The land provides a livelihood for millions of plants and animals, and billions of people. Our forests, deserts, oceans and mountains are used - and sometimes overused - for agriculture, residences, industries, mining and recreation.
More and more, this demand on Earth’s ecological resources exceeds the pace at which it can regenerate. All this human activity has caused warming over the land to occur at faster rates, altering crop seasons, reducing freshwater deposits and adding stress to biodiversity.
Another less visible consequence of land exploitation comes in the form of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report notes that one-quarter of the global total of GHG emissions can be contributed to land use as a result of deforestation (CO2), rice and ruminant livestock (Ch4) and fertiliser use (N2O).
Reducing this footprint and achieving the emission targets outlined in the Paris Agreement means rethinking land management. The world’s climate and ecological emergency cannot be addressed without significant transformations in forestry and agriculture, in our diets and in our approach to food waste.
The United Nations has outlined pathways to achieving sustainable land use which includes continuous funding for land protection and restoration, but also the uptake of climate-smart technologies and regenerative agro-ecological practices by farmers.
Land use meets innovation
Technological innovations can be used synergistically with nature-based solutions (NbS) to better adapt to the effects of climate change. EIT Climate-KIC has developed a suite of initiatives with systemic impact that use NbS and/or technological innovations to enhance resilience and mitigate climate change via increased carbon sinks:
1. EIT Climate-KIC’s Landscapes as Carbon Sinks Deep Demonstration is currently working in Scotland and Châlons-en-Champagne, France, to look at land use systemically and transition ecosystems from sources of carbon into sinks. It supports NbS such as forest, peatland and wetland conservation, tree planting, and soil regeneration—which also foster biodiversity.
2. ‘Innovations in land use’ highlights a small portion of EIT Climate-KIC’s land-focused innovations, which usher in its large-scale programmes for systemic change. From optimising biomass to promoting environment-friendly agricultural practices, these innovations are paving the way for our systemic transformation initiatives.
3. Driving Europe’s transition to a net-zero economy, the Carbon Removal ClimAccelerator supports technological and nature-based solutions such as afforestation, direct air capture, biochar, and bioenergy-based carbon capture and storage. Fifteen start-ups have been selected to scale their climate impact with large-scale emissions reduction this year.
When it comes to taking personal action, citizens have more power than they think. Making simple lifestyle changes can help support a more sustainable planet. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) advises the following:
1. Plant or foster native trees to absorb carbon. Rewild your garden, balcony or window boxes to increase the biodiversity of native plants and animals.
2. Regulate home temperatures better by adding verandas, green roofs, high inertia walls, and bio-based insulation.
3. Grow your own food and connect to where it comes from.
4. Eliminate the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.