Section six | Land Use
The land use sector incorporates all of the natural capital stocks and ecosystem services that provide the world’s people with benefits such as water filtration, food, fibre, fuel and livelihoods.
Enabling financing for, and better provision and management of, “natural infrastructure” is therefore critical to delivering on our global aims of inclusive growth and climate action. Global demand for food, fuel and fibre is growing rapidly, increasing pressure on natural capital and ecosystems and exacerbating climate risks. By 2050, agriculture will need to supply 70% more food than today to feed a growing population, delivering on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2: ending hunger, in a way that does not harm the soil, water, biodiversity, ecosystem services or climate upon which human well-being and development depend.1
Wood products are also increasingly in demand, propelled by the emerging and developing countries. One 2012 projection is for a tripling in demand by 2050, while a widely accepted and more recent projection forecasts increases from 28% (for sawnwood) to 192% (recycled paper products for pulp) to 2060.2 Although the majority of tree removals in 2015 still came from natural forests, planted forest area increased by 66% from 1990 to 2015, and now accounts for 7% of the world’s total forest area.3 Of the estimated 264 millino hectares (ha) of planted forests in 2010, roughly three-quarters had commercial wood product production as their main purpose.4 These plantations are highly concentrated in a small number of countries, including China, United States, Russia, Japan and India.5 On a smaller scale in terms of total area but larger scale proportionately, plantations of major tree crops are growing in tropical forest countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Liberia, and Peru.6 Remote sensing shows that more than half the tree cover of peninsular Malaysia, for example, now consists of tree plantations, and plantations constitute nearly 16% of tree cover in Indonesia.7
Meeting the surging demand for food, fibre and fuel will require major changes to land use and water management practices. More than 25% of the world’s agricultural land is now severely degraded, and at least another 8% is close to being so.8 About 12 million ha of productive land are lost each year due to unsustainable farming practices,9 and about 7.6 million ha of forest are permanently converted each year to other uses.10 Global fresh water withdrawals have increased sevenfold since 1900, and 70% of current global water use is for agriculture, ranging from 21% of withdrawals in Europe to 82% in Africa. Water scarcity is becoming a serious problem in some regions: in 2011, 41 countries were considered “water stressed”.11
Estimates suggest more than 15 million ha of land continue to be degraded each year – primarily in developing countries – to the point that they can no longer produce economic goods or provide ecosystem services. Land use practices – including, but not only, deforestation and the conversion of land into agricultural uses – were also responsible for around 24% of man-made global GHG emissions in 2010.12 Agriculture accounted for 13% of all global GHGs, with over half of this coming from livestock directly. Land use change, such as deforestation, accounted for 11%.13
It is not possible to successfully combat climate change without transforming the way that land is used. Deforestation and forest restoration, land rehabilitation, livestock emissions abatement, improved soil and water management, and changing cropping practices are investible activities, provided that the right incentives for behaviour change are in place. Overall, research for the Global Commission has estimated that land use interventions could deliver between 15–35% of the emissions reductions needed globally to put us on a 2°C pathway by 2030.14
Land use not only has strong emission reduction potential – it is also the only sector that can currently remove carbon from the atmosphere on a large scale. Conserving and restoring forests and rehabilitating degraded lands are critical if we are to maintain and increase carbon storage – both above and below ground – as well as other crucial ecosystem services. Agricultural practices also play a key role in maintaining, enhancing or reducing soil carbon sequestration. Recognising this, France launched the “4 for 1,000” initiative at COP21 to emphasise that the world’s soils store 1,500 Gt CO2e, and increasing this by 0.4% per year, which is technically feasible, would compensate for a massive amount (4.3 Gt CO2e) of other emissions.
Land use, natural capital and green infrastructure
Land is natural capital, and as such, it has significant and complex interconnections with built infrastructure. It can effectively serve as natural infrastructure, such as when wetlands provide a buffer from floods, and sand dunes protect from storm surges in coastal areas. But built infrastructure – from roads, to dams, to agricultural facilities – can also take a serious toll on the land and the natural resources it holds.15 For example, a meta-analysis of the relationship between road development and deforestation in tropical developing counties found that new roads were highly associated with significant new deforestation.16 Yet new road infrastructure is projected to grow globally by 60% (25 million km) over 2010 levels by 2050, with 90% of additions occurring in developing countries.17 Already, 43% of global road infrastructure is in developing-country areas that have relatively higher environmental sensitivity.18
However it is also possible to develop incentives – such as regulatory enforcement measures, fiscal policies and subsidies – that encourage people and businesses to value the natural resources and the potential uses of land as an integral part of the real economy,19 weighing the short-term opportunity costs of converting natural resources against the long-term loss of ecosystem services or capital stock.20
Humans already place a high value on the natural infrastructure services that landscapes provide, though they may fail to capture these values economically (see Box 27). For example, natural infrastructure strategies (such as using wetlands as flood buffers instead of building flood walls, or revegetating a slope to prevent landslides) are more beneficial and make better economic sense than human-built “grey infrastructure” alternatives. Natural infrastructure may be more robust to climate change impacts and variability, and it is easier to adjust and adaptively manage than “grey” infrastructure, which is often socially and economically difficult to reverse or remove once built.21 More effectively recognising and emphasising the benefits of natural infrastructure for climate mitigation and adaptation in particular could increase access to dedicated climate finance.