Think Forward blog

Sustainable ag central to climate solution

Posted December 4, 2009

Next week government representatives from around the world—including President Obama—will gather in Copenhagen to talk about how to address climate change. The focus will be on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the effects of climate change. Earlier this year, agriculture became a larger part of the global climate talks.

“We cannot truly address climate change without getting it right on agriculture,” Jim Harkness, IATP's president, said in a press release. “Agriculture is a contributor to climate change, but just as importantly it profoundly affects land use around the world, and has the potential to be part of the solution. Smart climate policy for agriculture can help address hunger, support rural livelihoods, improve water quality and biodiversity, and strengthen our energy security.”

As a lead up to the Copenhagen meeting, IATP has produced a series of issue briefs covering different aspects of agriculture, climate and public policy. Each is available on our new climate page—as well as video interviews with authors, and other resources for agriculture and climate. Here's a quick review of the  issue papers:

• Agriculture and Climate—The Critical Connection, by Jim Kleinschmit, gives an overview of the science of agriculture and climate change.
• Putting Agriculture on the Global Climate Agenda, by Anne Laure Constantin, sets benchmarks for including agriculture within global climate negotiations.
• U.S. Climate Policy and Agriculture, by Julia Olmstead, reviews how agriculture is considered in U.S. legislation and makes recommendations for a better approach.
• Speculating on Carbon: The Next Toxic Asset, by Steve Suppan, analyzes how Wall Street speculators could influence agriculture and climate goals.
• Eye of the Storm: Integrated Solutions to the Climate, Agriculture and Water Crises, by Shiney Varghese, explains water’s role in the climate and agriculture crises.
• Climate Inequity, by Shalini Gupta and Dr. Cecilia Martinez, traces the historical inequities that have contributed to climate change, and proposes a more equitable climate policy.

IATP will be sending a big team to Copenhagen and blogging, videotaping and tweeting about these issues there. You can follow all the action at our climate page.

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A happy and healthy holiday season

Posted December 3, 2009

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It’s that time of year: when many shoppers are off to the stores with gift lists in search of good deals. With the holiday season upon us, the folks at the Ecology Center thought it was time to conduct a new round of testing on toys to find out which toxic chemicals, if any, are still lurking beneath the shiny packaging and promises of door-buster prices. Their third annual consumer guide was released today, in partnership with the Healthy Legacy coalition (IATP is a co-founder), and various groups throughout the country. The results might surprise you.

What’s new this year?

This year tested over 700 toys and children’s products—they do it because the U.S. government and toy manufacturers are not currently providing this information. It’s no big surprise that lead was still found in nearly 20 percent of the new products tested. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended in 2007 that 40 parts per million (ppm) should be the maximum allowable limit of lead in children’s products, the federal recall standard is 300 ppm—and 3 percent of the products tested exceeded that limit.

While it’s frustrating that many toys still contain lead, the good news is that there has been a 67 percent reduction in products with lead which exceed regulatory standards.

It’s not just lead...

Other chemicals of concern, like cadmium and arsenic, are also found in some children’s products (Read more about the health concerns for these chemicals.) Many toys are also made of PVC plastic, which is known as the poison plastic, due to the dangers it poses through its entire lifecycle (from manufacture, through product life and disposal). PVC often contains those nasty phthalates that make it soft and flexible, and lead, cadmium and other heavy metals are also often added to PVC products. The tests detect the concentration of some chemical elements, but do not test for all chemicals, or even all chemicals of concern.

What can we learn from this?

As much as this is a time for family gatherings, good meals and gift giving, it is also a time of reflection. The good news in this year’s testing is that the prevalence of lead in toys is going down over time. But that’s not good enough! We don’t want lead or other harmful chemicals in any of our toys.

The best gift you can give to your loved ones is to contact your senators and representatives and ask them to support a strong reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—the outdated and toothless law that regulates toxic chemicals in the United States. Strong reform of our chemicals policy will shift the responsibility for the safety of chemicals and products back to the companies that make them. The Healthy Legacy coalition supports the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families platform for reforming TSCA. 

In the meantime, how can you shop safer?

The Healthy Stuff database offers a lot of good options for helping you shop safer this holiday season (and all through the year).

 You can:

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WTO Ministerial accomplishes nothing—again

Posted December 2, 2009

Stuck in Doha Round quicksand, trade ministers participating in the WTO Ministerial in Geneva left town today with nothing much accomplished. Well, actually, some left a day early—demonstrating once again how deadening these negotiations have become.

As IATP's Anne Laure Constantin said in our press release today, “With 1 billion people going hungry every day, governments must build a more coherent system of global governance for food and agriculture. The WTO needs to rejoin the wider multilateral system and defer to other institutions with the mandate to advance human rights and sustainable development, rather than reducing them to an afterthought in the trade debate. World leaders should take a fresh look at the Marrakesh Agreement, which established the WTO. It sets overarching objectives to raise standards of living, promote sustainable development and protect the environment. The obsession with tariffs and subsidies, at the expense of public policy goals, needs to end.”

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Brazil negotiators put cards on the table

Posted December 2, 2009

Adhemar Mineiro represents the Brazilian Trade Network REBRIP. He is blogging from Geneva this week at the WTO Ministerial.

The Brazilian position in the WTO talks, and especially at the 7th Ministerial this week, reflects in a certain way the assumption that they went too far last year to try to make a deal. With the subsequent financial crisis, after Lehmann Brother’s default, and the result of the elections in the U.S., it became evident that showing all their cards was not a good move.

At this moment, governments are stalled in their position, waiting for the other to make a move. In some bilateral discussions with the U.S., Brazilian negotiators asked for more solid positions and dates. They got only a very general assessment from the U.S. Trade Representative saying that concluding the Doha round is important for the multilateral trading system, and the round must be concluded in 2010. But the U.S. is not saying how to achieve the conclusion of the round.

There are also concerns among Brazilian authorities that, in the case of the failure to conclude the Doha round, the adoption of protectionist measures would increase, threatening the trade liberalization process. At this moment, the Brazilian government sees the possibility of failure of the Doha round more as a risk than as a possibility of building another path towards a new multilateral trading system.

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Time to move trade talks into the 21st century

Posted December 2, 2009

The world economy has changed so dramatically in the last year, and yet U.S. trade policy marches blithely on as if everything is the same. No change of course to shore up farm sectors against future price shocks or floods of dumped products. No admission that deregulating international finance was a mistake that contributed to the financial crisis. Perhaps a modest nod to the looming climate catastrophe, but only with a proposal for more trade in environmental goods, without consideration of how poor countries hit hardest by global warming will afford those goods.

As the WTO talks take place this week in Geneva, the silence in Washington is striking. Not a peep in the Washington Post (except for a couple of news feeds in the online edition). No one in the Administration or Congress stepping forward to make indignant noises about the importance of concluding the talks.

The big news on trade, at least in Washington, is the introduction of the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act by Senators Sherrod Brown and Byron Dorgan. That bill would mandate a review of existing trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and participation in the WTO and set very different negotiating criteria for new agreements. The House version already has 130 co-sponsors. It should spark a vigorous debate on why the old trade rules just aren’t good enough anymore and what kinds of arrangements need to be put in place to create jobs and address hunger and poverty in the global north and south.

That’s the kind of discussion that should be happening this week in Geneva.

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WTO wrestles Doha, loses

Posted December 1, 2009

If we needed any more evidence on the declining relevance of the World Trade Organization, we're seeing it this week. WTO Ministerial meetings, like the one taking place this week in Geneva, used to include massive, worldwide news coverage on the development of new global trade rules. But a quick scan of news coverage today turns up very little. Reporters are struggling to find stories. But maybe that is the story: the rapid decline of the WTO as a major international force. And as importantly, where does it go from here?

In the latest Geneva Update, IATP's Anne Laure Constantin writes about the reluctance of governments to let go of the Doha Round of negotiations, even though the world has dramatically changed since the negotiations were launched in 2001. Constantin writes, "Disagreements over what the mandate is about, and how negotiations should proceed, have perhaps never been wider. Observers around the world are wondering what it will take for trade ministers to acknowledge the situation. Denial only allows an unacceptable status quo to prevail for a few more years. Enough is enough."

Will trade ministers have the courage to change course—or continue to stumble down the same endless path? IATP will continue covering the WTO Ministerial over the next few days and let you know.

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WTO G-20 meeting: More of the same

Posted November 30, 2009

Adhemar Mineiro represents the Brazilian Trade Network REBRIP. He is blogging from Geneva this week at the WTO Ministerial.

The WTO G-20 Ministers that have met this Sunday in Geneva reaffirmed their position agreed to at their last meeting in Delhi. On the one hand, they reiterated the centrality of Agriculture (or, more specifically, agriculture exports) in the Doha Round. They claimed to want to conclude the round of negotiations. But on the other hand, Ministers of the G-20 continue to wait for others to put forth new proposals on trade, particularly on the reduction of subsidies, before making another move.

Finally, there seem to be strategic differences on how to deal with WTO and the multilateral trade system among G-20 Ministers. While some countries seem to put much of their efforts toward strengthening the WTO and ensuring its main role in the international trade system, other countries seem to be full of skepticism about the WTO and the multilateral trade system. We can expect a number of very interesting debates among member countries of this important negotiating group in the coming years.

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WTO violence—so disappointing…

Posted November 30, 2009

Farmers kids The anti-WTO demonstration patiently orchestrated over the past several months by a coalition of Swiss groups (trade unions, social movements and other NGOs) in consultation with the international network Our World Is Not For Sale was set for success. On Saturday, November 28, more than 4,000 people (a huge number by Geneva standards) had gathered on Place Neuve, the starting point of the demonstration. They held colorful banners and consistent messages. Kids and older activists co-existed peacefully. Farmers, workers, musicians and environmentalists had joined the ranks and were ready to walk to the WTO. The protest organizers were thrilled. Alessandro Pelizzari, from the Swiss union UNIA, launched the demonstration with a very unifying speech.

But then the Black bloc decided it would be more fun if they started trashing windows and setting SUVs on fire.

Owinfs climate banner The protest had to be called off after about 500 meters. For those of us who work hours on end trying to make another world possible through a consistent critique of what’s wrong with the current system, this is a blow. Protesters were unable to convey their messages through the media about the need to change trade rules if the world is to overcome the conjunction of crises it is faced with.

I fear that all that will remembered from this demonstration are the burnt cars and broken windows. Eric Stauffer, Geneva’s extreme right leader, will no doubt thrive on this fiasco while proponents of another world will be associated with violence and fear. Was that the kids in black's objective?

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Faster and Further in the Fight Against Hunger

Posted November 17, 2009 by Alexandra Spieldoch   

IATP's Alexandra Spieldoch is blogging from Rome at the World Summit on Food Security.


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World food summit: rhetoric or action?

Posted November 16, 2009

Today at the World Summit on Food Security, there was plenty of lofty rhetoric. United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon told delegates that "food is a basic right" and "our job is not just to feed the hungry, but to help the hungry feed themselves." And according to Bloomberg, Pope Benedict XVI  cited "greed which causes speculation to rear its head even in the marketing of cereals, as if food were to be treated just like any other commodity."

Fine words. But, like so many of the international meetings the past two years on the food crisis, missing from the various statements of government leaders were clear financial commitments and regulatory reforms to address failures in agricultural markets, like speculation.

When it comes to action, the summit represents an opportunity for the Obama administration to lead on a global stage (and according to a new USDA report released today, food insecurity is also hitting close to home). Just prior to the summit, IATP and over 20 other U.S. based organizations wrote to the Obama Administration with 10 ideas for action at the summit. Unfortunately, thus far,“Our officials, along with U.S. agribusiness, are spreading the myth that more intensive production can feed the world, a message that is not only incorrect but dangerous in terms of its harmful impacts on sustainable livelihoods for the majority of food producers, and its exacerbation of the converging climate, economic, water and energy crises,” the U.S. groups wrote. 

Today, we also delivered a specific proposal to government officials at the Rome meeting, urging their support for food reserves as a tool to better manage food supplies and address extreme volatility in agriculture markets. Last month, IATP and ActionAid USA organized a briefing in Washington on food reserves and how they might be used at the national, regional and international level.

IATP's Alexandra Spieldoch is in Rome following the discussions, briefing government officials and working with civil society organizations. Government leaders still have two more days to step up. 

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