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The Forgotten Climate Solution: Land

By 3p Contributor

Climate change is bad for business, especially for those in agricultural sectors that rely on land to produce food, fiber and fuel. The more erratic the climate, the less stable their business.

Yet even though agriculture, forestry and other land uses contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world, land-oriented climate change solutions receive only 3% of climate funding and represent 1% of the public conversation. We’ve got to close this gap.

That is why business leaders are gathering with public officials, scientists, producers and more for the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this month. During the event, WWF and others will urge businesses to make land use a greater part of their efforts to reduce their carbon emissions, using science-based targets to set meaningful goals. Science-based targets ensure that businesses aren’t just doing better but are doing enough to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5oC over pre-industrial averages. Companies develop their own targets using a variety of methodologies and an independent group of experts assess them to ensure they’re viable and effective. Aside from the environmental benefits, science-based targets have also been shown to enhance brand reputation, boost innovation, increase savings, and bolster investor confidence.

To encourage better land use, WWF and a coalition of several dozen other NGOs have issued the 30X30 Forests, Food, and Land Challenge. Together, we’re urging businesses, states, city and local governments, and global citizens to improve forest and habitat conservation, food production and consumption, and land use, working together across all sectors of the economy to deliver up to 30% of the climate solutions needed by 2030.

Getting to 30% requires action at several levels. First, it means conserving forests, grasslands and other habitats. The conversion of these ecosystems to cropland and pasture releases carbon into the atmosphere and diminishes their ability to put that carbon back into the ground. Second, it means restoring degraded lands, which both makes more land available for production and builds that land’s capacity to store carbon. Third, it means using climate-smart agricultural practices to foster more resilient food systems that can put more carbon in the ground and better withstand the effects of climate change.

Most often, however, companies cannot take these actions themselves and, instead, rely on hundreds or thousands of different producers around the world to do so. “Land use” happens on the ground, after all. And this is what makes setting science-based targets especially challenging. When companies set science-based targets to cut emissions, their greenhouse gas sources are categorized in three areas: from their direct operations, their electricity use, and their supply chains. The third source—called “Scope 3 emissions”—require companies to influence the behavior of their suppliers, including smallholders in remote areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America rife with deforestation.

Out of 636 companies with commitments to eliminating deforestation from their commodity supply chains, 453 are manufacturers and retailers, several degrees removed from producers. These companies have immense buying power to start the conversation with supply chain stakeholders closer to production, but they also need to offer financial incentives and technical assistance to effect real change on the ground. Other players can advance progress, too. Input suppliers that sell fertilizer, chemicals and equipment, for example, can provide farmers with critical financial and technical support. Banks and investors can create new financial tools to incentivize and facilitate improved production practices. Tech companies can make it easier for companies, governments and other stakeholders to monitor progress against deforestation-free commitments with smart satellites, mapping technologies, networked supply chains. And governments are critical for setting policies and enforcing laws that level the playing field for responsible actors.

When the Global Climate Action Summit concludes, our efforts to curb climate change will continue—indeed, they must grow. In December, nearly every national government on earth will convene in Katowice, Poland, for the next COP to inject more momentum into the implementation of the Paris Agreement, but this is not their responsibility alone.

Businesses especially need to act, and collaborate with other stakeholders locally, nationally and internationally to serve as the engine of our ambition for a safer world. Otherwise longer droughts, more intense floods and production shortfalls will disrupt their operations and send shock waves that disrupt society at large. Science-based targets and land-based solutions can help us mitigate climate change and chart a livable future for our planet.

Image credit: Day's Edge

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