skea concluded the panel discussions by highlighting that bringing together scientists from different disciplines and also policy-makers during the development of this IPCC special report had been challenging, but also rewarding as it had raised the awareness in the different scientific and policymaking arenas that achieving climate change adaptation and mitigation is not possible without considering ‘land’, and that vice versa, striving to manage land degradation and to achieve LDN without considering climate change impacts would also not be possible. The pursuit of LDN can therefore provide incentives to also supporting climate change adaptation and mitigation. He finished by stating that these interdependencies open the door for potential future collaboration between the scientific communities of the UNCCD-SPI and the IPCC.

Addendum: As decided at its fourteenth session of the Conference of the Parties of the UNCCD in New Delhi (Decision 18/COP.14), the SPI has been requested to analyze the key messages of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land   for presentation at the fifteenth session of the Committee on Science and Technology of the UNCCD in 2021.

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