I came away from the 39th session of UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) last Saturday tired but hopeful. In a world where many are skeptical of global institutions' ability to solve the world’s most challenging problems—not least of which, climate change—the CFS offers a new approach to global governance, and is getting results. It’s a rare place in the multilateral system where transparency and participation have stretched to allowing civil society a place at the negotiating table. The processes are not perfect, and as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter’s summary reminds us, there is still a need for a “strong, innovative monitoring and accountability mechanism” to give the organization teeth. Nonetheless, it’s getting things done, and keeping a surprising diversity of people happy while doing it.
Last week in Rome, the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security (CFS) agreed on key principles on how governments must address the massive food security challenge that climate change brings. The big news: Governments at the CFS recognized that policies addressing climate change must also support the Right to Food—an important step forward that if taken seriously by governments could result in a major shift in the way agriculture and land use are considered at the global climate talks.
On Wednesday, September 26 Governor Jerry Brown of California signed the bill AB 685, into law, establishing the policy that every person in California has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. This is a historic moment in the U.S. debate over the right to water.
The U.S. federal government has not recognized water as a human right, but this policy initiative at the state level could become a turning point as far as water policy and politics goes. It is indeed a step in the right direction, given the concerns about “right to water” violations in California which were raised by the U.N. Special Rapporteur Catalina de Albuquerque following her visit to the United States in 2010.
The bill was authored by assembly member Mike Eng (D-Alhambra) and was co-sponsored by Safe Water Alliance, a coalition which includes many of our allies, and has been advocating for right to water in California for several years. The reach of the bill is extensive, and would help address some of the issues raised in the U.N. report, which identified specific cases where people were denied access to water or had to spend a large percentage of their income to secure water for domestic use.
The current drought facing the U.S. should send down jitters among net food importers worldwide as the price of major grain crops is set to rise dramatically. The drought can be seen as a result of climate change that has led to unpredictable weather patterns the world over.
Farmers in Kenya continue to face the challenges of unpredictable weather patterns that either bring too much or insufficient rain and extreme weather conditions. The situation has been worsened by the loss of local and traditional seed varieties that are more resilient to dry weather.
Women, have since time immemorial been the custodians of seeds in Africa. They bred, selected, sorted and stored seeds for different seasons and ceremonies. They understood their environment to the extent that they could read nature signs and predict what the next season would bring. That is how communities would always be prepared for droughts and would save sufficient food to take them through hard times.
Even with women as custodians of seed, men too had their role in ensuring food security for their families. Some crops like yams were crops tended to by men. I remember going to the village as a young child and grandma would ask grandpa to dig up some yams for us to carry back to the city. One time I asked grandma why she could not dig up the yams herself and she responded that that was the work of men and a crop tended to by grandpa. This remains vivid in my memory, almost twenty years after grandma passed on from throat cancer.
One of the many ironies of the U.S. Farm Bill debate over crop insurance and revenue “assurance” programs was a tacit bipartisan agreement not to say in public four words that summarized major drivers in creating the proposed programs. The U.S. drought, covering 80 percent of arable land and the worst since 1956, has pressured Congress to expand taxpayer subsidized crop insurance while refraining from uttering its cause: climate change. In 2011, crops insurers paid out a record $11 billion, according to the American Association of Crop Insurers’ manager David Graves.
Promoters of “revenue assurance” to counter price drops, which decimate farm income, were loath to mention “financial speculation.” (Earlier this year, Farm Bill writers took into account the possibility of planting binges and subsequent low prices, on the assumption that there would be a robust harvest to sell. They did not acknowledge the role excess financial speculation plays in price-setting).
Notwithstanding the commodity and financial market crimes and debacles of the past five years, market regulation, including enforcement of current law and the implementation of the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” still faces well-financed opposition in Congress and on Wall Street.
As the G-20 Summit in Los Cabos came to a close yesterday, various civil society observers expressed their disappointment at the lack of ambition in the leaders’ statement, particularly on food security and food price volatility. ActionAid’s Neil Watkins commented that, “With food prices swinging wildly and the planet burning, this was the moment for bold proposals from the G-20. Instead, on food security and climate change, the G-20 turned in last year’s homework, content to reaffirm old plans and commission more studies.” Others echoed these concerns, damning with faint praise the mild proposals to exchange information and support agricultural innovation, as well as criticizing the narrow focus on increasing productivity.
The problem is not only that the proposals are so lacking in ambition, but that the G-20 is evolving from an informal crisis-management confab to a rigid and undemocratic structure that serves to lock in policy changes in other multilateral forums. The minor mention of emergency reserves means that efforts by the World Food Programme or the FAO to expand beyond limited national reserves will be stymied, and the G-20’s heavy reliance on the "Business 20" (B-20) for policy guidance will likely mean that critical approaches to regulate public-private partnerships will remain off the table. G-20 recommendations effectively limit input by the other 173 U.N. member countries in these big decisions, to say nothing of the lack of channels for civil society engagement.
IATP’s Shiney Varghese is in Rio participating in the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Today, as we go into the last day of the official negotiations on the outcome document referred to as the “Future We Want,” well over half the document still remains bracketed. It is clear that the current world leadership is not able to deliver us a consensus document, let alone the future we want. It is still possible that the Brazilian government, as the host of this once in a generation event, might step forward and submit an entirely fresh document fashioned out of thin air, for the world leaders to sign, and save their face. Unfortunatley, it's a certainty, like the 2010 Cancún Climate Agreement brokered by the Mexican government, that this document will be watered down to the least common denominator issues.
So, what are the contentious issues blocking agreement? The primary disagreements appear to be around the Rio Principles, which the G-77 and allies insist on putting back in the text, and others, such as the U.S. government, do not want to be included.
Another seriously contested topic is on the so-called "green economy." Developing countries see sustainable consumption and production as central to any discussion on green economy, while the U.S. does not. The U.S. and several EU countries see ecosystems services (placing a market value on nature) as key to the green economy, while the G-77 and allies would prefer not to have it included at all, preferring a reference to ecosystem protection.
Thus, yesterday in the second working group on the green economy, a frustrated G-77 refused to continue negotiations until there was more clarity on implementation mechanisms.
Next week, 20 years after the original Earth Summit, the United Nations will host the Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This conference will be the third of its kind organized by the U.N. and is preceded by the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (or the Earth Summit), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the 2002, World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10 conference) in Johannesburg.
IATP participated in the past two conferences and we are currently in in Rio de Janeiro, from June 13–23, 2012. While the conference itself is from June 20–22, it is preceded by the Third prep-com (June 13–15), the last round of intergovernmental negotiations. In addition to monitoring the negotiations, we are organizing a side event and cosponsoring several others. IATP has been involved with the Rio +20 process since last fall, when we submitted our input towards developing the negotiation document.
Heated debates on equity of burden sharing and finance dominated much of the discussions at the UNFCCC negotiation in Bonn Germany. Within this broader debate, there is growing recognition of the urgent need to find new solutions to the challenges of agriculture and food security in the face of abrupt and violent climate events and slow-onset events, such as extended drought. IATP, ActionAid and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance presented information at a side event on the scope of the challenges, and proposed work on agriculture that could be undertaken by UNFCCC. In the discussions on agriculture in the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), developing countries have repeatedly insisted that their priority is adaptation to climate change, particularly for agriculture.
ActionAid’s Harjeet Singh began by noting that in 2011 there were about 500 major weather events globally compared to an average of 120 a year during the 1980s. If the emphasis in work on agriculture under the UNFCCC becomes reducing greenhouse gases in agricultural activities of developing countries, as proposed by developed countries and the World Bank, climate risk and food insecurity will increase. Rather than using agriculture to create emissions offset credits for sale to developed countries, Parties should agree on how to adapt agriculture to climate change and invest accordingly.
Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Bonn, Germany, for the past two weeks. On the rather full agenda for the meeting was an exchange of views on agriculture, mandated by a decision taken last year at the 17th Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa.
The exchange of views was preceded by a submission process, where parties and observers were invited to submit their views on what might be discussed during the exchange. Contained in the views were proposals for how the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) might address the sector.
From the first meeting, parties were divided on how the SBSTA should address agriculture. While all Parties agreed to a framework based on the SBSTA mandate on scientific and technological matters, there was a division on whether the emphasis of future work should be on adaptation or on both adaptation and mitigation. Developed-country parties in particular were emphatic that both adaptation and mitigation should be covered, and that identification of synergies between adaptation and mitigation was an essential element of future work.
For example, developed countries early in the second week floated a proposal that would have SBSTA consider:
a) how to enhance the adaptation of agriculture to climate change impacts;
b) how to improve the efficiency and productivity of agricultural systems in a sustainable manner;
c) how to address synergies and trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation.