Climate change is an undeniable global challenge that we are facing in our current everyday life. Nowadays, increasing attention is being paid to this matter due to the frequent and extreme events the world is facing derived from increased temperatures. Indeed, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the land surface air temperature has risen since the pre-industrial period nearly twice as much as the global average temperature. This impacts our food security as well as terrestrial ecosystems and contributes to desertification and land degradation.
Land is one of the systems on our planet most affected by climate change, while at the same time it plays an important role in the climate system and is also essential for sustaining life. It is the basis for human livelihoods by providing numerous ecosystem services, as well as food, water, and biodiversity.
But land is not an infinite resource. In fact, the land system is recognised as a “planetary boundary” at risk of being exceeded, which threatens the “safe operating space” of the Earths system which allows society development as we know it today.
According to the IPCC, our current activities affect more than 70% of the global, ice-free land surface. Land use changes in the planet are mainly driven by urbanization, agriculture and deforestation. In particular, urban settlements have doubled from 1992, grasslands now occupy 18% of the land, agriculture for crop production occupies 11%, while just 25% of the land corresponds to “wild” areas that have not been significantly altered.
This land-use changes exacerbate climate change, as approximately 25% of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions come from land use and land use changes (land clearing, crop production, management practices as fertilization). This highlights the importance of our land system on this planet and shows the intense pressure that human activities are exerting on it (e.g. population growth, rising consumption or urban sprawl). Consequently, land cover and land use have been the most visible indicator of the human footprint and the most important driver of the loss of biodiversity and other forms of land degradation.
As can be seen, each individual action of land use change adds up to the greater challenge of climate change. Thus, to revert this situation, there is the need to think globally in accordance with the global challenge but act locally through specific adaptation and mitigation actions which are deployed at local level (specific areas). However, it has become clear that policies based only on technological solutions are not sufficient to meet this global challenge, but that it is also necessary to stimulate the necessary societal changes that affect society’s behaviour.
A new transdisciplinary approach is needed to cope with the climate change challenge, which complements technological advances with lifestyle changes such as changes in energy consumption or dietary preferences. Human and social components are key to drive and promote effective changes.
However, given the difficulty and scale of the challenge, as well as the impact we humans are having, the question is what role we can play as citizens or policy makers to offset this impact and keep the world a safe space for all. It is clear that local actions end up affecting globally, but… where do we start? How can we know about the impact our local actions have at a global scale so that we can feel that we can make a difference? And what measures can be implemented and how effective are they, especially when they are combined? Can we anticipate possible unintended consequences of actions before they are implemented? Can we raise confidence in people to promote action and real engagement?
This brings to light the need not only to design appropriate strategies and policies that assure a sustainable use of land, but also, the necessity for an informed and participatory society that understands challenges, demands changes and supports sustainable lifestyles.
To promote this necessary transition, it is paramount to develop reliable decision-support systems for assessing potential measures (adaptation and mitigation strategies at any level) over time before implementing them. This ensures their success by helping decision-makers and citizens to achieve bigger impacts and avoid underperforming results.
These and other aspects will be addressed by the RethinkAction project. With its main focus on land use, it will ENGAGE citizens and policy makers, EXPLAIN and analyse climate change impacts and land use-based adaptation and mitigation solutions at local, EU and global level, and TRANSFORM current practices and behaviours towards more sustainable and climate friendly practices.
This will be achieved by developing an open integrated platform (RethinkAction Integrated Assessment Platform, IAP), which will be co-created with a strong network of representative stakeholders (End Users Community). In particular, it will:
- Social sciences and humanities research, as well as the engagement and active participation of stakeholders in co-creation processes at the core. This will ensure not only that information is adequately understood and of interest for users, but that we truly engage stakeholders to nudge climate action. In this context, it is crucial to understand the social behavioural factors behind the introduction of measures. It is therefore about understanding what the drivers and barriers to solutions are, with a focus on social acceptance and motivation, which are key to driving real action.
- Offer featured results and valuable information for citizens and decision-makers through visual information and clear maps created through the exploitation of open Earth Observation data sources such as Copernicus.
- Offer a catalogue of land use-based adaptation and mitigation (LAMS) measures that can be applied at different levels, together with the impact they can have. They will include better practices in relation to land management (such as agro-forestry, improved forest management, or improved cropland), sustainable land use planning (including management of urban sprawl, supporting energy transition with the sustainable deployment of renewable energy resources in land and related infrastructure), and demand management and behavioural change (e.g. dietary change, reducing energy use). Therefore, land-use solutions are directly and indirectly connected to different sectors and aspects, such as energy, food, water, biodiversity, society and economy.
- Generate a cross sectoral evaluation framework to holistically evaluate and compare the solutions over time via local dynamic models (adapted for each case study at local scale), and the global dynamic Integrated Assessment Model (IAM) WILIAM. By showing the effects of successful local solutions when they are deployed at European and global levels we can promote and motivate action. We are all part of the solution!
- Ensure replicability of our approach across Europe. We would love that other people can use and apply our approach so that we can really make a difference!
To sum up, it will give citizens and decision-makers access to knowledge and information on climate change impacts over time (mid and long term) and will guide them in the decision-making process on how to change their behaviour and promote future-oriented land use. Co-benefits and trade-offs of the solutions will be presented through developing a comprehensive picture of the relationships and potential effects of implementing certain polices and strategies.
The RethinkAction project builds upon the fact that actions cannot be promoted only by informing different actors, but actively involving them in the process of solution design. Social innovative approaches capable of reframing the climate change challenge and turning it into opportunities should be urgently applied. Stay up to date with the project’s progress and learn how you can actively contribute to combating climate change through our Newsletter!
NOTE: The challenges mentioned in the blogpost will be addressed by the RethinkAction team over four years until September 2025. The project is framed by the actions of the European Commission to counterbalance climate change impacts and achieve a climate neutral Europe by 2050. With the research and development efforts promoted by the European Green Deal, which strives to achieve: no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 and economic growth decoupled from resource use, while assuring that no person and no place is left behind.