Knowledge for a sustainable world

Gillian Summers, John F Morton

How will food security be further endangered by climate change? How do current global systems of producing and distributing food contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions? How is land degradation, including desertification, exacerbating and exacerbated by climate change?

These questions are addressed in the Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL), released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change. This landmark report assesses a huge range of literature on the interactions between climate change, land degradation, and food insecurity. Importantly, IPCC assessments such as this provide governments with scientific information that they can use to develop policies to tackle climate change.

NRI’s John Morton, Professor of Development Anthropology with expertise on climate change and agriculture, was one of 12 Lead Authors of the Report’s final chapter entitled ‘Risk management and decision making in relation to sustainable development’. This chapter translates findings from earlier chapters into key risks to land-based systems and aspects of food security, identifies possible policy responses to such risks at various scales, and considers the implications of risks and responses for decision-making processes and governance.

Maize field drought N Palmer CIAT 750

“We were able to highlight broader aspects of decision making and governance, such as the participation of communities, the inclusion of women, respect for indigenous and local knowledge, and land tenure policies that are based on understanding of how land is actually owned and accessed in developing countries,” explains Prof Morton. “Taking these aspects into account can contribute both to managing the risks to livelihoods and food security from climate change and land degradation, and to reducing the extent to which food production systems and other human land-uses contribute to greenhouse gas emissions”.

The overall writing process involved four Lead Authors’ Meetings, and four drafts of the chapter that were reviewed in fine detail by the global research community, government representatives and others. Over 100 authors were involved with the Report as whole.

As the Report was accepted by the governments of the world, meeting in Geneva at a plenary assembly of the IPCC’s 50th Session, Prof Morton commented, “I’m very proud to have been associated with this report, and especially with the chapter on risk management and decision-making, which I worked on as part of a very inspiring international team.”

  • The SRCCL Summary for Policymakers is here
  • SRCCL Chapter 7 ‘Risk Management and Decision Making in Relation to Sustainable Development’ is here

SRCCL is one of three Special Reports on particular themes prepared as part of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Cycle, the others being the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5oC (SR15) and the Special Report on The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC).

FLAS John Morton pic

‘Climate Change, Agriculture and Natural Resources,’ the NRI Development Programme led by Professor Morton, is one of the focus areas of NRI’s recently-launched Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (FaNSI) which aims to expand research capacity on climate change, food loss and waste, sustainable agricultural intensification and food systems for nutrition. This major investment from Research England’s E3 fund will see NRI recruiting over 20 new members of staff, 18 PhD students, enhancing infrastructure and building on partnerships. Read more about FaNSI here.

Professor Morton was as a Lead Author on smallholder and subsistence agriculture within the chapter on Food, Forests and Fibre of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC and as such he was recognised as contributing to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC. He subsequently served as Coordinating Lead Author on Rural Areas for the Fifth Assessment Report of 2014.