Posted December 22, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   

Hospitals, as places of healing, have a natural incentive to provide food that’s healthy for people and the environment and to be models for healthy eating. A poor diet is a risk factor for four of the leading six causes of death nationally: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. More than 75 percent of the $2 trillion the U.S. spends annually on medical care is going to treat diet-related chronic diseases.

However, like many institutions seeking to contain food and labor costs, hospitals have become increasingly reliant on pre-processed and convenience foods, volume pricing and distribution agreements negotiated by national group purchasing organizations (GPOs). In some cases, they have completely outsourced their food service management and supplier relationships, giving up the ability to make day-to-day menu planning and purchasing decisions.

Nearly six years ago I wrote a report for IATP entitled Healthy Food, Healthy Hospitals, Healthy Communities: Stories of Health Care Leaders Bringing Fresher, Healthier Food Choices to Their Patients, Staff and Communities. In the report I described many of the barriers mentioned above. I also provided eight case studies of institutions that had found creative solutions to these barriers and were willing to share their experiences. At the time, these examples were far from the norm. Fortunately, this is no longer the case in Minnesota and nationwide.

In recent years, several Minnesota hospitals have formalized PercentMNGRNpiecharttheir commitment to “the goal of providing local, nutritious and sustainable food” by signing the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, including St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Hennepin County Medical Center, Ridgeview Medical Center and Winona Health. Others have been taking less public but noteworthy steps to do the same.

To better understand the progress that Minnesota hospitals have made in the last few years, IATP partnereded with the Institute for a Sustainable Future (ISF) and Land Stewardship Project (LSP) over the last 12 months to survey individual hospitals.

We attempted to track purchases, document lessons learned, and more. Our efforts were focused on health care facilities in four regions of the state, including the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Duluth metropolitan area, Rochester area, St. Croix River Valley, and portions of west central Minnesota. The effort was funded in large part by a grant from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

As a result of our survey, we learned that a high percentage of Minnesota hospitals (about 68 percent of survey respondents) are purposefully buying Minnesota-grown produce when available. Though some hospitals (35 percent of respondents) purchased produce directly from Minnesota farms, most hospitals reported purchasing local products via their distribution partners (70 percent of respondents) such as Bix Produce and Sysco Minnesota. The most commonly purchased crops include apples, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, potatoes and winter squash. Also, 25 percent of respondents reported purchasing USDA Organic or Food Alliance Midwest certified produce items. This is great news since directing even a small portion of hospital purchasing dollars to support local farmers can help improve the overall economic health of our community, particularly Minnesota’s rural communities. 

Dollar value chartWe also confirmed that more hospitals are hosting farmers markets and farm stands on site and/or are acting as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) drop sites. Approximately 25 percent of survey respondents (7) hosted a farmers market or farm stand during the 2009 growing season, and 10 percent (3) acted as a CSA drop site for employees who wanted the convenience of purchasing and receiving CSA shares at work. While interest in and plans to host farmers markets held steady for 2010, survey results indicated a potential doubling of the number of CSA drop sites. Through a separate process we also learned that many CSA farms are interested in adding more workplace drop sites to their existing routes.

In addition to the survey, staff from IATP, ISF and LSP worked individually with hospitals between May and October to set local-produce purchasing goals, determine steps needed to achieve the goals, measure progress and document lessons learned so they can be shared with Minnesota farmers and other hospitals.

The results of our survey and work with individual hospitals show positive signs that Minnesota’s health institutions are headed in the right direction, but we also found that there is lots of room for growth. For instance, the estimated annual dollar value of Minnesota-grown specialty crops purchased by surveyed hospitals varied considerably, with the largest percentage spending less than $1,000 per year and all but one hospital reporting annual purchases of between $1,000 and $10,000. These amounts generally represent a very small percentage of total reported produce expenditures, especially fruit. Hospitals buy lots of fruits and berries, but find it hard to get anything other than local apples through their distributors. For instance, one hospital we worked with purchased $26,000 of fruit between May and October of which less than 1 percent was grown in Minnesota.

   For many hospitals, it is still very challenging to spend even a small percentage of their food dollars outside their normal distribution channels. Most Minnesota hospitals are still relying on their distributor to provide them with produce, including produce grown on Minnesota farms. Right now there are only a few distributors that are going out of their way to provide these products, and only one that does pre-processing and carries at least some Minnesota-grown produce items most of the year. Thus, hospitals that do not or cannot do business with these distributors or buy direct from farms will have extremely limited ability to support local farmers until contracts expire or are renegotiated.

In the meantime, many of the hospitals we worked with this year are eager to continue their efforts to increase staff and community access to fresh produce grown on Minnesota farms in 2011, and we will continue to support them.

Written by IATP's Food and Health Senior Policy Analyst Marie Kulick. Download the pdf.

Posted December 16, 2010 by Sophia Murphy   

Food security

After my fascinating meeting last week on a West African food security reserve, my second meeting in Ghana was also about cereals. It was a capacity-building workshop for the region entitled, Enhancing the Functioning of Cereals Markets in West Africa. The meeting was called by UNCTAD's Special Unit on Commodities, in partnership with ECOWAS, ROPPA (the association of West African farmers' organizations), and CILSS. The meeting considered two issues: warehouse receipts/warrantage (I'll explain in a moment!) and commodity exchanges. The meeting was rich in content and highly educational. It was fascinating—even though I was unable to stay for the last half day of meetings, and even though some tropical bug found it's way into my system so as to make the last 24 hours tiring and uncomfortable. 

So, first warehouse receipts and warrantage. Warrantage certainly sounds French, and if you look online, it seems the French use the word more, and are the only ones with online definitions. But I think the word must be from the English word "warrant," which in one of its several definitions means a written order from person A that instructs person B to pay a specified recipient a specific amount of money or goods at a specific time. In effect, warrantage refers to the system of using grain as collateral for loans. A financier (in most cases in West Africa, the money comes from a micro-finance institution) lends money to a farmer against grain that the farmer puts into a depot as collateral. In the simplest form, as practiced in Niger, the depot is locked with two padlocks—the farmer has one key and the creditor has another. The system was widely used in the U.S. and Europe in the 19th century. A warehouse receipt works in a similar way: the receipt entitles the bearer to a given amount of money in exchange for the grain stored in an agreed facility. Farmers are able to avoid selling their crop right at harvest time, when prices are low.

Warrantage is found all over the region, and judging from the presentations made by the conference, has seen plenty of success (see here for an account of how it has worked in Niger). The practice remains piecemeal, and there are plenty of questions including coverage, legal protections, ensuring standards and grades, and reforming the finance side to better reflect the constraints and opportunities of grain as collateral. Nonetheless, the conference presentations provided a heartening look at how to get credit into remote rural areas and meet a critical need in the struggle to strengthen food security.

The second topic was commodity exchanges. I have to say, I was far less convinced about the importance of such exchanges during the presentations I heard during the meeting. Commodity exchanges are expensive (it costs tens of millions of dollars to establish one). They require significant administrative oversight and capacity—not something available in abundance in many of the countries in the region. They work at very high levels of aggregation (the Nigerian exchange works with half-tonne minimums, which is a fraction of the minimum used in any of the export commodity exchanges, even within Africa). Aggregation on this scale immediately creates the need for intermediaries—possibly several—between farmers and the exchange. And then, I cannot see how the markets for food grains in West Africa need such a mechanism. The volumes of cereals moving around within the region just do not justify it, and there is no export of food grains to speak of from the region (unlike cotton and cocoa).  

I left before the end, so am hoping to see some kind of concluding report emerge of what others thought. The presenters on the commodity exchanges believed in what they were offering, I am sure. But I encountered more than one skeptic in my conversations around the breakfast table and over coffee. Overall, though, my take-away impression was of a big room full of people who are serious about the business of trading food in West Africa. The network of farmers organizations in the region, ROPPA, was not only present, it was a central pillar of the organization and execution of the meeting. It was heartening to see, and highly educational to listen to.

Posted December 15, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   

Healthy Food ActionHealth

In my more desperate hours, I sometimes wonder whether raising my physician voice is enough to foster change, to make the food system healthier and more sustainable.

This week brought fresh evidence that it is. Early last year, I teamed up with other scientists to release data indicating that both commercial high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and processed foods that contained high amounts of HFCS could be contaminated with mercury.

We surmised the likely problem was that some of the latter products were made using HFCS created from caustic soda produced in so-called “mercury cell” chlorine factories. In fact, the food industry referred to this as “mercury-grade” or “food-grade” HFCS. A few American chlorine factories continued to make cell mercury–grade caustic soda despite these problems.

Our reports were the first published information pulling the curtain from this scary practice. Now it appears the chlorine industry took notice. The giant chemical maker, Olin, announced it was spending $160 million to convert its dirty mercury cell chlorine plant in southeast Tennessee to non–mercury polluting technology. Another Olin plant, in Augusta, Ga., will also stop using mercury for manufacturing in 2012. Wahooo!

What changed their minds? Let’s listen to Olin CEO, Joseph Rupp: "Over the past 18 months we have experienced a steady increase in the number of our customers unwilling to accept our products manufactured using mercury cell technology," he said.

IATP’s work on mercury in high fructose corn syrup came out January 2009.

David Wallinga, M.D.

Posted December 14, 2010 by Sophia Murphy   

Food security

While the world's governments gathered in Cancún, ultimately failing to reach a meaningful multilateral commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help save the planet, I was across the Atlantic in a different tropical country: Ghana. I was in Accra for a meeting organized by the Sahel and West Africa Club: a group of West African countries that meets under the auspices of the OECD.

The meeting was entitled Regional solidarity to address food crises. The discussion was focused on a single proposal, one already adopted in principle by West African governments under the auspices of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States—the whole visit in Ghana was a veritable acronym soup, compounded by the use of two languages, English and French, so that the acronyms kept getting reshuffled in translation). The proposal is that the countries in the region sign an agreement by which any country in the group that faces a food emergency could call upon a regional food security reserve to help alleviate the crisis. The initial proposal is that countries earmark 5 percent of their grain reserves to be on call for emergencies anywhere in the region.

I was invited to chair the working session entitled, "Policy coherence and institutional arrangements at the regional and international levels." I was also a rapporteur, invited to provide a concluding summary of the outcomes of the 1.5 day meeting, together with Ousmane Djibo of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

The idea seems simple. The grain reserves exist—a number of the cereal boards were represented in Accra—but not every country has one. The need exists (the region suffers from shortfalls on a regular basis, but it's not always the same countries and regions in need). The governments have acted spontaneously to share food in the recent past (with Niger, in 2008). Indeed, the governments have agreed they want this reserve to happen. There is money—both with ECOWAS, and in NEPAD's food security budget (which is 35 percent of its total program budget).

And yet, somehow, the idea has yet to find a champion. A country that is determined to knock the right heads together to move from aspiration to action. CILSS (a forum on desertification that provides technical support to ECOWAS), has done some important intellectual legwork but now we need a project document and a working plan for 2011. The meeting in Accra came up with plenty of elements for such a plan—in fact, an entire series of proposed next steps that would allow the idea to take concrete shape, if put in place. They include mapping the existing warehouses where stocks are held, creating a mechanism for regular information exchange on both stock and overall production levels in the region, and organizing a program of formal exchanges among the cereal boards within the region, so that the staff can start to learn how the different boards work. Finally, a pilot proposal and budget are needed so that the idea can start to be tested in practice. A summary report will be made available on the conference website soon.

Unfortunately, it is less clear whether the people able to make those steps happen are ready to act. 

Let's hope they are. If 2008 was the year of the food crisis that forced a rethink of food insecurity and how to tackle it, I'd like 2011 to the year governments transformed their policy and made changes that really make a difference. Right now the policy world is in love with technology fixes to raise productivity. We've been there before. It matters, but it is not enough. We also need to rethink how the state, farmers and the private sector interact. Done right, food stocks offer a powerful tool. I'll write soon about further meetings in Ghana on two other possibilities: warehouse receipts/warrantage systems and commodity exchanges.

Posted December 12, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   


“History will be the judge of what has happened in Cancún.” These are the last lines of the Bolivian Government’s press release yesterday about the outcome of the climate negotiations here in Cancún. The talks ended here today after two weeks of negotiations by a 192 governments. It is a deal that will be remembered by our future generations as one that killed the climate treaty, unless we radically change course.

Witnessing standing ovations and applause in the closing hours over negotiating texts that basically kill the Kyoto Protocol and make emissions reductions voluntary for all governments fills me with a profound sense of disillusionment (you can view the final plenaries here). Disillusionment at the utter lack of leadership exhibited by virtually every government except Bolivia and disillusionment at the role that many environmental and development groups played in legitimizing these governments’ actions.

The compromise arrived at Cancún was a coup for the United States. The U.S. came in with nothing to offer in terms of binding commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and yet managed to effectively push for voluntary targets. The source of these targets is the Copenhagen Accord that President Obama negotiated by cornering a few key countries in a back room in the last hours of the climate negotiations a year ago at COP 15. 

“There is only one way to measure the success of a climate agreement, and that is based on whether or not it will effectively reduce emissions to prevent runaway climate change. This text clearly fails, as it could allow global temperatures to increase by more than 4 degrees, a level disastrous for humanity,” says Bolivia.

Sadly, Bolivia was set up as the scapegoat at the meeting—portrayed as the only country standing in the way of multilateralism and progress on a climate deal. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” they said. 

Manufacturing Consensus

This scapegoating is nothing new. I have witnessed it in the WTO where governments, under great pressure by powerful countries like the United States and the EU, are too afraid to speak out or too keen to be seen as constructive actors on the geopolitical theater. And theater it was last night as country after country applauded the president of the COP for her “open and transparent” process and successful outcome. Yet in reality, we all knew that the deal had been negotiated behind closed doors by a handful of countries. At times, there were 50 countries in a room somewhere in the conference complex. 

But we did not know where and we did not know what they were negotiating. Civil society, unlike other U.N. negotiations, was not allowed in any of the drafting groups. And what governments drafted did not even seem to appear in the texts crafted by the chairs of the two negotiating tracks of the climate talks.

In the closing hours of the COP, Bolivia made strong statements that it did not agree to the outcome and that there was no consensus. In the U.N., all countries must agree and have “consensus” before a treaty or a deal is adopted. In Cancún, the deal was ceremoniously gaveled as agreed.

For civil society organizations, Cancún must be a wake-up call for serious reflection. How have we been complicit in an outcome that has ultimately not respected the science of global warming? Worse still, some have applauded an outcome that lets industrialized countries off the hook from legally binding and mandatory targets to reduce GHGs—something they agreed to when they signed the Kyoto Protocol.

The 20th anniversary of the birth of the Climate Treaty is 2012 and the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Lets ensure that by the time we get there, we have managed to shift the fundamental elements of what was agreed here in Cancún towards a much more accountable framework to address climate change.  

IATP's Shefali Sharma blogged from Cancun the day after the U.N. climate talks concluded.

Posted December 11, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   


IATP released the below press release today upon the conclusion of the global climate talks in Cancun.

Empty global climate deal leaves agriculture behind

Secret, last minute tactics symbolize flawed negotiating process

Cancún, Mexico – A watered-down United Nations climate deal reached early this morning missed another opportunity to support climate-resilient agriculture and global food security, according to the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Overall, the agreement represents a step back from legally-binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions set in the Kyoto Protocol, and a step forward for non-binding pledges from last year’s Copenhagen Accord. This significantly weakened framework is a severe blow to agriculture, a sector most vulnerable to climate change.

“This weak agreement is a retreat from serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that is a tremendous loss for farming communities everywhere,” said IATP’s Shefali Sharma. “Farmers, particularly in developing countries, are already experiencing the affects of climate change through increased droughts, floods and other extreme weather. However, this agreement does not prioritize agriculture adaptation and fails to address the complex linkages between food security, livelihoods and ecological resilience.”

In the final hours of the negotiations, industrialized countries led by New Zealand, United States and Canada, attempted and failed to fast track a standalone work program on agriculture. Though a side issue in the negotiations, significant efforts were made by New Zealand and others to bypass the impasse on “cross sectoral approaches” to move ahead on agriculture with a primary focus on mitigation, rather than adaptation. Developing countries have opposed a standalone decision on agriculture without a framework that deals with other sectors that contribute to greenhouse gases.

The climate talks in Cancún were plagued by a chaotic and mostly exclusive negotiating process with close to 150 governments often left out of negotiating “green rooms,” multiple versions of texts, and no clear schedules and timetables. Additionally, civil society groups, who have provided the political momentum for a global climate treaty, were further restricted access from the negotiations in Cancún.

“In Copenhagen and now in Cancún, we see the mistakes repeated from another troubled multilateral institution, the World Trade Organization, which is stuck in quicksand,” said Sharma. “This process must be transparent and fully inclusive of all countries and allow civil society to actively engage. If not, meaningful progress on a global climate treaty is not possible as is evident from the Cancún outcome.”

The agreement continues to emphasize the role of carbon markets in climate finance, further paving the way for agriculture to serve as an offset market for polluters in developed countries. Climate finance approaches in the agreement continue to be far too little to enable Least Developed Countries, African States, and Small Island Developing States to adapt to climate change, particularly in agriculture and rural areas.

“Governments are still counting on utopian expectations for carbon trading revenues to finance climate mitigation and adaptation,” said IATP’s Steve Suppan. “Governments need the financial services industry to pony up additional money through a transactions tax – it’s the very least they should do after the ongoing public bailout of their folly and depredations.”

Contrary to the lack of real progress from governments, IATP and other civil society leaders gathered at a number of forums and side events throughout the Cancún climate talks to share strategies for more equitable solutions to climate change. At event after event, farm groups consistently called for agroecological approaches that strengthen food security and spoke critically of carbon markets.

IATP published a series of papers on climate and agriculture prior to the Cancun climate talks – and blogged throughout the negotiation’s two weeks. You can find out more about IATP’s climate work at:

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.

Posted December 10, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   


People working on water and climate change—water warriors—participated in a workshop organized at the alternate COP 16, known as Dialogo Climatico. At a session titled "Water, Dams and Disasters," we heard moving testimonies from those affected by toxic pollution in their air and water, and peasants displaced from their farms. 

Indigenous Rights and Water

“Indigenous Peoples 'managed' lands for thousands of years, and it wasn’t until the colonizers came that the problems began.”  

We heard from the Fort Berthold nation from North Dakota first and there was no mincing of words. Speaking to all present, she said, “we  were colonized, and we speak the voice of colonizers.” She said this, because she spoke in English and not her Native language. Native languages in the U.S. have been decimated. The modern system has relied on fossil fuel based energy because it is cheap. It is cheap because it has historically been exempt from paying its dues, both to our environment and to humanity. The list is long, black lung, mountaintop removal, company town exploitation, mercury, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, mining accidents, sulfur dioxide, and of course, water pollution. Coal, in particular, needs water—and massive amounts of it—to be transformed into energy we can use. The consequences can never be fully measured. But contrast this with values that have guided Indigenous peoples.

“We believe that coal is like the liver of our Mother Earth, it naturally filters the water.” 

The tensions between different knowledge systems are certainly on display in these settings. What is truth to one community is denigrated as myth to another. One does not have to believe in Indigenous beliefs, but if we are to live in a truly democratic society, the right to retain these longstanding ways of knowing must be acknowledged. In so-called “modern” times, “modern” science has become the ultimate validator of truth. But from the perspective of Indigenous people, its contribution tends to come as a Johnny-come-lately compared to Indigenous science. For example, Indigenous people have warned about massive resource extraction for hundreds of years. 

 “Things are probably going to get worse before they get better. We have good hearts, good minds and good souls. One path leads to destruction, and one leads to renewal.”

Unequal Toxicity

 “We have a history of commodification beginning with peoples, bought them across the seas and sold them on the open market. Since then, we have been fighting oppressive regimes of capitalism.” 

Next came the recounting of the historical exploitation of African American people and communities by an environmental and human rights advocate from the southern United States. Just as the organization and technology of the modern energy structure has been evolving and innovating to new stages of development, the story of how communities have had to respond to this evolution was presented through the eyes of one such place. The town of Mossville, Louisiana was formed by five families of former slaves in the late 1700s. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway used to travel to Mossvile to fish and muse for his writing precisely because it was known to be a rich biodiverse area. But all of that changed with the modern appetite for energy and things. Years later, Mossville was founded by another group of actors: a set of corporate production facilities. Today, in an area covering 5.5 square miles, 14 industrial facilities are in operation.

“These companies are emitting many of the most toxic chemicals, choking the life of the community— people can no longer fish or grow crops. Their bodies are contaminated and yet their call for safe alternatives is not heard.”

Hydro: The Old Green or the New Green?

In the race to find low-carbon solutions, hydro power continues to be at the top of the alternative list; but then we heard from those on the other side of the dam: Mexico's Indigenous communities and farmers.

“Our town is going is be flooded by the dam; the place where we have lived, where we have grown our food,  where we fish.”

We heard from those who are struggling to have a voice. The rush to economic development, including tourism and expansion of energy through “green” alternatives, has catalyzed investment for massive large-scale projects. But what about the villager whose livelihood is affected and whose community is displaced? He asks for help in understanding how his human right to water and life can go unanswered. 

“They’re privatizing water, and selling it to rich companies. Poor farmers will be left without anything. The hills will not be able to be cultivated. We have thermal waterfalls, hot water, springs, but now it’s a tourist area.”

The message being received is that agriculture is not valued, the natural flows of water are without value, sustainable livelihoods are irrelevant, and people are displaced. This to the farmer is what it means to live in a commodified world. Green or clean energy without democracy will fail at its core objective.  Democratic clean energy systems are more than technological alternatives, they are alternatives in which political voice is given to everyone.

“We don’t agree with them setting a price on our lands and our waters. Not only people who have money have rights.”

In closing, everyone reaffirmed the intrinsic connection between water, climate and food security. Any solutions need to support local approaches and connect globally to challenge the institutions that do not value people or ecosystems.

Dr. Cecilia Martinez and Shiney Varghese are blogging from the U.N. climate talks in Cancún, Mexico.

Posted December 10, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   


Evo 030 At a raucus rally last night at the camp of Via Campesina in Cancún, Bolivian President Evo Morales placed responsibility for climate change squarely on global capitalism's exploitation of natural resources. He decried the direction of the U.N. global climate talks, ending later today in the Moon Palace resort a few dozen miles away, for taking steps to commoditize nature. Instead, he argued that the U.N. should be establishing the rights of Mother Earth and countries should accept their responsbility for protecting the climate.

Evo 019 At the climate talks over the past two weeks, Bolivia has been pushing for language from the People's Agreement from Cochabamba, which was agreed to in April. We blogged earlier in the week about their frustrations with the negotiating process, which has largely closed out language from the People's Agreement.

Evo 023 In a surreal moment last night, a rainbow appeared as President Morales entered the Via Campesina camp. The band played and people cheered. The scene was in stark contrast to the mostly dour mood in the Moon Palace we've seen all week. It is hard to think of two worlds farther apart.

Posted December 9, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   


"The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. What we needed is 'good enough.' And 'good enough' is not 'perfectly just.' 'Perfectly just' is not going to happen here." These are the words yesterday of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at an event here in Cancún presenting climate finance options to governments at the U.N. global climate talks.

The report from the High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF) was requested by Secretary General of the U.N. a few months after last year's failed negotiations in Copenhagen. The AGF's mission was to identify climate finance options for negotiators to help reach the goal of $100 billion a year by 2020 (a goal that most feel is not enough). Climate finance is critical as countries, particularly their agriculture sectors, become more and more affected by climate change. Here in Cancún, we've heard from farm groups in developing countries who are already experiencing extreme droughts and floods associated with climate change.

Last month, IATP and partner organizations sent out a press release critiquing the AGF report for being much worse than "good enough." We wrote that the report "unwisely emphasizes carbon markets and other private finance options, while irresponsibly advocating an increased role for multilateral development banks. Despite concluding that public sources of climate finance are available and promising, the report’s findings downplay the role that public finance can and must play in helping developing countries deal with climate change."

IATP's Steve Suppan said, “The AGF recommendations are unfortunately based on unduly optimistic econometric projections and a blind faith in the capacity of highly volatile and unreliable carbon price signals to induce long-term investments in low carbon energy production and manufacturing. A better start on climate finance would be for developed countries to make good on their $30 billion pledge for immediate funding to allow developing countries to adapt agricultural production and water management systems to the imminent ravages of climate change.”

The AGF does have several recommendations worth considering, including various international carbon and financial transaction taxes. But overall, these public approaches are downplayed relative to a push for more carbon markets.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Zenawi described the difficult compromises in writing the report, and the differing perspectives of the 20-person committee are reflected in the text. He characterized the process as a "dry run" for the type of compromises that will be needed for governments to reach an agreement in Cancún. Those who are working for a just response to climate change hope not.

Posted December 9, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   


Women gathered at EsMex: an alternative climate forum in Cancún to discuss REDD+ as a strategy for dealing with climate emissions. A circle of women, surrounded by yet more circles of Indigenous women and men shared their thoughts about forests, life, community and climate change.

We came in late, but like a real friend whom you have not seen for years and yet pick up where the last conversation left off, it was easy to fold into the flow of the discussion. I confess to marveling at the way people from communities who live intimately with the natural world are so...elegant. I remembered what one of my Ojibwe mentors once advised me as we sat in a ceremony: never assume because someone is quiet that they are not speaking; never assume that because someone is not moving that they are not active. Thousands of miles from the home of my mentor, I was witnessing the same dignity of people who speak truth from their hearts. 

It was as if climate change jargon had been left at the door. There was no discussion of 350 ppm, MRV, GHG or CDM. But we were there to talk about REDD. And so the women spoke of their lives, their aspirations for their community and their hopes. They spoke of living well and working hard, of children and of earth. And, of course, of REDD. My friend, IATP's Shiney Varghese, shared her thoughts on the life blood of water and women's struggles for basic human rights all over the planet. My friend, Michele Roberts, a woman  who works in the Louisiana gulf, spoke of her fears. She described life among oil refineries, and life after hurricanes and oil spills. One might have expected that rural women of the South would look with cynicism at the plight of those living in the wealthiest country of the world. But as she described the world of cancer alley, holding back her tears, others in the room were filled with compassion. We were in a room of people with no titles and no agenda. They were simply speaking their truths, but more importantly they were also hearing the truth of one another. 

The session ended, and picture taking began. Bolivian women, cameras in hand, asked for a picture with the woman from the gulf. Not because she could offer them development money, but because she spoke about the reality of life. Thousands of miles from my Ojibwe mentor, I could see her smiling. For her, as with Michele, Shiney and me, hope is not in the sterility of endless point-counterpoint, international negotiations of complex legalisms. Nor is it in the abstracted movements of the North centering themselves around 350 ppm. Who among us really knows what that means? At the end of the day, we will tackle climate change when those “in charge” begin behaving like the women and men in that room: elegantly. 

Dr. Cecilia Martinez is blogging from the U.N. climate talks in Cancún, Mexico. She is a senior policy fellow with the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP.

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