Land-based responses to climate change can be mitigation (e.g., renewable energy, vegetation or crops for bio- fuels, afforestation) or adaptation (e.g., change in cropping pattern, less water-intensive crops in response to moisture stress), or adaptation with mitigation co-benefits (e.g., dietary shifts, new uses for invasive tree species, siting solar farms on highly degraded land). Productive land is an increasingly scarce resource under climate change. In the absence of adequate deep mitigation in the less land-intensive energy sector, competition for land and water for mitigation and for other sectors such as food security, ecosystem services (ES) and biodiversity conservation could become a source of conflict and a barrier to land-based responses.
Barriers to land-based mitigation include opposition due to real and perceived trade-offs between land for mitigation and food security and ES. These can arise due to absence of or uncertain land and water rights. Significant upscaling of mitigation requires dedicated (normally land-based) sources in addition to use of wastes and residues. This requires high land-use intensity compared to other mitigation options that, in turn, place greater demands on governance. A key governance mechanism that has emerged in response to such concerns, especially during the past decade are standards and certification systems that include food security, and land and water rights, in addition to general criteria or indicators related to sustainable use of land and biomass, with an emphasis on participatory approaches. Other governance responses include linking land-based mitigation (e.g., forestry) to secure tenure and support for local livelihoods. A barrier to land-based mitigation is our choice of development pathway. Our window of opportunity – whether or not we face barriers or opportunities to land- based mitigation – depends on socio-economic decisions or pathways. If we have high population growth and resource intensive consumption (i.e., SSP3) we will have more barriers. High population and low land-use regulation results in less available space for land-based mitigation. But if we have the opposite trends (SSP1), we can have more opportunities.
Other barriers can arise when, in the short term, adaptation to a climate stress (e.g., increased dependence on groundwater during droughts) can become unsustainable in the longer term, and become a maladaptation. Policies and approaches that lead to land management that synergises multiple ES and reduce trade-offs could find greater acceptance and enjoy more success.
Opportunities to obtain benefits or synergies from land-based mitigation and adaptation arise from their relation to the land availability and the demand for such measures in rural areas that may otherwise lack incentives for investment in infrastructure, livelihoods and institutional capacity. After decades of urbanisation around the world, facilitated by significant investment in urban infrastructure and centralised energy and agricultural systems, rural areas have been somewhat neglected; this is even as farmers in these areas provide critical food and materials needed for urban areas. As land and biomass becomes more valuable, there will be benefits for farmers, forest owners and associated service providers as they diversify and feed into economic activities supporting bioenergy, value-added products, preservation of biodiversity and carbon sequestration (storage).
A related opportunity for benefits is the potentially positive transformation in rural and peri-urban landscapes that could be facilitated by investments that prioritise more effective management of ES and conservation of water, energy, nutrients and other resources that have been priced too low in relation to their environmental or ecological value. Multifunctional landscapes supplying food, feed, fibre and fuel to both local and urban communities, in combination with reduced waste and healthier diets, could restore the role of rural producers as stewards of resources rather than providing food at the lowest possible price. Some of these landscape transformations will function as both mitigation and adaptation responses by increasing resilience, even as they provide value-added bio-based products.
Governments can introduce a variety of regulations and economic instruments (taxes, incentives) to encourage citizens, communities and societies to adopt sustainable land management practices, with further benefits in addition to mitigation. Windows of opportunity for redesigning and implementing mitigation and adaptation can arise in the aftermath of a major disaster or extreme climate event. They can also arise when collective action and citizen science motivate voluntary shifts in lifestyles supported by supportive top-down policies.