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Key Message

Sustainable land-use management provides a variety of cost-effective mechanisms for supporting both climate adaptation and mitigation.

Land-Use Management

Mitigating and adapting to climate change through sustainable land management

Changes in land use such as deforestation and soil degradation—two devastating effects of unsustainable farming practices—emit large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere; land-use change alone is responsible for approximately 20 per cent of global emissions of carbon dioxide each year. These unsustainable practices also have profound implications for the health and well-being of local communities and the ecosystems in which they reside.

Yet the land-use sector also has the potential to play a large, positive role in the global effort to address climate change—both by reabsorbing or preventing the release of carbon dioxide and by building robust ecosystems that support adaptation to the impacts of climate change. Sustainable land-management practices such as conservation agriculture, intercropping and sustainable forestry can provide multiple benefits such as reducing erosion, building soil fertility and structure, improving water quality and buffering against drought.

These improved land-management practices are also cost-effective options that could take effect very quickly. Given that it will take time to transform our energy systems and infrastructure to achieve deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, actions in the land-use sector could have a significant role in meeting short- to medium-term greenhouse gas mitigation commitments. And because the largest and most cost-effective mitigation opportunities in the agriculture and forestry sectors are in developing countries, these countries are likely to play a prominent role in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through land management.

The work of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) at the intersection of land use and climate change explores ways to best achieve the mitigation and vulnerability-reduction potential of this sector through the development of an effective international climate regime. Our work focuses on strengthening the capacity of developing-country negotiators and practitioners to effectively engage in the decisions that are shaping the emergence of reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries (REDD). IISD is also undertaking analysis of how agriculture can be most effectively included in the global climate regime.

Our work on these issues complements and supports the research we are undertaking related to the emergence of a North American approach to energy and climate policy, reflecting the fact that land management is also an important issue in Canada, the United States and Mexico. For example, Alberta's emission trading system includes offsets in the agriculture and forestry sectors, and Canada's emerging federal system is expected to include offsets in the land-management sector. As well, our work in the Canadian prairies continues to explore how to create a sustainable system of prairie agriculture resilient to environmental and economic shocks and stresses.

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Related IISD Research