Think Forward blog

Plotting the course: COP21 and agriculture

Posted December 21, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Image used under creative commons license from Twitter user weatherchannel.

When the text of a new global climate agreement reached by 195 governments was released this weekend, one word was conspicuously absent: agriculture. That doesn’t mean issues around how farmers produce food were entirely ignored; in fact, you can see agriculture’s shadow in nearly all parts of the Paris agreement—from national-level climate plans to climate finance to new initiatives on soil. But a clear path forward on how to limit agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and support more climate resilient agricultural systems is still too politically hot for governments to take on.

The decision to sidestep agriculture, at least temporarily, within the climate agreement was not surprising. Finding common ground on agriculture and food security is notoriously difficult in international settings (see long-stalled World Trade Organization negotiations). Much of the intransigence around agriculture lies in the enormous political and economic power held by an increasing small number of global agribusiness corporations, who have little interest in new rules that don’t fit with their current business model. There is strong resistance to new regulations for agribusiness sectors that are high greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters (particularly the big fertilizer and meat companies). After the Paris agreement was reached, the meat industry immediately put out a call to start aggressively lobbying governments to protect their interests.

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Dumping Responsibility on Third World Farmers Yet Again

Posted December 14, 2015

Used under creative commons license from Justin Kernogahn.

On the eve of their Nairobi ministerial, WTO members should remember it is not food procurement policies in developing countries like India but unfair US agricultural subsidies which threaten free trade and farmer livelihoods across the world

On December 15, the world’s trade ministers will gather in Nairobi, Kenya, for the tenth attempt to craft a new set of trade rules under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The so-called Doha Development Round (DDR), launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, promised to right the imbalance in previous trade negotiations that had favoured the United States, European countries, and other developed nations. Reforming unfair agricultural practices were at the centre of the Doha agenda.

On the eve of the Nairobi ministerial, that agenda itself is under threat. The US, EU, and Japan have proposed jettisoning the Doha agenda and the progress made before negotiations broke down in 2008. They have dismissed commitments made two years ago in Bali, Indonesia, to resolve objections to India’s ambitious National Food Security Act as an unfair subsidy to farmers. Agriculture, it seems, is barely on the Nairobi agenda.

Going along with the West would be a costly mistake for developing countries. They may well be facing a new era of low crop prices in which highly subsidised crop production in the US and other rich countries creates overproduction and dumping of cheap goods on global markets. If ever there were a need for new agricultural trade rules, now would be the time.

Changing economic landscape

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Don’t talk about “trade” at the global climate talks

Posted December 11, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Image used under creative commons license from Twitter user GisellaLomax

Earlier this week, a leaked internal European Union document on climate negotiation priorities (posted by Corporate Observatory Europe) made clear that any global climate deal would not mention trade. Also this week, a group of concerned business associations (including the biotech industry) hurriedly wrote (subscription required) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warning him not to agree to anything that could impact trade rules established to protect intellectual property rights. Both documents show why powerful interests want to keep trade and climate agreements separate despite the numerous ways trade rules have not only facilitated climate change but limit our ability to set strong climate policy in the future.  

The trade-climate disconnect exists not only within the global climate treaty being negotiated here in Paris. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) does not include anywhere in its 5,000 plus pages the words “climate change.” The latest version of a U.S. Customs bill (subscription required) coming out of the House of Representatives forbids the President from considering climate impacts in future trade agreements.

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Senators—Voluntary is not COOL!

Posted December 9, 2015 by Shefali Sharma   

Used under creative commons license from Fiona MacGinty-O'Neill.

This week the World Trade Organization (WTO) gave Canada and Mexico the right to impose over a billion dollars’ worth of sanctions per year unless the U.S. Congress repeals a common sense law, Country of Origin-Labeling (COOL) for meat (beef, pork and poultry). COOL informs consumers where animals were born, raised and slaughtered before turning into meat. The meat industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying legislators trying to repeal COOL since it was first enacted in 2002. So the WTO case, which has been consistently appealed by the United States Trade Representative since 2008, is a big victory for Big Meat because it gives legislators who are already in their pocket a “legitimate” reason to change the law in spite of overwhelming consumer demand for such labels.

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Mennonites leave Mexico in search of water

Posted December 8, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

 Mennonite boy in  Chihuahua, Mexico.

News coming out of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua is most often about narco-traffickers but, in recent weeks, attention has shifted to farmers protesting increased cost of production and shutting down the importation lane at the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez crossing. And a little further south, severe drought is driving Mennonite farmers off the land. A closer look at the history of Mennonite migration reveals a pattern connected to drought and dry land farming for the last 150 years.

Near the tiny village of Santa Rita, 50 miles from Ciudad Juarez, Mennonite farmers are packing up their belongings and heading for Argentina. Mennonites have a history of migration brought on by persecution for their uncompromising pacifist religious beliefs, but this latest relocation is the result of a drought that has ravaged the region since 2012.

With predictions that water will run out in the next 20 years from overuse, all kinds of farmers will be moving out of Chihuahua and looking for land and water to grow the corn, beans, pecans, apples, dairy and other agricultural products that have been the mainstay of this arid part of northern Mexico.

Mennonites were originally a Dutch Anabaptist religious community, established in the Netherlands in the 1500s.  They moved east across Europe to escape religious harassment into the lush Vistula Delta of Prussia and then south into Russia, the Ukraine and the Crimea and eventually as far as Siberia and Turkestan before reversing course and going west to America.

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4 things we’re tracking as Paris climate negotiations hit the home stretch

Posted December 7, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Takver.

 Marche Mondial pour le Climat

Paris - After four years of negotiations, countries from around the world aim to complete a new global climate deal in the next week. A new 48-page draft text was circulated this weekend and there will be a lot of horse-trading and late nights in the coming week. Here are a few of the key issues we’ll be tracking:

Can national climate commitments become stronger?

The essence of a proposed Paris climate deal are national commitments, known as INDCs, made by governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Those commitments were submitted prior to Paris and include how much each country will reduce emissions beginning in 2020 and continuing through 2030. They also describe national policies that will help achieve those reductions. Many of these include polices around energy, forests, agriculture and food security.

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Understanding the Nature of Peace

Posted December 7, 2015 by Juliette Majot   

Used under creative commons license from Josh Zakary.

On our way back home from the European Rural Parliament, where people from all over the Continent agreed to a Common Manifesto on the future of rural Europe, we were confronted with a very real human experience. Having left Schärding in Austria, where the citizens’ Parliament was held, we shared the crowded train from Passau to Munich with many refugees. We experienced the grace of heartfelt and practical kindnesses - the common humanity - offered to them by fellow European passengers and train personnel on the crowded journey.

Most refugees were totally lost - without European languages, without tickets, and sometimes even without a clear destination. Conductors patiently ascertained what languages they spoke, then helped by finding volunteer translators speaking Arabic and the many other languages needed. Cell phones were passed back and forth between refugees and other passengers, as refugees contacted friends and family. And always, between and among refugees and those reaching out to them, eye contact, smiles, the touch of a hand, the offering of comfort to people suffering months of flight and insecurity.

Schärding lies at the border between Austria and Germany. These days volunteers, rural communities and local authorities do their utmost to take care of the nearly 2000 refugees arriving every single day. Delegates from 40 European countries at the European Rural Parliament had already felt compelled to focus on the European refugee crisis, to considering what small towns and villages around rural Europe need, to help provide new homes and work for our newcomers.

The reality on the Austrian ground and on the train back to Munich underscored the urgency of this work.

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The Clever Ambiguity of Climate Smart Agriculture

Posted December 4, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Paris – The term “climate smart agriculture” (CSA) is popping up frequently in the official events of the global climate talks here in Paris. But what climate smart agriculture actually means seems to depend on who’s talking. In fact, the term has entered into an Orwellian space of meaning both everything and nothing simultaneously. This vacuum has created room for agribusiness and some governments to use “climate smart agriculture” as a convenient marketing slogan to describe business as usual practices that do little to address the unfolding climate crisis that is already deeply affecting the global food system.

The term “climate smart agriculture” is the product of clever political jockeying of previous climate conferences –first emerging in 2010 after the failed climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. At that time, it was part of an effort pushed by the World Bank and a handful of countries such as the Netherlands and New Zealand to push developing countries to accept agriculture into global carbon markets. Since then, the poor performance of carbon markets (particularly in Europe) as well as the shift in global climate talks toward voluntary pledges to reduce emissions has at least temporarily taken the wind out of the sails for a global carbon market. But that hasn’t slowed the momentum of “climate smart agriculture,” whatever it means.

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Rural leaders and advocates release climate change policy priorities

Posted December 3, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

Global leaders are convening in Paris for the U.N. climate change conference. This two-week event is intended to result in a global climate agreement, with commitments from most of the world’s countries on how they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Closer to home, many rural communities in the U.S. are grappling with the same question of how to deal with climate change impacts. Rural America will be disproportionately impacted by climate change. On average, rural residents are more food and energy insecure and earn less than their urban counterparts, and rural communities are more likely to have natural resource-based economies than urban communities. However, rural America is home to a small enough percentage of the population that it’s often overlooked by policymakers.

In response to this problem, a group of rural organizations, leaders and experts in the U.S. outlined the challenges climate change poses to rural communities and a set of policy priorities. The document, entitled “Rural Climate Policy Priorities: Solutions from the Ground,” is endorsed by 23 organizations and outlines transformative and long-term policy approaches to climate change that encourage resilience, equity, democracy and local ownership and control.

The Rural Climate Policy Priorities outline climate solutions for multiple areas of rural communities and economies, including agriculture, conservation, education, energy, fisheries, forestry, health, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.

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What to make of the soil carbon initiative launched in Paris

Posted December 2, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Paris – Yesterday at the global climate talks, France and about 30 other country leaders, research institutions and a handful of NGOs launched a much anticipated new initiative focused on researching and advancing efforts to sequester carbon in soil. The voluntary initiative, called 4 pour 1000, is not part of the official climate negotiations, which has largely ignored agriculture. And while the launch answered some questions about priorities – it left other important issues, like how the initiative will be financed and by whom, as well as the all-important questions of governance (particularly the role of farmers and civil society), for another time. 

France has been talking up the 4 pour 1000 initiative for much of 2015, meeting with NGOs (including IATP) and country representatives, and holding sessions at the Committee on World Food Security in and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. The initiative has attracted growing interest because of the well-recognized need to focus on soil health in order to cope with climate-related impacts on agriculture. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) just completed a year’s worth of events around the International Year of Soils.

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