Land and food 2019 – IPCC fake approach

No need to invoke climate to address these long lasting issues : land and food.
IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has reached its limits of competence in the 2019 report [1] : land is a critical resource at least since the Physiocrats. Food systems are the focus of many institutions, organizations, and programs for many years (UNEP, iPES Food, FAO, EAT, LASCAUX, …). Of course, it is important that IPCC joins his voice to the above agendas, but IPCC is putting upside-down, in the name of climate change, the relationship « pressure-response » between climate and critical social and ecological challenges.
A few examples from the report.
Agriculture, forestry and other types of land use account for 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions. Why ? Because they have all been intensified and made fossil energy dependent, generating ecological and social dumping.
At the same time, natural land processes absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a
third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry
. The latter two cannot claim the same multifunctional capability, but this does not change the fact that industry, energy, and agriculture together are main drivers of human impacts on the biosphere.

I therefore insist on the fact that climate is not the first and main reason to address land, food, and inequality issues, illustrated below by some of the claims made in the IPCC report.

1 - Land

  • Better land management can contribute to tackling climate change, but is not the only solution.
    -* Land must remain productive to maintain food security as the population increases and the negative impacts of climate change on vegetation increase ;
  • Bioenergy needs to be carefully managed to avoid risks to food security, biodiversity and land degradation ;
  • Roughly 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification ;
  • When land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon.

2 - Food

  • Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security : availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food, utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).
    This is a very good example for why the other way around is at least as sound argument. The 4 pillars of food security need to be tackled even in the absence of climate change. This is also true for food waste and dietary choices.
  • about one third of food produced is lost or wasted.
  • dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others.

3 - Inequalities

  • Reducing inequalities, improving incomes, and ensuring equitable access to food so that some regions (where land cannot provide adequate food) are not disadvantaged, are other ways to adapt to the negative effects of climate change.
    As above, addressing the inequality challenge should not become a climate excuse.

Altogether, the climate change is certainly aggravating the above issues, but in no case is at their very root. There is good reason to envisage these IPCC “climate challenges and solutions” in their own right, social and ecological. In doing so, climate benefits will ensue directly and indirectly.

There is ample evidence on these lines [2] [3] [4] [5] arguing that “green capitalism” and the adaptation of society to climate change were mobilized in the 1970s to extend the market’s hold on nature and complete its commodification. The result is a new form of primary accumulation resulting in an acceleration of nature’s degradation. In this respect, the climate crisis "is the capitalist way of organizing nature" [6]. Market growth refers to the idea of uncertainty in the face of climate change, with economic and social flexibility being the most efficient, cost-effective way to adapt. The advantage of this new ideology is quite obvious : it allows us to ignore the socio-ecological causes of climate vulnerabilities.
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Agriculture is a good example : the agricultural system, through its dependence on the cycles, functions and services of nature, carries within it the most direct risks of what constitutes a planetary experimentation "of the technomarket logics of artificialisation and remodelling of environments", of living beings, including humans [7]. Beyond the significant effects of agro-food systems on climate, the industrialization and concentration of the agro-food sector is increasing the dependence of developing countries. This concentration is increasingly excluding and leads to the development of organizations that are doubly predatory, socially and ecologically [8].
The question of the role of agriculture in development and in the world order is a legitimate one. It raises the challenges posed by "green capitalism" coupled with "digital capitalism" in a neoliberal market in terms of integral and global health. A requirement of public and global health [9] is thus emerging, that of individuals, societies and ecosystems, which must be understood as a link between food, agriculture and nature, the very expression of the general interest. Agriculture appears "as the key to the equilibrium of the world" [10].

In brief : climate is a big issue, but it is important to understand natural and social processes and their interdependencies, and in consequence properly define the primary causes and the associated feedback loops. This is not the case with the IPCC report 2019. For example, addressing the food system issue should follow the UNEP, iPES Food, FAO etc recommendations. On that basis, one can best evaluate where we stand with respect to the 1.5°C boundary in the climate agenda.

Finally, how much costs solving some critical land, food, and inequality problems ?
For example, Lester Brown’s estimations in 2008 [11] showed that expenditures needed to meet social goals and restore the Earth amounted respectively 68 and 93 billion dollars in comparison with the world military budgets, estimated for the same period at 975 billion dollars. Figures in the same range have been on the table for the 2007-2008 financial crisis. On a more specific note, it is estimated that the state spendings of industrialized countries on fossil fuel subsidies is equivalent to the necessary investments in the energy efficiency of buildings [12].

To summarize, no need to say “I have a dream...”, all what is needed is there, we just have to make sure that we act on every occasion in the general interest with challenges identified and articulated in ways that make that limited financial resources are used in the best possible way. For example, the global physico-chemical disruption [13] – of which climate change is a component – should become the agenda number ONE for the society at large and deal with the “invisible crisis”, that reduces by a third the potential economic growth in polluted areas, according to the World Bank [14]

Ioan Negrutiu, August 27, 2019

Article publié ou modifié le

2 septembre 2019