Gloom from the climate-change front line

Aug 08, 2019

AFTER 29 HOURS of uninterrupted negotiations the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on how alterations in land use are contributing to such change, was gavelled through in Geneva on the afternoon of August 7th. When, minutes later, your correspondent asked to speak with some of the researchers, she was informed they had “gone to bed”. The report these exhausted delegates produced—all 1,300 pages of it—fires another warning shot about the state of the planet and the way people are transforming virtually every corner of every continent. Human activities affect roughly three-quarters of Earth’s ice-free land, with huge consequences for the climate.

Land masses are natural carbon sinks, absorbing greenhouse gases by a variety of processes, including photosynthesis. They also produce such gases—for instance, when vegetation decomposes or burns. By conserving some ecosystems and destroying others to make way for pastures and fields, or chopping down trees for timber, human activities on the land add an extra layer of complexity to already complex natural cycles.

The report found that between 2007 and 2016 such activities produced emissions equivalent to 9bn-15bn tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, or roughly 23% of all man-made greenhouse-gas emissions. During that time, land surfaces...

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