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If we want food, we must look after our land

Deutsche Welle Tamsin Walker
Tamsin Walker
August 8, 2019

As we learn how climate change leaves our food security — and us — hanging in the balance, it's time to stop behaving as though the planet were an endless store of goodies, says DW's Tamsin Walker.

A man stands in a barren field, sewing seeds
Image: Catherine Davison

"Sobering" is perhaps the most optimistic response to the message contained in the IPCC report on Climate Change and Land, which sets out how the climate crisis is impacting the land upon which we rely for our continued existence. "Terrifying" is another word that springs to mind.

The report, which was published today, makes no bones about the fact that we collectively and individually are the ones who stand to suffer if we don't acknowledge and address the impact of climate change on our land; and we stand to suffer in frightening ways. 

Not only are the predictions for an increased incidence of water shortage and desertification —  factors known to trigger displacement and conflict but for food insecurity resulting from extreme weather events disrupting food supply chains, decreased yields and the nutrient-poor crops. 

It might read like something of a Doomsday scenario, but perhaps that's the wake-up call we need. Even here in water-rich Germany, farmers and therefore the nation as a whole —  suffered massive crop losses last during the 2018 drought. This summer, temperature highs have been broken, forests have burned, residents have reported kitchen taps quite literally running dry, and farmers have decried the aridity of their once-reliable lands.

Tamsin Walker
DW editor Tamsin Walker

It would take someone with a very distanced approach to reality to not find these scenarios unsettling. But then again, the way many of us live our urban lives in this brave 21st century of ours, rarely leaving the cities where food appears to magically grow on the supermarket shelves, means the state of the land outside the concrete belt is distantly unreal.

Looking ahead

So what to do? The IPCC report is replete with recommendations for policy-makers, one of which is, naturally, better land management.  Better, as in using what the human hand has already cultivated to be in its service in ways that lend themselves to maximum and sustainable production.  Better, as in preventing land degradation and helping depleted soils back to a more sound state of health. But the solutions don't rest there.

Two people gathering water from a much-depleted water source
As the planet warms, drought and desertifiction are predicted to increase Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Sankar

It is, for anyone who hasn't already heard the news, time to stop spewing out greenhouse gas emissions, time to stop cutting down trees, time to stop behaving as though the planet were an endless store of goodies free for the taking.  The Earth, with its forests, peat- and grasslands, has gone, and continues to go, a long way to compensating for our behavior, by capturing the carbon we emit. But there's a limit to what it can do, and we are reaching it.

The IPCC makes abundantly clear that we need to pull out all the stops to really tackle the climate crisis and usher in an era of sustainability or face a future in which food and water insecurity become a painful reality for large parts of the global population.

It also suggests that we can all do our bit towards averting this looming disaster, by cutting back on consumption and ensuring we don't waste the food we buy. I second that wholly. But I also think the occasional trip out of the city to touch the soils we expect to nurture us could go some distance to driving home the reality that our land needs us to look after it in just the same way we expect it to look after us.

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