About IATP

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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Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health.



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climate and energy justice

June 28, 2011

Small insights about the big picture in climate negotiations

Bonn2 It is axiomatic that negotiations successful for all sides require good faith. It would be inaccurate to say that good faith was completely absent during the climate change negotiations, June 6–17 in Bonn, Germany. Nearly two weeks of negotiations among the contact group for Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) produced a draft decision text to enhance action on adapting to climate change. There was progress on agreeing to the terms for authorizing an invitation to host the Climate Technology Center and Network. The institutions chosen by the Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will implement the terms of the Technology Mechanism decided at the CoP in Cancún, Mexico in 2010. The Center and Network will respond to developing country requests for needs assessments and technology options advice to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gases. However, the Technology Mechanism will not pay for transfer of technologies to developing countries, as is required by Article 4.5 of the convention.

Money, or rather lack of it, was one motivation for accusations that the United States was negotiating in bad faith. The U.S. refusal to discuss the sources of the $100 billion Green Climate Fund by 2020 agreed in Cancún, the U.S. suggestion that the fund might not reach $100 billion, and its meager contribution to the Fast Start Finance promised by developed countries in Cancún, reinforced an impression that the United States was negotiating in bad faith: the U.S. government would not pay the costs of adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change on anything near the scale of its historic and current responsibility as a major emitter of GHGs.

But perhaps at the core of the accusations of bad faith, and not just those directed at the U.S. delegation, was the belief that no matter what position papers parties advanced, no matter the extent of consensus among parties for some of those positions, the decision-making process would be controlled by a few developed countries and the UNFCCC secretary. At a Friends of the Earth (FoE) press conference, Michelle Maynard of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said that she could still not get a satisfactory answer about who wrote the Cancún CoP decision document that was presented to delegates with less than three hours time to review on a take-it-or-leave -it basis. In Bonn, Maynard put the question to Patricia Espinosa, the President of the Cancún CoP, who replied that the decision was the result of a “new methodology.” As to the rumor that the decision was drafted under the supervision of a “U.S. legal expert,” Secretary Espinosa had nothing to say.

Last year Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, characterized the Cancún decision-making process as uncannily like that of the opaque “Green Room” process of the World Trade Organization negotiations. Will the Green Room become the new normal of convention negotiations and if so, will that process be used to decide on an agricultural work program in advance of a work program in any other economic sector? Will agriculture, along with forestry, be reduced to providing carbon emissions offsets for other sectors to buy, in order to comply with voluntary or mandatory GHG caps?

South Africa, the president of the 2011 CoP, has announced that agreement to commit to an agricultural work program will be its signal achievement. To procure an African consensus for the CoP, South Africa will host a September 1–3 meeting of African agriculture, environment and finance ministers, financed and co-organized by the World Bank. The bank has a long announced interest in expanding its $2.1 billion in Bio-Carbon Funds by a CoP decision to allow agricultural land based carbon emissions offset credits to provide an underlying asset for the carbon derivatives market. Despite the mandate, from Cancún previous decisions, to have a balance between the funding of adaptation and mitigation projects, including carbon emissions offsets, the bank’s Global Environmental Facility has invested just $50 million in adaptation.

In Bonn, the Substantive Body on Scientific and Technology Advice (SBSTA), refused to establish an agricultural work program. However, the 2011 chair of the ad hoc working group on Long-Term Cooperation is Daniel Reifsnyder, a U.S. official. The U.S. and other developed country supporters of an agriculture program, with the aid of an African “consensus” on agriculture resulting from the September 1–2 meeting, and the bank’s offer of public money to support African carbon offset projects, in exchange for African support, may be able to forge an agreement to launch an agricultural work program.

Since U.S. Vice President Al Gore made inclusion of carbon markets a condition of the U.S. signing on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the carbon market designers have struggled to make the markets work to reduce GHGs. The U.S. failure to join the Kyoto Protocol after developing countries reluctantly agreed to inclusion of a carbon market provision is one of those demands that may or may not have been demanded in bad faith.  Now, when Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States oppose an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, with its mandatory caps on GHGs, “new market mechanisms” are proposed in addition to the ones that haven’t worked.

IATP has written elsewhere about the many vulnerabilities to failure of carbon markets. A broad range of these vulnerabilities were presented at the IATP and FERN co-organized side event on June 14. IATP has recommended a due diligence review of carbon emissions market performance before parties commit to supporting “new market mechanisms."

Carbon market failure would not be a matter of gravest concern if other programs to reduce GHG were working. At this point, however, parties cannot even agree on a target year for the peaking of GHGs nor what that target should be, nor whether developing countries should be obliged to assume reduction commitments that the developed countries have been unable to achieve. Instead there is a mercantile approach to climate governance, trying to lock in climate commitments from other parties, while ensuring that none of those commitments damage trading interests. Such language is included in a proposed draft LCA decision for a SBSTA program in agriculture that may be agreed during the next CoP, November 28 to December 10 in Durban, South Africa.

It will be a tragedy if Bolivia alone opposes such a Durban decision, due to a Green Room procedure that excludes most parties, as Bolivia did in Cancún. Instead there is ample substantive grounds to oppose a decision whose implementation would almost certainly benefit carbon market investors far more than it would enable agricultural producers and rural communities to take urgently needed action to adapt to climate change.

Steve Suppan

February 14, 2011

Inspiration from Egypt at the World Social Forum

Friday’s closing ceremony of the World Social Forum began with the news that Hosni Mubarak had resigned from office and led to a resounding cheer and celebration amongst the crowd. Egypt and Tunisia’s people-led struggles had reverberated throughout the forum with intermittent marches of Eyptians and those in solidarity. In between assembly sessions of social movements, climate justice groups and those gearing towards Rio+20, several of us protested outside the Eyptian Embassy in Dakar on Friday to show support to those assembling in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Even as we shouted slogans, news travelled that Mubarak had actually resigned, this time for real. 

Inspiration from Egypt was visible among the Senegalese students, several of whom marched in protest against the current long-time Senegalese president. Other students asked us to sign petitions to end the military action in the Ivory Coast. But clearly, something is bubbling on the African continent as a result of Egypt and Tunisia.

The evening ended with the sun setting on the Atlantic ocean behind the stage and a call to action by among others, the climate justice groups and those organizing to the stop the next Earth Summit in the summer of June 2012 from becoming an “Earth grab” (in the words of Pat Mooney from the ETC Group).  Speaking of the climate summit, he said, “Copenhagen was a tragedy, but Cancún was Treason…we have the next 15 months with a second Cochabamba gathering, the G-8 and G-20 summits, Durban and Rio to turn this around and we can!  They (governments who endorsed the Cancún Climate agreement) have become too greedy and in their greed, they have lost their vision. We can provide it for them.”

The climate justice groups pledged to start a series of local, regional and national mobilizations that will culminate in international stop off points in the 15-month road map from Dakar to Cochabamba, G-20, Durban, Port Alegre in the next WSF and onto Rio. They demanded to set targets to achieve only a maximum one-degree temperature rise, curb greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2017 and allow no offsets (read: carbon trading and buying the right to pollute in industrialized countries through so-called green projects in the global South). Needless to say, these are ambitious but science-based targets on what is actually needed to curb and reduce devastating global warming for future generations. 

Our governments, and especially the United States, are far from these goals having pledged for voluntary national targets full of loopholes in the hope of some day arriving at an agreed limit of no more than a two-degree global temperature rise.

The real work on helping raise public consciousness and mobilize citizens towards urgent and just action from our governments on this 15-month journey begins now. Nothing short of the future of this planet is at stake.

IATP's Shefali Sharma is blogging from the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal.



Ben Lilliston

February 11, 2011

Reversing a commitment to safe energy production in Minnesota

The Minnesota State House panel voted earlier this week to repeal the moratorium on new nuclear power generation. While there is little chance this bill will be enacted into law in its current form, it demonstrates a lack of concern for the health and well being of all Minnesotans. The House panel vote follows the passage of a similar bill in the Senate.

Presented as a “clean” energy option, the Minnesota legislature is ignoring the realities of producing electricity using a highly toxic and radioactive material which poses a threat to communities in all stages of mining, processing and waste disposal.

The state moratorium was implemented in 1994 because of the lack of real solutions to these critical concerns - concerns that remain largely unresolved. The high economic cost of nuclear energy should also give us pause. Minnesota has long been a leader in energy alternatives and should instead be directing these investments into more cost-effective solutions that would benefit the local economy - such as energy efficiency, wind, bio-based fuels and solar. Real clean energy options and conservation offer all Minnesotans alternatives that are renewable and safe today and for the future. And importantly, these energy sources can also create many more jobs here in Minnesota, benefiting the state and local economies.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy supported the moratorium when it was passed in 1994. Proponents of lifting the moratorium declare that this does not necessarily mean new nuclear plants will be built, but there is no doubt that this is the first – critical - step in this high risk cycle of energy production. We look to the legislature to demonstrate common sense and stop the drive to allow expansion of nuclear power in Minnesota.

Stay tuned for a webinar series the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP is organizing on nuclear energy scheduled to begin in March.

Shalini Gupta

February 10, 2011

A festival for social justice: reporting from the World Social Forum

It is now the fourth day of this great festival of ideas, discussions and debates about the key political issues of our times and the struggles taking place at local, national, regional and international levels to achieve social justice. The focus is inevitably on African issues of struggle and the various forces impacting local communities and national and Pan African trajectories. This World Social Forum (WSF) is timely given that the continent has become the focus of one of the biggest resource grabs since colonial times—be it for agrofuel demand of industrialized countries, land bought by other countries for their own food production needs, or land-based investment deals that take away community control of natural resources right before their eyes and in spite of their resistance. A large number of seminars and discussions here have focused on landgrabs and testimonies offered from across the continent and around the world. Groups and communities are discussing how to force companies and governments to uphold and respect human rights—social, cultural, economic and ecological—of communities and people; and how to stop the pillaging of dwindling natural resources through unregulated investment.

Set on the campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University, 40,000 students are milling amongst stalls, tents and sessions organized by hundreds of organizations; doing street theatre, picking up pamphlets, asking questions. Many of them are volunteers for the WSF and translating during organized events. Their interest and curiosity is inspiring. In fact, just a week before the forum, the new president of the university had decided to suspend the week holiday that was given by the previous president for students to freely attend WSF events. The new president reneged on that commitment and resumed classes, even taking back many classrooms that were assigned to WSF events. The first few days we found ourselves wandering into classrooms where students were patiently trying to sit through classes and shut out the noise and energy emanating throughout the campus due to the social forum. In spite of the logistical hurdles—and not knowing where the next event will be—civil society has rolled right along in making the forum a success.

I have been participating in events and discussions related to climate change, food sovereignty and natural resources. Many of the sessions are trying to make sense of the outcome in Cancún (COP 16) for climate change and what civil society needs to do differently in the run up to Durban, South Africa, who will host the  next major climate meeting at the end of this year. Groups from South Africa are here and already organizing themselves to host civil society organizations in order to create a loud and resounding voice condemning the paltry pledges made by governments in Cancún to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many groups feel that trying to convince governments inside negotiating halls at the COPs will not create the urgent shift we need to see in the climate talks towards binding and ambitious targets for drastically reducing greenhouse gases. There is an acute realization that social awareness and mobilization needs to take place locally with specific strategies to shift national positions on climate change. For Africa, anything above a one-degree global temperature rise will mean drastically reduced cropping seasons, much greater incidences of severe and unpredictable weather with dire consequences for food production and hence food sovereignty. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance is trying to influence national processes around the continent moving towards Durban.

The United States and Europe, however, still determine the fate of the climate treaty and the international targets that will be set. Without a sea-change in U.S. public opinion on climate change as a key responsibility it is hard to see how we can keep the United States government from undermining entirely an international regime that must stop and reverse global warming.  

Roughly six months after Durban will be the 20th anniversary of the Rio Summit—known as Rio+20—where governments will come together with possibly new proposals on dealing with the major environmental problems of our times. It was at Rio, 20 years ago, that the U.N. Climate Treaty was created, in addition to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Despite these efforts we have drastically worsened our global situation—on both the climate change and biodiversity front.

Several groups have come together at the WSF to begin organizing toward Rio+20. They see the meeting as a major opportunity to reframe the debate moving forward in this decade and want to link awareness building and social mobilizations in the next 16 months that include COP 17 in Durban and onward to Rio in the middle of 2012.

Finally, numerous discussions are also taking place on the linkages between the food, climate and financial crises, their impact on Africa and impacts on small producers. IATP participated in events organized by the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA) on climate change, food sovereignty and the food crisis, as well as an event on “Fighting against price volatility and regulating agricultural markets” organized in conjunction with CCFD-Terre Solidaire, a Catholic French NGO, Mooriben (an organization from Niger engaged on creating food security at the local level, including food reserves), Afrique Vert Mali (Green Africa Mali) and GRET, a French development NGO. In addition, we will be involved in the WSF convergence process today and tomorrow where civil society groups who have been meeting throughout the week will come together to see how we can move forward with our plans on both climate and Rio+20. For IATP, we are interested in seeing how the issues of speculation in carbon and commodity markets, agriculture offsets in the climate negotiations, and their impacts on small producers, can be part of the discussions and strategies to build awareness and counter negative proposals and impacts.

Onward to day five. 

IATP's Shefali Sharma is blogging from Dakar, Senagal at the World Social Forum.

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

December 09, 2010

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

November 06, 2010

Watered down 'Roadmap of Action' on climate change

IATP's Shefali Sharma reports from The Hague where the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change has just concluded.

The closing plenary of the conference ended with a laser light show about answers to the climate change problem and its impact on agriculture. At the closing, the “Chair’s Summary” of the six-day conference was handed to the participants and speakers made references to the idea that this was a roadmap for domestic as well as international action and its implementation would depend on all that were gathered at the conference.

The outcome at The Hague, in the end, was a non-binding Chair’s summary. This is because both governments and civil society organizations raised serious concerns about the first draft of the outcome document that was distributed yesterday morning in which draft language stated, “We collectively developed the Roadmap for Action on Agriculture, Food Security […] to achieve the ‘triple win’ of improving agricultural productivity and food security […]” 

Though the outcome document continued to have a “Roadmap for Action” as publicized prior to the conference, the language of the outcome document was watered down significantly from claims to a “shared understanding” to simply “Understanding the Challenges” in the final draft.

The organizers announced on Wednesday that the draft would not be a negotiated document but that inputs were welcome. Yesterday, Australia, Egypt, New Zealand, Philippines and the United States were just some of the countries cautioning that an outcome document that is not actively negotiated cannot claim to have a common vision for action. There was also a significant amount of confusion during the course of the meeting as to the intentions of such a roadmap. 

A statement by 12 organizations, including IATP, responded to the first draft circulated yesterday by stating, “Those most impacted by climate change and whose livelihoods are most at risk, in particular small-scale farmers, indigenous people and women especially from developing countries, have not been present, or consulted, nor have genuinely participated in this process. A democratic and participatory process should have involved all sectors of civil society engaged on these issues in a process designed to genuinely engage and dialogue with civil society. The ‘roadmap for action’ drafted by a few cannot be claimed to have been ‘collectively developed,’ even by those present at the Conference.”

They further stated, “Our understanding of the problems and solutions differs fundamentally from the framing posed by the organizers. We believe that adaptation has to be the main priority of this conference. The agricultural challenges faced by the poorest and most vulnerable, in Africa but also in Asia, in small-island states, in Latin America, are adaptation challenges. While sustainable farming practices can provide mitigation benefits, the climate crisis is caused first and foremost by the emissions of rich countries and we reject that small farmers are meant now to take on the mitigation responsibilities of the North.” You can read the full statement here.

The second draft that was circulated this morning no longer had references to the “collective” and “shared” understanding. And the third and final draft in the afternoon made minor edits to the morning version.  However, the outcome document remains a collation of a broad spectrum of ideas—none of them agreed and several of them controversial—that cover various propositions through the course of the six days of panels, side events and the ministerial roundtable.        

Seventeen of the 26 pages are in the form of an annex whereby countries, intergovernmental organizations, companies and a few NGOs have listed the policies, strategies and “incentive mechanisms” they will use to carry out their vision of “climate smart” agriculture—a phrase that has been in popular use in the run up to this conference. Vietnam has offered to host a “follow-up” conference in 2012 as the outcome document claims to have created a “living Roadmap initiated during this conference.” 

During the conference, the World Bank also positioned itself to expand its role into funding agriculture soil carbon sequestration projects through its BioCarbon Fund. Warren Evans, director of the Environment Division at the bank stated, “[…] for the first time, we have been able to move forward with methodologies  for monitoring, reporting and verifying soil carbon sequestration from improved agronomic practices […]. This is particularly important because all of us here today want agriculture and soil carbon to be formally eligible for carbon payment in future climate agreements.” 

A second major initiative that was announced today was the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change which will be launched by the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Program of the CGIAR and Earth System Science Partnership. The initiative is being supported by the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development. The initiative hopes to have a panel of nine senior scientists to act as commissioners. The commission would begin in early 2011 and aims to deliver  “a clear set of findings” and policy recommendations on agriculture and climate change to feed into such processes as the UNFCCC COP17 and Rio +20 Earth Summit.

Ben Lilliston

October 29, 2010

Climate change and agriculture: Are we getting to the heart of the matter?

This Sunday, the Netherlands, several other governments, the World Bank and the FAO are hosting a major six-day conference on agriculture, food security and climate in the Hague. Those closely following the climate talks believe that this conference is an attempt to include agriculture much more centrally within the climate negotiations of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

In principle, that is a welcome idea—to finally address the air, water and land-related pollution that industrial agriculture causes and the dangers it poses to our health and the health of the planet. Agriculture, along with land-use changes, is said to contribute up to 30 percent of the gases that are warming our planet to dangerous levels. However, we must be able to recognize real solutions in addressing these problems.

The conference agenda shows scant evidence that the real causes of agriculturally based greenhouse gas emissions will be addressed. For instance, one of the biggest sources of agriculture emissions is industrial livestock factories. According to one FAO paper, the livestock sector contributes almost 80 percent of all agriculture-related emissions. Yet, industrial livestock factories do not appear to be a topic of discussion. 

Instead the emphasis will be on finding “innovative” ways to finance adaptation to climate change in developing countries and “innovative” practices that can help small farms adapt to climate change.  Innovation is well and good, only in this context it appears to mean carbon markets and “climate genes.”  Up to 75 percent of these patented technologies are owned by multinational seed and agrochemical companies such as Monsanto, BASF, DuPont and Syngenta.[1]

Civil society organizations, including IATP, concerned about this meeting and its intentions have joined together to send a statement to these governments, the World Bank and the FAO. They say it’s critical that governments heed the policy recommendations of IAASTD, a comprehensive assessment conducted by over 400 experts. They say that small family farms, laborers, indigenous peoples, women and civil society organizations are already providing practical, just and affordable solutions to the problems of food security and climate change. They just need to be heard.

[1] Others include Bayer, Dow, Mendel, Ceres and Evogene. Source: Syam, N. “Implications of an IP Centric Approach to Adaptation of Agriculture to Climate Change.” Power Point Presentation. South Centre, October 2010





August 31, 2010

Floods, droughts and famines

In the late 1870s, a series of droughts and famines devastated a broad swath of the globe, including what is now Pakistan. The 1876-78 drought killed 6 million people in India; in China, 12 million people died of starvation and disease. Many millions more were plunged into agonizing poverty. The story of the famines and their connection to extreme weather are the subject of a 2001 book by University of Southern California professor Mike Davis, entitled Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World

In the late 19th century, El Nino cycles were not understood. Today, the world is witnessing the accelerating pattern of extreme weather events, like the floods that have engulfed Pakistan.

What Davis tells us is that the suffering and deaths that occurred were not caused by weather but the colonial and free trade policies of Europe, the U.S. and Japan. In the midst of mass starvation in India, basic food exports continued to flow to England. As whole communities perished, Indian peasants were taxed to pay for British wars against Afghanistan. British policies in India were predicated on the population theories of Thomas Robert Malthus, who was employed by the British East India Company—too many people, too little land, too little food—a description better suited to England.

Today, the flood victims in Pakistan were poor and hungry before the rain started to fall and the rivers and canals overflowed their banks. It is estimated that over 60 percent of the population of Pakistan lives on under $2.00 a day. For many years after partition from India, Pakistan was making strides in its development, but the combination of military dictatorships, corrupt governments and Cold War proxy wars (and now counter-terrorism campaigns) have left Pakistani peasants destitute and under siege.

What is new—and what was unknown at the end of the 19th century—was that the industrial system, then in its infancy, would lead to global warming and extreme weather events. From Katrina to the overflowing Moscow morgues, the industrial model that causes extreme weather is also responsible for exhausting the people, land and resources of the world. When the two meet the consequences are disastrous.

Dale Wiehoff

August 17, 2010

Not your grandfather's energy utility

The small town of Milan, Minnesota is trying an innovative approach to reduce it's energy burden. At the Midwest Rural Assembly today, Cheryl Landgren of the Greater Milan Initiative and IATP's Shalini Gupta told participants about setting up the first rural sustainable energy utility (SEU) to help reduce the town's energy costs while supporting larger community goals of job creation and population retention.

Homes and buildings in rural communities like Milan often use a lot of energy and are a high cost for rural residents. Winter heating bills are particularly tough on low-income residents. The Greater Milan Initiative is now setting up an SEU: a model developed by the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware. SEUs create long-term community infrastructure around reducing energy usage and costs and promoting energy production where it is used.

The Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP is continuing work with the Greater Milan Initiative to get this new SEU off the ground. Look for more details soon.

Ben Lilliston