The Environmental Impacts of Land-Use Change

By: Paula Iturralde and Vanessa Hogan


When a forest is cut down and the land where that forest once grew is repurposed for other activities, such as agriculture, mining, or urban development, this process is called land-use change. This is problematic for many reasons.


In the first place, greenhouse gas emissions increase. This is because forests are home to many trees and plants, which naturally capture CO2. However, when they are cut down, the CO2 they previously captured, as well as other GHG’s, are released into the atmosphere. This increase in the amount of GHG’s in the atmosphere is one of the main causes of climate change.


Another reason is that, every time a forest is cut down, we lose biodiversity: 70% of biodiversity loss is due to deforestation. This biodiversity loss is a problem for many reasons. One of the most important reasons is that human life is dependent on the ecosystems in which we live. If we overexploit these, human life becomes more difficult to sustain. We discussed the importance of biodiversity in our previous blog in more detail; if you would like to, read it here.


Another important reason land use change is an environmental concern, is the relationship to food waste. Worldwide, food waste produces approximately 3.3 gigatons of CO2 each year. Half of the world’s inhabitable land is used for agriculture; and food that will never be eaten is produced on 28% of that land. When forests are converted into agricultural fields, a large amount of the food produced on this converted land goes to waste or is lost. In short, we are cutting down forests to

convert that land to agricultural use, to produce food that will, in a large percentage, go to waste. This food that will never be eaten causes 8% of the GHG emissions worldwide.


What can we do to help?


CONSERVATION: We can stop deforestation and land use change and conserve the forests as they are. This would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve biodiversity. Each tree in an old-growth forest can consume up to one ton of CO2 per year. Therefore, the more trees the planet has, the more carbon is sequestered and held inside each tree. By avoiding the conversion of forests to agricultural fields, we can prevent 76 gigatons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.


RESTORATION: We can reforest agricultural land that is currently being used inefficiently, among other reasons, because it’s being used to produce food that nobody ever eats. Reducing food waste in half would decrease the land used for agriculture by 78 million hectares, that is, an area the size of Brazil! This land could be used for forest recovery.


AGRO-ECOLOGY: The land that we do need to use for agricultural production can be used more efficiently. This can be achieved through better planning and using more sustainable agricultural techniques: by moving away from monoculture crops and implementing agro-ecology methods and permaculture practices. Organic farming is one of the most important activities for countering the effects of climate change. The way we currently make use of the land means that this living organism (the soil) is dying due to our monoculture practices and the use of chemical pesticides. 12 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be reduced by improving agricultural practices.


Be Part of the Solution!


At Humans for Abundance, we are tackling this problem using all three of these solutions, which you can read more about on our website, in the eco-services section. Preventing deforestation, reforesting agricultural land that is currently used inefficiently, and using agricultural lands more efficiently, would result in less food waste and loss, in the reduction of GHG emissions, and in the prevention of climate change.


Sources:


This blog post is based on the article, The Environmental Impact of Food Waste, written for Humans for Abundance by Paula Iturralde, our biologist and author. The following is the complete list of sources she used for her article:

  • IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.

  • FAO 2017. Save food for a better climate. Converting the food loss and waste challenge into climate action.

  • FAO 2013. Food wastage footprint. Impacts on Natural Resources.

  • FAO 2011. Global food losses and food waste. Extend, causes and prevention.

  • Garcha N. 2017. Food Loss and Waste Solutions: Innovative Technologies and Best Practices. Provision Coalition.

  • Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020) - Environmental impacts of food production. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. ['https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food']

  • Pearson D., and Perera A., 2018. Reducing Food Waste: A Practitioner Guide Identifying Requirements for an Integrated Social Marketing Communication Campaign. Social Marketing Quarterly 24(1): 45-57.

  • Poore J., and Nemecek T., 2019. Reducing Food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360, 987-992.

  • Project Drawdown 2014-2020. Reduce Food Waste.

  • Schanes K., Dobering K., Gözet B. 2018. Food waste matters – A systematic review of household food waste practices and their policy implications. Journal of Cleaner Production 182: 978-991.

  • Spang E. S., Achmon Y., Donis-González I., Gosliner W., Jablonski-Sheffield M. P., Momin M. A., Moreno L. C., Pace S. A., Quested T. E., Winans K., Tomich R. 2019. Food Loss and Waste: Measurement, Drivers and Solutions. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 44: 13.1-13.40.

  • Vilariño M., Franco C., Quarrington C. 2017. Food Loss and Waste Reduction as an Integral Part of a Circular Economy. Frontiers in Environmental Science 5:21.

  • WBA 2018. Global Food Waste Management: An implementation guide for cities.

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