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International climate change report a call to action on land

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FILE - The Brian Head Fire, pictured Friday, June 23, 2017, continues to grow and has burned more than 27,700 acres. At least 13 homes and eight out buildings have been destroyed by the fire

FILE - The Brian Head Fire, pictured Friday, June 23, 2017, continues to grow and has burned more than 27,700 acres. At least 13 homes and eight out buildings have been destroyed by the fire

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An international call to action to foster better stewardship of the Earth's land recommends increased investment in sustainable agriculture practices, better forestry management and enhanced protections for critical wildlife habitat.

In a live-streamed press conference on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report called "Climate Change and Land," speakers stressed that 830 million people across the globe are undernourished, yet up to 30% of the food supply is either lost or wasted.

Three main takeaways in the report are:

• There is growing human pressure on land.

• Land is part of the solution in the challenge of a changing climate.

• Land cannot do it alone.

Although pressed by a BBC reporter on the issue of eliminating meat from diets and switching to plant-based diets alone, panelists were quick to emphasize the report, more than two years in the making, refrains from making any dietary recommendations.

"We have to look at a solutions spectrum that is all in," said Debra Roberts, from South Africa, co-chairwoman of the Working Group II.

She added that reform has to happen across the entire chain of food production, from the field to the store.

Another panelist stressed: "We are not talking about giving up meat at all in this report," while noting certain diets naturally have a smaller carbon footprint.

The report details the ongoing problem of land degradation, desertification — or the process in which fertile land becomes a desert through deforestation, wildfire or drought — and the urgent need for more sustainable land management.

One panelist noted that an estimated 500 million people live in areas that have transformed from fertile to desert.

Human use, the report said, directly affects 70% of global ice-free land surface, and since 1961 changes in population growth and per capita consumption of food, fiber, feed, timber and energy have caused "unprecedented" rates of land and freshwater use. Agriculture, it noted, accounts for an estimated 70% of freshwater use.

Urban expansion is expected to lead to cropland losses, posing additional risks to the food system that may be countered by urban and periurban food production, as well as management of urbanization and inducing "urban green infrastructure" that may ease climate risks to cities.

Stability of food supply is also threatened by extreme weather events. In Utah, for example, prolonged drought has led to shorter growing seasons and diminished sizes in cattle herds as farmers and ranchers encountered water shortages.

Last year, southeast Utah experienced miserable farming and ranching conditions and most irrigation districts instituted cuts to the amount of water delivered to agricultural producers.

Federal agencies, farmers, ranchers, states and water districts, however, have been for years marching down a path to reduce water consumption through a variety of efforts, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's WaterSmart grants. Earlier this year, the program awarded $5.4 million to various cities and water districts that will result in an annual water savings of 7,500 acre-feet.

A new law ushered in by Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, requires metering of pressurized secondary irrigation water on new construction in Utah after April 2020.

Over time, too, technological advances and agricultural practices have combined to produce greater crop yields on a smaller geographical footprint.

An agricultural censusfrom 2012 showed Utah lost 162,792 acres of farmland since 2012, but gained 382 farms and production is up due to increased efficiencies and the growing popularity of urban farming.

A trio of Utah communities are also poised to reduce carbon emissions by pledging to be 100% "net renewable" in energy use by 2010. Those communities — Park City, Moab and Salt Lake City — plan to make the changes in conjunction with Rocky Mountain Power through legislation passed by Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton.

Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows China as the globe's leading contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, at 30%, followed by the United States at 15%.

Release of the report Thursday brought swift reaction.

“From desertification and megafires to hurricanes and inland flooding devastation, climate change is affecting every community and the lands upon which they depend,” said Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

“We’re running out of time to address this crisis, including using our lands to naturally capture carbon and improve community resilience, but the degradation of our natural systems is jeopardizing our ability to respond."

O'Mara added that the report stresses the need to take better care of parks, forests, refuges and working lands.

The report had 107 authors from 52 countries and included the review of more than 28,000 comments and 7,000 pieces of research.

This story will be updated throughout the day.