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The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

Founded in 1986, IATP is rooted in the family farm movement. With offices in Minneapolis and Geneva, IATP works on making domestic and global agricultural policy more sustainable for everyone.

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December 2010

December 22, 2010

Hospitals support Minnesota farmers, purchase locally grown produce

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.

Ben Lilliston

December 16, 2010

More ideas for improving cereal markets in West Africa

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.

Sophia Murphy

December 15, 2010

A victory on mercury and HFCS

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.

Ben Lilliston

December 14, 2010

West Africa takes action on the food crisis

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.

Sophia Murphy

December 12, 2010

The climate deal that failed us

“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.

Ben Lilliston

December 11, 2010

Empty global climate deal leaves agriculture behind

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: www.iatp.org/climate

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. www.iatp.org

Ben Lilliston

December 10, 2010

Water warriors testify in Cancún

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.

Ben Lilliston

Bolivia's Morales calls out capitalism on climate crisis

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.

Ben Lilliston

December 09, 2010

"Perfectly just is not going to happen here"

"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.

Ben Lilliston

Elegant in Cancún

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.

Ben Lilliston

From Cancún to Minnesota: The need for environmental justice

On Tuesday night, IATP's Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) hosted an event in Minneapolis that connected the need for climate justice in Cancún with local grassroots environmental justice efforts. It was part of the “1000 Cancun’s”, a day of climate justice action around the world.  The event included a local EJ panel as well as a live report back from three members of the National (U.S.) Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change. The event was filmed and webcast by The UpTake and a video is available below (in English). Pictures from the event are also available on IATP's Flickr page. You can follow the EJ delegates blogging from Cancun on our blog page, Think Forward.  

The event begins at the 8-minute mark below, with the speakers entering as follows:

Shalini Gupta, IATP, introduction: 8:00

Cochabamba People's Climate Summit video: 12:26

LeMoine LePointe, advisory board of IATP's Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy: 24:43

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, Rural Enterprise Center: 35:08

Veronica Burt, Just Equity: 44:27

Deborah Ramos, Zenteotl Project: 54:11

Liza O'Reilly, Zenteotl Project: 1:01:10

Question and Answer: 1:06:00

Call-in reports from Cancún (Cecilia Martinez, Michele Roberts and Jose Bravo): 1:09:32

Watch live streaming video from theuptake at livestream.com


Andrew Ranallo

US in the hot seat on REDD+

The event, "Launch of United States Strategy for REDD+ USAID," was held today at COP 16. As U.S. negotiator Todd Stern publicly called upon us to have “measured expectations” for an international climate agreement, officials from U.S. AID  and U.S. Treasury laid out exuberant strategies for implementation of REDD+ projects to protect forests around the world. As of yet, the U.S. has made no commitments for reducing its own contributions to the alteration of the atmosphere. But, this has not stopped what presenters today outlined as a push for developing countries to adopt large scale REDD+ projects.

The session was intended to present how the U.S., through a range of bilateral and multilateral projects, was providing equity-driven capital for a carbon-reduced development path. After each panelist presented there was opportunity for questions. Question after question asked what the U.S.’s solutions for climate change were. The panelists seemed stumped for answers. At one point, an audience member asked, “are you for colonialism or are you against?” Response: “I don’t understand the question.” 

At a minimum, one would expect that U.S. representatives outlining the strategies of such a massive controversial investment would have at least been prepared for an answer. Instead, in an interesting effort at redirecting the discussion, the response was that environmental justice issues were being taken very seriously by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Emphasis was also given to the U.S.’s commitment to a “process” of inclusion. Note the word “inclusion,” and not the word “outcome.” The evidence is overwhelming when it comes to guaranteeing an equitable outcome by only focusing on participatory processes. The powerful can listen, but do not have to act upon what they hear.

Admittedly, there was a humorous side to the day’s event. The microphone carrying facilitator, try as she might, to select the most benign looking person behind the raised hands, found herself time after time giving the microphone to people with similar questions. By the end of the event, a woman in a dress suit, quite professional in appearance—perhaps even mistaken as a potential REDD+ investor—was given one of the last opportunities to ask a question. But, once again, the inquiry focused on the U.S.’s commitment to Indigenous rights.

Clearly, people concerned about REDD+ and issues of justice dominated the press event. What is the U.S.’s position relative to Indigenous rights and vulnerable communities? How will REDD+ resolve the pollution burdens placed on its own high–environmental risk communities at home? How will issues of transparency be resolved? And one which this blogger was not able to ask: What is the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of REDD+ as a real emission-reducing strategy? Answer: The U.S. is committed to an inclusive process and please come to the White House briefing on Environmental Justice.

Interestingly, nearly the entire first string panel was soon replaced by a set of bureaucrats from various federal agencies. Whether this was a spontaneous effort to remove U.S. AID and U.S. Treasury from the hot seat, or whether it was a planned switch, we will never know. At the end of the day, U.S. commitment for $1 billion over the FY2010 to 2012 to REDD+ projects is a notable investment. The problem is that the U.S. remains unwilling to change the way it does business. No matter how many press conferences and brochures with pictures of people measuring trees are presented, REDD+ does not in any way change the U.S.’s greenhouse gas appetite. The U.S. Congress remains one of the most belligerent institutions in addressing this fundamental problem.

Measured expectations, indeed.

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

Also contributing to this piece, Michele Roberts, campaign and policy coordinator with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights.


Ben Lilliston

December 08, 2010

Bad process in climate talks, repeat

Last year in Copenhagen, a handful of heads of state led by President Obama sat in a room and hammered out what became to be known as the Copenhagen Accord. They congratulated themselves, announced an agreement and expected the rest of the participating governments to happily sign on.What followed was an amazing string of speeches going late into the night from countries who had been closed out of the room, decrying the agreement. The result: the Copenhagen Accord is now widely considered a failure—more public relations than reality.

Cancun 3 005 Will we see history repeat itself here in Cancún? Today at a press conference, Bolivia's lead negotiator Pablo Solon, outlined just how messed up the negotiating process is here: There are private invite-only consultations; multiple draft texts that don't represent input by governments; and no clear and transparent schedule of when official negotiations on specific topics will take place. Instead, Solon expressed concern that 40 countries are deciding for the nearly 200 governments here in Copenhagen.

Now, getting nearly 200 countries to agree on anything is a monumental challenge. But if you've ever wondered why mulilateral talks seem to never get anywhere, check out Bolivia's press conference (in Spanish or with English interpretation).

Ben Lilliston

Measuring the climate: the whether channel

IATP's Steve Suppan is blogging from the United Nations talks on climate change in Cancun.

While the scientific consensus is overwhelming that climate change is occuring, measuring the specific effects on the planet (particularly for agriculture) is quite a bit more difficult than predicting the weather. Presentations of different climate observations systems during the United Nations climate change negotiations in Cancún, Mexico illustrated many difficulties. Systems data are analyzed by the scientists on the International Panel on Climate Change, which advises government negotiators who are negotiating an agreement on how to combat climate change and who will pay to do so.

Sometimes the difficulties in measuring the climate surprise even the scientists. An audience member from the International Telegraph Union commented that the bandwidth intensity of the near ubiquitous cellphones was now interfering with the bandwidth needed to transmit by satellite the remote sensing data of the oceanic, terrestrial and atmospheric dimensions of climate. Non-scientists, whose access to the Internet and to other colleagues with cellphones was sometimes interrupted in Cancún, appreciated this communications irony.

Keith Alverson of the Global Oceanic Observation System (GOOS) arrived straight from having given a two-minute presentation to the Substantive Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (all statements to the SBSTA and other diplomatic bodies are limited to two minutes). But for nearly 20 minutes he was at leisure to explain the reasons for the many and great uncertainties and data gaps about the oceanic dimension of climate change. Perhaps foremost among GOOS’ concerns were that half of the 3,000 ocean buoy data stations in the seas are damaged and/or disfunctional. The buoy stations estimate ocean current directions, waves speeds, water temperate, phyto-plankton (the bottom of the marine feeding chain) health and prevalence, salinity, tide behavior, sea level rises in different regions, coastal vulnerabilities, water temperatures, oral bleaching, and other oceanic climate measures.

Replacing or repairing them would cost about S1 billion, about the annual bonus of one of the best self-paid hedge fund managers. But even if all the buoys were repaired, only about 62 percent of global oceans would be covered. And even then, many oceanic climate factors would remain unknown, such as how deep sea movements and volcanoes affect the surface sea data that the buoys can measure. As Alverson told SBSTA government delegates and we laypersons, the annual global marine economy is estimated to be worth about $2.7 trillion. So a mere $1 billion seems to be a cheap price to monitor oceanic climate conditions that affect climate change.

Professor Beverly Law, of Oregon State University and the World Meteorological Organizations (WMO), has been monitoring forest soil carbon for about 20 years as the head of the Global Terrestrial Observation System. To build estimates of global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Law and her colleagues measure soil carbon in test plots every 10 years in spots around the world. Satellite photos of deforestation, the results of the soil carbon tests and computerized modeling of deforestation, wetland loss, peat bog burning and other damage to major Co2 “sinks” enable scientists to estimate CO2 emissions. However, she explained, the modeling uncertainty of CO2 emissions due to land use change has been nearly as large as the emissions measurements themselves from 1960 to 2009.

The degree of uncertainty varies greatly. Uncertainty over the extent of CO2 emissions from boreal forests is just 10-25 percent, depending on the regional data analyzed. However, for tropical forests, the uncertainty is 100 percent. The depth and varieties of tropical forest soils, the far great biodiversity among tropical forests and consequently greater diversity in Co2 emissions rates, and the impossibility for remoting sensing instruments to penetrate tropical forest canopies are among the reasons for the highdegree of uncertainty about CO2 emissions rates in tropical forests. FLUXNET gathers data from observation sites in 45 countries. Only about 155 countries to go! And no wonder that the scientists have so much difficulty in determining the likelihood that sahels will become deserts, or woodlands will become grasslands.

You might think that we know more about atmospheric climate change. After all, we get reports on atmospheric temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure etc every night, along with weather-related disasters on the Weather Channel every day and night. But the extent of uncertainty about the atmosphere is such that we might call it the Whether Channel.

The WMO’s Michel Jarraud talked about the uncertainties of converting satellite images into computer data models, then into atmospheric climate analysis and finally into policy recommendations for diplomats and other government officials who have to decide what to do about climate change and how to pay for it. (Of course, those who don’t believe that climate change exists, such as the incoming Republican Party majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, are exempt from this analytic, policymaking and budgetary decision making burden. How much easier is life in "Business As Usual" in the revolving door of U.S. industry lobbyists and government officials, now lubricated by the U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes electoral propaganda and anonymous campaign contributions “equivalent.”

Despite the great success of the UN treaty in closing the hole in the ozone layer that had been exposing us to too much solar radiation, ozone turns out to be a critical variable in better measuring the atmospheric affects of climate change. It didn’t cost so much to close the hole but now it will cost a lot more to predict atmospheric data filtered through different layers and compositions of ozone, to say nothing of the cost of repairing climatic damage and reducing the GHGs that are constituents of ozone.

Just one side event with climate scientists was enough to convince me that the scientific complexity of climate change is a huge communications challenge both to the lay public and to decision-makers. This data is critical to determining future strategies on climate change - particularly as they related to agriculture and food production. Furthermore, data collection and analysis is not cheap, and right now the budgetary austerity advocates are too cheap to pay for the information that could help save the planet.

Ben Lilliston

Marching in Cancún

Cancun 2 003 The security is in full force at the global climate talks taking place in Cancún. Negotiators are cloistered in a resort called the Moon Palace. "Official" side events are a 20-minute bus ride away. And self-organized civil society events by various social movements and grassroots organizations are even farther away—up to an hour by bus.

The geographic separation of government negotiators and organizations representing people directly affected by climate change—particularly farmers—is reflected in the actual negotiating text. While governments maneuver to set up carbon market schemes and non-binding pledges, the participants in two large marches yesterday in Cancún urged more immediate action.

Cancun 2 030 Four IATP staffers, plus IATP board member Esther Penunia of the Asian Farmers Association, attended a march led by Mexican civil society groups in downtown Cancún, which included farm, labor and environmental groups from all over the world. An amazing array of signs, costumes and chants zeroed in on the main culprits of climate change: global corporations, who have exploited the world's natural resources, while at the same time steadily increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The groups also targeted international financial institutions, like the World Bank, who have helped finance multinational-led projects around the world that have continued this trend of natural resource exploitation.

Within the confines of the Moon Palace its hard to find any mention of the role of multinationals in causing climate change. Instead, they are often cited as part of solution with a variety of far-fetched technological advances and private finance schemes. If governments are serious about addressing climate change, they should listen to those who marched yesterday in the streets of Cancún, and less to multinational lobbyists who prowl the halls of the Moon Palace.

Cancun 2 041More pictures of the march, and our involvement in Cancún are on our flickr page.

Cancun 2 055

Ben Lilliston

December 07, 2010

Practical nutrition for physicians

Last month, the journal San Francisco Medicine published what we hope will become an annual nutrition issue, titled Food for Thought: Practical Nutrition for Physicians. Some of the gems include a piece from our own David Wallinga, MD on "An Unhealthy Food System: Suggestions for Physician Advocacy" and another from Brian Raymond, MPH of Kaiser Permanente called "Taking Action: A Health Sector Guide to Food System and Agricultural Policy."  

Read the entire issue (.pdf).

Ben Lilliston

December 06, 2010

UN climate talks keep agriculture on the wrong track

At the U.N. climate talks this week in Cancún, an unfortunate trend is continuing that could have major consequences for the world's farmers. Agriculture is unique in that certain farming practices can actually sequester carbon to help address global climate change. Within the climate negotiations, governments continue to move forward on efforts to create a market for carbon sequestered by agricultural practices. But such a market would allow polluters to keep polluting and big financial firms to make a bundle.

At a press conference today in Cancún, IATP's Steve Suppan and Karen Hansen-Kuhn, along with Esther Penunia of the Asian Farmers Association, argued that the focus of climate negotiators should be on adaptation for agriculture. Farmers around the world, particularly in developing countries, are urgently in need of support to deal with the effects of climate change and transition toward more climate-resilient, sustainable practices.

You can view the full press conference here.

Ben Lilliston

December 03, 2010

How health professionals can green their practice

There is growing scientific evidence that environmental exposures affect both individuals' health and the health of the population as a whole. Our health professionals are on the front lines treating diseases associated with a variety of environmental contaminants.

In a new article for Medscape titled "Greening Your Practice," IATP's David Wallinga, M.D., outlines how clinicians can address two critical environmental issues with important health consequences: the daily exposure of people to combinations of toxic chemicals, and an unhealthy "obesogenic" food environment. Dr. Wallinga writes, "Because chemical and food environments are inherently community issues, clinicians may find advocacy for healthier chemical and food policies to be an essential component for reducing the unhealthy food and chemical exposures already affecting their patients."

You can read the full article here.

Ben Lilliston

December 02, 2010

Agriculture in the climate talks - new paper

At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, governments will decide whether to expand the role that agriculture plays within global climate talks. The fate of these proposals will determine whether agriculture will be used by polluters to offset their emissions and shift the burden of greenhouse gas reduction onto developing countries. The Cancún meeting has the potential to further marginalize small-scale producers and their rights to land and livelihoods, and could also lead to perverse incentives to further intensify industrial agriculture practices.

In a new paper, Agriculture in the Climate Talks, IATP’s Shefali Sharma analyzes how agriculture and food security are treated within the UNFCCC negotiating text, covering issues around mitigation, adaptation and carbon markets. The paper is part of a series IATP has released to coincide with the U.N. climate talks in Cancún. You can find the full series, along with blog reports from IATP staff in Cancún, at: www.iatp.org/climate.

Ben Lilliston

Will the UN repeat Copenhagen's mistakes?

IATP's Shefali Sharma is blogging from Cancún, Mexico where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is being negotiated.

It’s the fourth day of the climate talks in Cancún and the atmosphere in the corridors is hushed. There are six bodies meeting over a two-week period here and already many of the meetings in the daily program are being limited to “parties and observer states.” This leaves most of the civil society organizations—who have travelled long distances to be here—essentially out of the negotiations. This is in contrast to other U.N. negotiations that are supposed to be open and transparent with observer organizations having opportunities to intervene and engage.

Information about what is happening in the key areas of the negotiations is not filtering out adequately. And those of us gathered here are having to resort to personal contacts in government delegations to find out what is going on. At the outset of the meeting, many government delegations also stressed that the number of simultaneous meetings had to be limited because it prevents smaller delegations from being able to participate adequately.

We already see a mushrooming of the number of meetings in the form of contact groups, informal consultations, “spinoff” groups and drafting groups taking place. This is in addition to the numerous side events that are taking place in the official NGO space several kilometers away from the negotiating halls in the Moon Palace, as well as other events outside of the officially accredited spaces. Individuals are having to shuffle from point A to B in shuttle buses as any other form of transport is unavailable along the security strip.

Those who were present in COP 15 in Copenhagen last year say that it is starting to feel as if Cancún will be a repeat of Copenhagen where more and more meetings become restricted to governments only and civil society is shut out from participating in an issue that affects all of humanity. Civil society organizations, for instance, can only meet amongst themselves in the Cancún Messe which is several kilometers away from where the actual negotiations are taking place. We are not even allowed to book meeting rooms to discuss and share information about the talks in the Moon Palace where the drama will unfold in the coming days. And because there has been so much trouble with internet facilities in the negotiating spaces, communicating by email has also proved difficult.

Moreover, though the Mexican government said that it will not repeat Copenhagen by having a select group of heads of states come to Cancún to patch together a backroom deal—it now appears that around 40 governments are being invited for the high-level segment of the talks which begin next week. There is a concern that the elements of Copenhagen’s last-minute deal called the “Copenhagen Accord,” which was instigated by President Obama and created huge fissures in the prospects of a global deal, might be pushed again in Cancún.

Civil society groups, including IATP, have raised several concerns regarding the trajectory of the talks in an open letter to the Mexican Government serving as the president of the UNFCCC conference of the parties in Cancún. The groups state, “The [Cophenhagen] Accord, produced by an exclusive group of 28 countries selected by the Danish Government, and tabled on a 'take-it-or-leave-it' basis in the final hours of the conference, is illegitimate and, even according to the U.N. climate secretariat, has no status. Scientists have confirmed that its pledges could lead to upwards of 4 degrees of warming leading to catastrophic impacts on the world's people and ecosystems and irreversible climactic change.”

Already, Japan has made strong statements wanting to end the Kyoto Protocol—a legally binding protocol under the UNFCCC, which was agreed in Japan itself. Its end would mean the end to the only legally binding treaty that obliges industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. If the industrialized world wants all countries to take responsibility for urgently reducing and halting the threat of climate change, they will have to take the lead in doing it back home. And doing it now. We will see how the drama unfolds in the coming days.

Ben Lilliston