Climate change and land use
Reforestation and a new approach to land management will play a crucial role in efforts to mitigate climate change. Julia Pongratz, Chair of Physical Geography and Land-Use Systems at LMU, studies the impacts of land use on the carbon cycle.
The exploitation of fossil-based carbon resources has accounted for the majority of emissions since the mid-20th century. But changes in land use have also had a substantial impact on greenhouse gases and are responsible for approximately 15% of total CO2 emissions. This proportion rises even further, to approximately 25%, when other greenhouse gases – such as the methane and nitrous oxide (N2O) generated by livestock farming and the use of fertilizers – are included.
Yet land-use practices can also sequester CO2 and remove it from the atmosphere. Forests, for example, store enormous amounts of carbon and therefore serve as vital natural carbon sinks that can be enlarged by practices such as reforestation. “Knowing how different types of vegetation affect the carbon balance is therefore relevant on two counts: in relation to emissions, but also in terms of potential for removing CO2 from the atmosphere,” Pongratz says.
Climate change and law
Do we need an ecological revolution to halt climate change? “I would give nature basic rights, but with nuanced formulations”, says Jens Kersten, Chair of Public Law and Governance at LMU. The expert in constitutional law conducts research into the environment and society in the Anthropocene – and supports the international movement to give better legal protections to nature.
Kersten would include ecology in the fundamental normative principles of the state enshrined in Article 20 (1) of Germany’s Basic Law, he said in an interview on lmu.de
Climate change and resilience
Matthias Garschagen, Chair of Human Geography, heads the Teaching and Research Unit for Human Environment Relations at LMU’s Department of Geography. He knows that the global community does not have much time left to act on climate change.
Garschagen is one of the lead authors of the second assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In an interview on lmu.de he explains the consequences of global warming and the risks surrounding adaptation: “Climate change poses a massive threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Immediate and determined action to mitigate climate change, but also to adapt to its consequences is more important than ever to respond to climate impacts and contain future risks.”
Extreme weather events, such as the disastrous flooding in the Ahr Valley in North Rhine-Westphalia last summer and the episodes of severe drought in recent years, leave no doubt that climate change has now arrived in Germany. Coping with its consequences is perhaps our most urgent challenge in the coming years. Computer-based simulations of the environment are a vital tool for assessing the potential effects of interventions aimed at moderating the impact of global warming.
LMU geographer Ralf Ludwig, an expert in environmental modeling, is leading a project in the new EU-funded research program ARSINOE. Its goal is to develop innovative strategies that will make a positive contribution to climate resilience in nine regions in Europe and suggest concrete ways to implement them.
Climate change and global food security
Agriculture is one of the major drivers of climate change but is also heavily affected by it. Around the world, rising temperatures are among the main reasons for yield reductions. The agricultural sector is thus faced with the major challenge of adapting to climate change in order to ensure food security in the future.
LMU geographer Dr. Florian Zabel, researcher at the Research and Teaching Unit “Physical Geography and Land Use Systems” at LMU’s Department of Geography, is conducting simulations to model how climate change affects agriculture. He also shows what cultivar adaptations are necessary.
Climate change and biodiversity
“Coral reefs are referred to as the rainforests of the seas,” says Gert Wörheide, Chair of Paleontology and Geobiology at LMU Munich. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is already experiencing its sixth bleaching episode, which poses a threat to the natural habitat of thousands of organisms.
“Coral bleaching can cause a mass extinction of corals. When that happens, other organisms lack the three-dimensional structure that corals give them – much like trees in a rainforest. Their natural habitat is taken away and biodiversity deteriorates on the coral reef,” Wörheide explains.
Coral bleaching events are triggered by climate change and the associated rise in sea temperatures, leading to far-reaching consequences for humankind.