Feeding the world, climate change, and peak oil - Nov 17
UN links climate with hunger
Javier Blas, Financial Times
The world cannot achieve food security without first tackling global warming, the United Nations secretary-general said on Monday, warning that failure at next month’s international climate change negotiations would result in a rise in hunger.
The warning by Ban Ki-Moon at the start of a three-day UN world food summit in Rome came one day after Barack Obama, US president, backed European and UN views that the Copenhagen summit would not produce a legally-binding agreement to tackle global warming.
“There cannot be food security without climate security,” Mr Ban said. “Today’s event is critical,” he said, referring to the food summit, “so is Copenhagen.”
Mr Ban’s comments signal how leaders are grappling with the need to respond coherently – and simultaneously – to energy, food and climate challenges. “The three are key for political security and stability,” said Alexander Muller, assistant director-general at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Jim Fitzpatrick, UK minister for food, farming and environment, told the Financial Times that food and climate security were “two sides of the same coin”...
(16 Nov 2009)
Hungry for change
Kath Delmany, red pepper
Just over a year ago, researchers presented the Cabinet Office with a thorough and far-reaching analysis that painted a sobering account of the state of our food system. It presented us with a clear challenge: can we make our food system sustainable in order to feed ourselves, long into the future, without wrecking the planet?
The analysis confirmed that about one fifth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are from food and farming. It also showed that 70,000 premature deaths could be prevented each year in the UK if people ate a better diet; and that many thousands more could enjoy healthier and more prosperous lives without the burden of diet-related conditions such as heart disease and many types of cancer. At the same time, a more ethical and sustainable food system could play a role in international development to improve the prospects for hundreds of millions of people, ensure better welfare for farm animals and help us adopt a far more responsible approach to issues such as world fish stocks and humanity’s profligate use of water.
Identifying and quantifying the problems ought to have been a promising start. Not since 2002 had such a far-reaching analysis been undertaken. Back then, the government took stock amidst the ashes of millions of farm animals slaughtered and burned due to foot and mouth disease. Its response was relatively encouraging – a sustainable food and farming policy and several initiatives to help improve the sustainability of food buying in, for example, schools and hospitals.
...Yet since 2002, key government agencies have dismantled support for projects that address food poverty. Patchy efforts to improve food in public institutions remain ‘islands in a sea of mediocrity’, according to an apt summary by Professor Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University. £2.2 billion of public money is being spent each year on food that rarely meets health or environmental standards and largely fails to invest in reliable farm incomes or sustainable farming practices.
The organic action plan has been abandoned, and some civil servants at Defra now deny that they ever said organic farming conferred significant environmental benefits, preferring to denigrate organic as simply a ‘lifestyle choice’. Frequent calls on government to force supermarkets to treat their suppliers more fairly have met with silence, or vague encouragement for supermarket bosses to act more responsibly.
Call to action
All this is despite the call to action becoming ever stronger. Since 2002, the world has found out so much more about the inherent lack of resilience of our food system. Public awareness of food insecurity has never been higher, due not least to emerging understanding of peak oil and climate change. Our future ability to eat seems bound up with the turbulence of oil prices, global grain speculation, intensive animal farming practices that create pandemics, a reckless banking sector and the increasing problem of water shortages.
...In summer 2008, the government responded to the Cabinet Office’s analysis with its Food Matters strategy, setting out commitments to start solving the problems. In August this year, it again sought to assure us that it is on the case, publishing Food Matters: one year on. It gave details of government actions over the past year and commitments for the years to come.
The publication had a strange effect. Journalists, analysts and campaigners struggled to find the story. They sifted through the report trying to get a handle on the substance, seeking to find any signs of large-scale and specific commitments to making the food system more ethical and less reliant on fossil fuels. They ploughed through lists of labelling and salt reduction initiatives, and general commitments to greater spending on international aid and rural development.
...Public debate became polarised. On the one hand, there was a stress on the need at a local and individual level for more food labelling, composting schemes, education and allotments to ensure better informed consumers and fuller larders. At the other end of the scale, the focus was on the apparent imperative to accept and plant far more genetically modified (GM) grain in order to secure global food security and economic growth, and to ensure that more people can adopt diets that follow the western pattern – plenty of processed food and lots of meat and dairy products. To take issue with either would seem like churlishness on the one hand and Luddite veganism on the other, with a vague implication that to fail to accept the destruction of large areas of rainforest for grain production for animal feed is tantamount to wanting millions of people to starve.
Something was absent in the government’s announcement, and in the public debate that followed. It is an absence that is reflected in the government’s underlying philosophy concerning the role of the state and is very likely to predominate in any future Tory government’s whole approach. Governments of either persuasion are less and less willing to intervene, on all our behalves, on issues of common concern. They provide us with a description of the problem, but look to others to take the lead – usually businesses that, as we know only too well, have a lot of other priorities, not least returning profits to their shareholders. Such an approach by government has many implications for whether or not we can achieve the level and pace of change now needed.
...If we’re going to feed the nine billion people projected to be alive by 2050 ethically and sustainably, we all need to eat less meat and dairy produce (both major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and also unhealthy fat in western diets). And when we do eat it, it should have been raised to higher environmental and welfare standards. The change would be good for our waistlines too – these days there are more people in the world who are overweight than underweight, according to the World Health Organisation.
Macro-decisions about grain production are painted as ‘out there’ – the stuff of international negotiation and tough bargaining at tables full of suited businessmen and technocrats. No wonder people feel so powerless and frustrated. And no wonder individuals, farmers, shopkeepers and caterers cannot see or understand their roles in bringing about a better food and farming system, or feel empowered or incentivised to make the necessary changes.
In energy, major government investment is in ‘big kit’ – massive infrastructure such as an offshore National Grid and a new generation of nuclear power stations. The profits will return to big companies. So too in food and farming, where the approach is to invest in hi-tech biotechnology, with little said about the investment and local-scale farming technologies and practices needed to build resilient food, farming and trading systems that use inherently less fossil fuel.
We could be supporting an army of artisan food producers to take back control of the food system, use sustainable ingredients and open local shops and markets. How better to cut transport fuel than re-creating the ability for people to be able to buy their food a short walk away – and have pleasurable interactions with their community in the process?
The time has also come for more co-operative efforts to feed ourselves, with the values of a sustainable food and farming system built in from the start. Consumers do have power, but not just to choose between one product and another in the supermarket, which, all too often, presents a choice between one damaging product and another. Where consumers have most power, it is when they take control of food trading to create food co-operatives, box schemes and farmers’ markets – re-forging the link between producers and citizens and using their power to support a better way of providing food. Consumer co-operatives, in particular, because they are run on a voluntary basis, can help ensure that food is affordable while remaining ethical by cutting out most of the costs of retail. Food campaigners are now championing city, town and community approaches to more resilient local food systems. More land and expertise needs to be made available for horticultural production, and more support is needed on the demand side from procurement, retailers and catering organisations to use ethical and sustainable food routinely to make the markets for this produce more secure. Farming needs to become an attractive industry for younger people to get involved.
...Kath Dalmeny is policy director for Sustain. www.sustainweb.org
The Links Between Food Security And Climate Change
Kanayo F. Nwanze, Copenhagen official site
The future of global food security is highly dependent on two important and inter-related factors. The first is the degree to which developing countries will succeed in raising agricultural productivity through technological change and effective natural resource management. The second is the degree to which the world will succeed in limiting climate change, while helping developing countries adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects.
The scale of the challenge of assuring global food security is reflected in current projections for population growth, and the accompanying projected growth in the demand for food. On current trends, the world’s population is projected to swell from 6.8 billion to 9.1 billion by 2050. Most of the growth, as can be expected, will occur in developing countries. Feeding 9.1 billion people will require that overall global food production grow by 70 per cent. Production in the developing countries will need to almost double.
The enormous burden of feeding a growing global population is made heavier by the expected adverse impact of climate change on food production. Recent studies and projections paint a dire picture. In Eastern and South Asia, climate change is expected to affect rains, increase the frequency of droughts, and raise average temperatures, threatening the availability of fresh water for agricultural production. In sub-Saharan Africa, arid and semi-arid areas are projected to increase significantly. And in Southern Africa, yields from rain-fed agriculture are expected to fall by up to 50 per cent as early as 2020.
The impact of climate change on agriculture is therefore likely to lead to a loss of stability in productivity and an overall decline in food production. Unless urgent action is taken, climate change will undoubtedly worsen global food security and dramatically increase the number of people facing hunger and malnutrition. Current estimates indicate that climate change could put 63 million more people at risk of hunger by 2020.
...Such efforts must necessarily focus on the 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide who currently support around 2 billion people, or one third of the world’s population. Increasing their productivity is essential not only to secure the food and nutrition needs of these farmers, but also of the millions of people who depend on them.
The recent global food security initiatives must be complemented by concrete steps to limit climate change if their goals are to be met. It is therefore vital that at Copenhagen negotiators indeed ‘seal a credible climate deal’. I hope that the agreement not only delivers cuts in emissions, but also recognizes the close and unique relation between food security and climate change...
(11 Nov 2009)
The hopes for a firm treaty at Copenhagen have been all but shattered now. -KS
Agriculture in the Climate Change Negotiations, Platform Issue Paper
Global Donor Platform on Rural Development
The Global Donor Platform on Rural Development produced the sixth ‘issues paper’ on agriculture and its possible role in the Copenhagen Negotiations in September 2009. This one summarises the outcomes of the UNFCCC informal Bonn meeting in August 2009, and analyses the latest negotiating texts. It identifies the issues that the negotiations need to address on agriculture and poses a number of questions on agriculture that need to be considered. These are as follows:
Important questions that need to be considered as the negotiations proceed include:
- Does agriculture have a unique role in adaptation because of its potential for mitigation and other co-benefits? If so, do we need to ensure that agriculture is included in any sectoral references or given specific mention?
- Where agriculture is mentioned, what does this mean for benefits or impact on developing countries and smallholder farmers? Does a pro-poor aspect need to be emphasised when mentioning the sector?
- Will activities under LULUCF in the second commitment period include agriculture-based activities, and will these be mandatory or voluntary?
- Should agriculture activities be in NAMAs, or the CDM, or both?
- What are the best financing mitigation mechanisms for agriculture to help reduce GHG emissions and generate co-benefits for resilience, poverty reduction and food security?
- Should agriculture be part of REDD-Plus now, should it be brought in at a later stage after further research through a separate agriculture work programme, or should a new mechanism be developed for agriculture?
- What are the technical issues (mitigation and adaptation) that a work programme on agriculture could include?
The paper also includes appendices that provide detailed analyses of the text.
(10 Nov 2009)
The paper can be downloaded here
The one thing depleting faster than oil is the credibility of those measuring it
George Monbiot, the Guardian
I don't know when global oil supplies will start to decline. I do know that another resource has already peaked and gone into free fall: the credibility of the body that's meant to assess them. Last week two whistleblowers from the International Energy Agency alleged that it has deliberately upgraded its estimate of the world's oil supplies in order not to frighten the markets. Three days later, a paper published by researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden showed that the IEA's forecasts must be wrong, because it assumes a rate of extraction that appears to be impossible. The agency's assessment of the state of global oil supplies is beginning to look as reliable as Alan Greenspan's blandishments about the health of the financial markets.
If the whistleblowers are right, we should be stockpiling ammunition. If we are taken by surprise, if we have failed to replace oil before the supply peaks then crashes, the global economy is stuffed. But nothing the whistle-blowers said has scared me as much as the conversation I had last week with a Pembrokeshire farmer.
Wyn Evans, who runs a mixed farm of 170 acres, has been trying to reduce his dependency on fossil fuels since 1977. He has installed an anaerobic digester, a wind turbine, solar panels and a ground-sourced heat pump. He has sought wherever possible to replace diesel with his own electricity. Instead of using his tractor to spread slurry, he pumps it from the digester on to nearby fields. He's replaced his tractor-driven irrigation system with an electric one, and set up a new system for drying hay indoors, which means he has to turn it in the field only once. Whatever else he does is likely to produce smaller savings. But these innovations have reduced his use of diesel by only around 25%.
According to farm scientists at Cornell University, cultivating one hectare of maize in the United States requires 40 litres of petrol and 75 litres of diesel. The amazing productivity of modern farm labour has been purchased at the cost of a dependency on oil. Unless farmers can change the way it's grown, a permanent oil shock would price food out of the mouths of many of the world's people. Any responsible government would be asking urgent questions about how long we have got.
Instead, most of them delegate this job to the International Energy Agency. I've been bellyaching about the British government's refusal to make contingency plans for the possibility that oil might peak by 2020 for the past two years, and I'm beginning to feel like a madman with a sandwich board. Perhaps I am, but how lucky do you feel? The new World Energy Outlook published by the IEA last week expects the global demand for oil to rise from 85m barrels a day in 2008 to 105m in 2030. Oil production will rise to 103m barrels, it says, and biofuels will make up the shortfall. If we want the oil, it will materialise.
...As a report commissioned by the US Department of Energy shows, an emergency programme to replace current energy supplies or equipment to anticipate peak oil would need about 20 years to take effect. It seems unlikely that we have it. The world economy is probably knackered, whatever we might do now. But at least we could save farming. There are two possible options: either the mass replacement of farm machinery or the development of new farming systems that don't need much labour or energy.
There are no obvious barriers to the mass production of electric tractors and combine harvesters: the weight of the batteries and an electric vehicle's low-end torque are both advantages for tractors. A switch to forest gardening and other forms of permaculture is trickier, especially for producing grain; but such is the scale of the creeping emergency that we can't afford to rule anything out...
(16 Nov 2009)
Promoting climate-smart agriculture
FAO press release
The twin battles to improve food security for a growing world population and contain climate change can be fought on the same front—the world's farmland, FAO said in a new report released today.
Agriculture not only suffers the impacts of climate change, it is also responsible for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But agriculture has the potential to be an important part of the solution, through mitigation—reducing and/or removing—a significant amount of global emissions, FAO says. Some 70 percent of this mitigation potential could be realized in developing countries.
"Many effective strategies for climate change mitigation from agriculture also benefit food security, development and adaptation to climate change," said FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller. "The challenge is to capture these potential synergies, while managing trade-offs that may have negative impacts on food security."
The report, Food Security and Agricultural Mitigation in Developing Countries: Options for Capturing Synergies was launched during the Barcelona Climate Change Talks.
Down to earth
The most important technical options for climate change mitigation from agriculture are improvements in cropland and grazing land management and the restoration of organic soils and degraded lands.
Nearly 90 percent of the technical mitigation potential of agriculture comes from soil carbon sequestration. These options involve increasing the levels of organic matter, of which carbon is the main component, in soil. This can translate into better plant nutrient content, increased water retention capacity and better structure, eventually leading to higher yields and greater resilience.
Agricultural mitigation options that sequester carbon can include: low tillage, utilizing residues for composting or mulching, use of perennial crops to cover soil, re-seeding or improving grazing management on grasslands.
Balancing benefits, risks
Other options involve difficult trade-offs, with benefits for mitigation but potentially negative consequences for food security and development. In some cases, there are synergies in the long-run, but trade-offs in the short-run.
Biofuel production provides a clean alternative to fossil fuel but can compete for land and water resources needed for food production. Restoration of organic soils enables greater carbon sequestration, but may reduce the land available for food production. Rangeland restoration may improve carbon sequestration but involves short-term reductions in herder incomes by limiting the number of livestock.
Some trade-offs can be managed through measures to increase efficiency or through payment of incentives or compensation.
Many of the technical mitigation options are readily available and could be deployed immediately. But while these actions often generate a net positive benefit over time, they involve significant up-front costs.
Other barriers, such as uncertain property rights, lack of information and technical assistance or access to appropriate seeds and fertilizer, also need to be overcome. "Linking to ongoing agricultural development efforts that address these same issues is one cost effective way of doing this," said Kostas Stamoulis, Director of the FAO Agricultural Development Economics Division.
Financing mechanisms needed
The report outlines possible design features for financing mechanisms that could help unlock agriculture's potential benefits for climate change mitigation, food security and agricultural development.
A range of financing options—public, public-private and carbon markets—are currently under negotiation for climate change mitigation actions in developing countries. These could be future sources of finance for agricultural mitigation actions, the report says, as could a dedicated international fund to support agricultural mitigation in developing countries and coordination with financing from official development assistance for agricultural development.
Capturing agriculture's multiple benefits
Despite its significant potential, agricultural mitigation has remained relatively marginal within the climate change negotiations.
To capture the multiple benefits of agriculture. the report recommends a work programme on agricultural mitigation within the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to help address methodological issues related to implementation. It also proposes country-led piloting of action and field testing, using a phased approach linked to national capabilities and supported by capacity building and financial/technology transfers.
(5 Nov 2009)