Small Island Developing States Fishing for Adaptation Solutions

Coral aquaculture in FijiFor Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Fiji, climate change adaptation requires immediate action. As my colleague Val analyzed previously, fish stocks are depleted and international tensions are rising as each nation attempts to protect the fishing economy it still maintains. When the Ocean Conference met in June of 2017, participants recognized the crucial role oceans play as a climate regulator and the impact the changing environment would have on food and nutrition. This will be particularly impactful on SIDS as fisheries fade; those nations now cast for ideas in alternative food options. Some SIDS have hooked on aquaculture as an adaptive strategy.

The average consumption of seafood in the world is roughly 20 kg/capita/year with 70% of SIDS exceeding that global average. That, with the rising ocean temperatures, the migration of fish out of their previously habitable areas and the unsustainable fishing practices, creates a massive deficit in global fish markets when measured against demand. This mismatch creates the perfect atmosphere for aquaculture development.

Biota-Palau-Hatchery-1In 2015, the total aquaculture production of SIDS was 71,893 tons, with Cuba manning the helm with around 30,000 tons. Overall, most nations produced less than 100 tons of aquaculture and the diversity of SIDS creates a particular problem with the implementation of any “one-size-fits-all” program. Branching off of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)’s FAO program, Palau, Nauru, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) formed the Micronesian Association for Sustainable Aquaculture (MASA) in November of 2015. MASA’s goal is to facilitate region specific cooperative programs and assistance in order to meet demand and reduce market reliance on fish.

Implementation of these adaptation techniques is an issue that runs through COP 23 and is recognized also by the Oceans Conference. The Oceans Conference emphasized the need for sustainable development goals (SDG14), and a Blue Economy to support and finance ocean initiatives. It specifically mentioned the strengthening of sustainable economies with reference to aquaculture within their action plan. Based on that action plan, the Seychelles raised roughly $40 million towards their SDG14 and their INDC places a heavy emphasis on sustainable fisheries and adaptation to ocean climate change. This funding will have a substantial impact on their ocean economy. But funding is challenging to acquire. With the Green Climate Fund (GCF) increasing fund accessibility for least developed countries (LDC) for adaptation plans, this could present an opportunity for many nations who have already implemented or are in the process of implementing aquaculture plans to acquire necessary funding. While the GCF does not specifically address aquaculture as an adaptation strategy, several nations, including SIDS like Vanuatu and Tuvalu, have already included in their GCF proposals aquaculture adaptation strategies.

With the current momentum aquaculture dSustainable-Aquaculture.adapt.1190.1evelopment has gained in SIDS, COP 23 has the unique advantage for aquaculture and sustainable fishing measures with Fiji at its helm. While the focus of the Paris Agreement was the mitigation of effects to reduce the overall rise in temperature, adaptation still remains a strong focus for the countries that are feeling the most significant of those effects. Aquaculture has worked its way into the economies of many nations and will hopefully further alleviate the burden that climate change is having on SIDS.


Fishing on Savage Seas

The next big war will not be over highfalutin ideologies. Depleted natural resources will force vulnerable countries to fight for basic goals: food and economic security. The struggle will intensify as climate change affects natural resource distribution. Changes in distribution are dangerous, especially for countries whose economies are dependent on unpredictable resources like fish.

National vulnerability to the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries.

National vulnerability to the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries.

A recent study revealed that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change on fisheries. Analyzing 147 states and their respective EEZs, the study found that SIDS held seven of the top ten positions in the study’s vulnerability index. Moreover, the index includes all 31 of the LDCs with coastlines, with 87% of those LDCs belonging to the top half.

A separate study found that disparities in vulnerability levels, when paired with poor governance, tend to result in unrest and violent conflict. Poor governance results in poor resource management. Poor resource management leads to overfishing. Overfishing results in scarcity, which drives more people to the coasts and out into contentious waters. The fact that territorial boundaries do not consider traditional fishing routes only exacerbates the problem.

Vietnamese fishing boats caught illegally fishing of Palau's coasts. (Photo by Jeff Banube, The Pew Charitable Trusts)

Vietnamese fishing boats caught illegally fishing of Palau’s coasts. (Photo by Jeff Banube, The Pew Charitable Trusts)

These results are more than mere variables scientists feed into a formula. On the oceans, the battle over marine resources has already begun. Empty fisheries along coastlines have pushed fishermen further out to sea – sometimes into dangerous waters owned and closely guarded by other states. Just this April, Indonesia blew up 81 fishing vessels operated by Vietnamese, Filipino, and Malaysian fishermen. Last year, Argentina sank a Chinese fishing vessel caught illegally fishing in restricted South American waters. In 2015, Palau burned Vietnamese fishing vessels poaching off Palau’s coasts. The frequency of these incidents hints at a bigger, more serious problem that the international community has only begun to address.

Mitigating climate change is an obvious solution to this problem. However, achieving the two-degree-celsius goal of the Paris Agreement is only part of the answer. The other part consists of finding a way to manage marine resources equitably and sustainably. And, several states have begun doing just that.

From June 5-7, 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the first Oceans Conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. It was convened pursuant to UN Resolution 70/1 of September 25, 2015, adopting Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. One of the goals is to  “[c]onserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”  This goal, termed Goal 14, ambitiously sets out to effectively end overfishing and illegal fishing practices, and implement the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Oceans Conference encourages stakeholders – consisting of the UN System, state actors, and non-state actors – to register voluntary commitments to achieve Goal 14. There are currently over 1000 voluntary commitments registered in the Conference’s online platform, forty-four percent of which came from governments, including India and China.

This momentum will likely carry over to Fiji’s agenda in COP23. Speaking to Pacific Island leaders and diplomats in Suva, Fiji on March 2017, Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President Voreqe Bainimarama said:

Prime Minister Bainimarama at the Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) event held in Suva, Fiji on March 2017. The event was organized to support and strengthen the participation of small island developing states in the Pacific in the global climate action agenda.

Prime Minister Bainimarama at the Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) event held in Suva, Fiji on March 2017.

“In a very real sense, we are fighting a two-front war. One front is the fight to keep the oceans clean and to sustain the marine plant and animal life on which we depend for our livelihoods and that keep the earth in proper balance . . . The other front is the fight to slow the growth of global warming and, unfortunately, also to adapt to the changes we know are coming – to rising seas, encroaching sea water, violent storms and periods of drought.”

The world’s oceans is a highly contentious area “governed” by a different set of international treaties. It is unlikely that the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement can address the problem on their own. However, the frequency of violent incidents at sea and the urgency of addressing this volatile situation calls for a unified and streamlined solution that cuts across multiple international agreements. The hope is that with Fiji – a small island developing state – at the helm of COP23, the oceans will finally receive the attention they deserve.


Mobilizing the Private Sector to Finance Adaptation

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Today at COP 22 the Japanese delegation hosted a side event at their pavilion about mobilizing the private sector to finance climate change adaptation. The panelists discussed ways to involve the private sector from regional, business, and public policy perspectives. The panelist from Bangladesh, Dr. Saleemul Huq, then present specific examples of how the private sector has helped mobilize adaptation finance in his country. The World Bank estimates that $70-100 billion will be need annually from 2010-2100 to adapt to the impacts of climate change. It also estimates that the private sector could mobilize $140-240 billion for adaptive measures annually during the same period. However, very few companies are pursuing these adaptive measures, due in large part to the lack of profitability. To mobilize the private sector, governments and international organizations must incentivize investments and enhance monitoring and reporting efforts to ensure sufficient return on investments. The private sector will only finance adaptation measures that are also good for their bottom line.

Dr. Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development at Independent University and lead author of chapters in the IPCC’s Assessment Reports provided an example of a good adaptation measure and a bad, or maladaptation, measure. Both projects involved mobilizing private sector finance to adapt to climate change . But the latter created more problems than it solved. In the good example, a private agricultural business developed and sold salt-water resistant rice to combat the inundation of rice fields by salt water. The company turned a profit and made a vulnerable population more resilient. In the maladaptation example, a private aquaculture company bought up inundated rice fields, turned them into shrimping operations, and then leased the operations to the farmers. These shrimping operations are good for the companies, who turn massive profits, and the government, which taxes the shrimp exports. While this practice is aimed at adapting to an increasingly saline ecosystem, it is highly exploitative of the rice farmers, most of whom lost their jobs after selling their farms, and drastically altered the landscape by making it entirely salt-water based. The company turned a profit but the social and environmental impacts made a vulnerable population more vulnerable. These examples underscore the opportunities and challenges associated with mobilizing private sector finance to adapt to climate change. We have to remember that in board rooms and commercial banks, money talks and altruism takes the backseat. 


Farming for the Future: Climate Change and Food Security.

The United Nations weather agency recently announced that the past five years have been the hottest on record, with increasing evidence showing that this is man-made climate change. Thus, the urgency for solutions increases here at COP22 where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is meeting to discuss and improve climate change goals. One way to mitigate climate change is to decrease GHG emissions. One way to do this, is to revise global farming techniques. Today at the “On-farm renewables and sustainable intensification to address climate change and food security” side event, several farming experts discussed opportunities to improve farming and food security. The experts discussed the use of sustainable intensification and renewable energy, co-benefits and trade-offs around land use, deforestation concerns, and exploration of funding options. Most notable was the conversation about sustainable intensification agriculture. Sustainable intensification is the optimization of all provisioning, regulating and supporting agricultural production process. Thus, sustainable intensification projects for agriculture help maintain and enhance production through the promotion of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) has several new programs to improve sustainable intensification. “LIBERATION: Linking Farmland Biodiversity to Ecosystem Services for Effective Ecofunctional Intensification,” which will help identify the relationship between semi-natural habitats and on-farm management and biodiversity. This project also seeks to connect farmland biodiversity to ecosystem services. It will do this by examining different strategies to mitigate ecosystem services. Another project, “Mainstreming Agro-biodiversity in Law PDR’s Agricultural Policies, Plans and Programmes (FSP),” which will provide farmers with the necessary incentives, capabilities and support institutional framework to converse agricultural biodiversity in Lao.

Intensification of crop and livestock production are also essential to mitigate climate change and provide food security. In order to keep up with demand for beef and leather, for example, 21 million ha of deforestation has occurred in the Brazilian Amazon between 2000 and 2015 to support cattle. Simon C. Hall, the manager of Tropical Forests and Agriculture National Wildlife Federation (NWF), spoke about insights from the Brazilian cattle sector. The NWF has been working in South America with local partners for over 20 years to eliminate tropical deforestation from agriculture supply chains. They hope to accelerate the development and implementation of intensification for sustainability because the implications of deforestation are staggering: longer dry season, reduced rainfall, increased temperature. Sustainable Intensification on the other hand (when coupled with zero deforestation commitments), will lead to: land sparing, reduced emissions from LUC, reduced losses of wildlife habitat and biodiversity, increased market access, preferential purchasing agreements, and reduced leakage and rebound effects.

These, and many other projects presented at this side event on addressing climate change through new farming techniques, provide examples on how we may work towards farming for a sustainable future.


The Need to Close the Gap Between Smallholder Farmers and Climate-Smart Agriculture

Panelists today from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Fertilizer Canada, and the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA), among others, explored the role of farmers in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. As was expected based on the affiliations of a majority of panel members, the discussion focused mainly on the role fertilizers play in achieving global food security and in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

In terms of global food security, the panelists agreed that organic farming alone cannot sustain the world’s growing population, which is expected to exceed 9 billion people by 2050. They dismissed any substantive discussion on the viability of organic farming, and instead pushed for the use of manufactured fertilizers as the answer to food security, adaptation, and mitigation questions—much to the dismay of several audience members. They propose, using Fertilizer Canada’s international 4R partnership as an example, to bring climate-smart agriculture to smallholder farmers in areas such as Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia.

Fertilizer Canada’s 4R program promotes nutrient stewardship programs and fertilizer best management practices that are implemented through the 4Rs: by applying the right source, at the right rate, at the right time, in the right place. To develop site-specific nutrient plans, Fertilizer Canada’s 4R program involves NGOs, governments, food companies, scientists, and farmers. In response to 4R’s plan, one audience member politely commented that too many layers exist between the farmers [in Africa] and the organizations developing these fertilizer plans, making the plans difficult to implement on the ground. If a combination of organic farming and farming with manufactured fertilizers is the solution to increasing food security in the wake of a growing population, the gap needs to close between smallholder farmers and access to climate-smart agriculture.

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Ecological Migration and Migrating Towards Ambitious Climate Change Commitments at COP22

In 2011, the UN projected that the world will have 50 million environmental refugees by 2020. These are people who need to resettle due to climate change impacts such as drought, food shortage, disease, flooding, desertification, soil erosion, deforestation, and other environmental problems. This past week the New York Times released two stories about the plight of “ecological migrants” in the deserts of northern China. The first is a visual narrative about people living in the expanding Tengger Desert. The second article highlights the world’s largest environmental migrant resettlement project, in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

“Ecological migrants” are the millions of people whom the Chinese government had to relocate from lands distressed by climate change, industrialization, and human activity to 161 hastily built villages. China has already resettled 1.14 million residents of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where the average temperature has risen 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years (more than half of that increase occurring from 2001 to 2010) and annual precipitation has dropped about 5.7 millimeters every decade since the 1960s.

China is only one example of a region where people have had to relocate due to climate change. Where will everyone go? This is a problem that all countries need to figure out quickly because, if the UN’s prediction is accurate, the current system of asylum, refugee resettlement, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may prove inadequate.

The Marshall Islands need to figure out where their people will go as their island nation is quickly disappearing underwater. Predictions of dangerous tropical storms and rising salt levels in their drinking water may force citizens to flee even before the entire island is lost. In Bangladesh, about 17% of the land could be inundated by 2050, displacing an additional 18 million people.

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Road leading to Isle de Jean Charles often floods, cutting off the community.Credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times.

Climate change relocations are not limited to small, developing nations. The United States has begun preparing for its own. In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants up to $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, including the first allocation of federal money to move an entire community due to the impacts of climate change: a $48 million grant for Isle de Jean Charles.

Other than the overcrowding of cities and uprooting and destruction of rural lifestyles, the global refugee crisis presents a larger concern: national security. Last year at COP21 in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tied the conflict in Syria and the resulting global refugee crisis to climate change. Secretary Kerry linked Syria’s drought and resulting urban migration—first domestic, then international—as a key factor to the civil war. This was a relevant example of how climate change can exacerbate existing political turmoil within a country.

Thus, all countries must stay committed to climate change goals, not only for maintaining millions of people’s lives and homes, but for national safety throughout the world. Whether they consider it a focus or not, many countries are currently facing the problem of creating new domestic policies on immigration. While it may be too late for some vulnerable areas to completely avoid the need to relocate its people, every climate change action helps mitigate the problem. Hopefully the issue of relocation and climate change refugees or “ecological migrants” will push countries to be more ambitious about their climate change actions at the upcoming COP22.


Caught on the Front Lines of Climate Change

In an event hosted today by WOCAN (Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management), six inspiring women shared their stories of community, loss, and leadership. The panel was comprised of women from diverse and remote regions of the world, including a Native American of the Ponca Nation, a representative from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a Quechua-speaking native of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and several leaders of global non-profit organizations. All of these women came to COP21 with the same message: the voices of women and indigenous peoples are essential to effectively addressing climate change.

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Panelists at today’s event, Global Women & Indigenous Peoples on the Frontline of Climate Solutions: Forests & Renewable Energy

Each of the panelists shared shockingly similar stories of their lives and their communities, highlighting their plight against the effects of climate change. Most indigenous communities contribute very little to climate change, yet feel the effects far more profoundly than the rest of the world. Women also face disproportionate impacts from climate change, indicating that this group had tremendous insight to offer from both perspectives. They had faced the direct impacts of climate change and had established innovative methods of addressing the associated problems. In the case of the Ponca Nation and the Amazonian natives, both groups are actively opposing resource extraction in their sacred ancestral lands. Women in Colombia are reclaiming land for traditional agricultural practices after years of protests allowed them to begin saving seeds again. Women in the DRC are creating carbon negative local economies by planting trees. By organizing their communities and utilizing traditional and institutional knowledge, they are developing robust, local solutions to climate change.

Nevertheless, a Paris agreement may not address these groups’ needs or their suggestions. There are currently four binding sections of the agreement that reference gender equality or the rights of indigenous people, and two of those references are bracketed. This means that the rights of indigenous people and women may not be adequately addressed in two important parts of the agreement (purpose and finance). Hopefully, this panel discussion, along with the other events associated with Gender Day, will encourage the negotiators to avoid this absurd result.


Is Climate Change a Threat to National Security?

paris-peace-signCOP21 began Monday with a moment of silence for victims of the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, and the tragedy served as a touchstone for world leaders urging unity and action. Nearly every speaker at the daylong Leaders Event expressed condolences for the Paris attacks, and some, including the Prince of Wales who opened the event, highlighted the connection between climate change and national security.

In his speech, President Obama declared “what greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it.” Later, in a press briefing room at COP21, President Obama doubled down on this sentiment stating that “in some ways, [climate change] is akin to the problem of terrorism and ISIL.” Both threats, President Obama said, require a long, sustained effort by the United States to assess and neutralize them.

French Foreign Minister and COP21 President Laurent Fabius has called climate change “a threat to policepeace,” describing a world where floods, desertification, and droughts will intensify conflicts over
ever-scarcer resources and spark a massive wave of environmental refugees. “Terrorism is significant, but naked hunger is as significant as terrorism,” he said. “And the relationship between terrorist activities and naked hunger are obvious. If you look at the vectors of recruitment into terrorist cells, most of the most vulnerable are hunger-prone areas.”

Also vocal on this issue is presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who stated publicly during the First Democratic Presidential Debate that climate change is the single greatest threat to the U.S.’s national security. Understandably, debate moderators revisited this question just one day after the Paris attacks during the second debate on November 14, asking Senator Sanders if he stood by his previous statement in light of the growing security threat from ISIS. “Absolutely,” said Sanders. “In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” Like Fabius, he explained that climate change impacts will increase international conflicts as people struggle over limited amounts of water and land to grow their crops.

Criticizing this correlation to terrorism, an Op-Ed published in the New York Times soon after the Paris attacks called out climate change advocates, among others, and asked incredulously, “must we instantly bootstrap obliquely related agendas and utterly unconnected grievances to the carnage in Paris, responding to it with an unsavory opportunism instead of a respectful grief?”

However, recent reports suggest that this correlation is warranted. In July, a report by the U.S. Defense Department called climate change an “urgent and growing threat” to national security, and this October NATO’s parliament demanded stronger action by member states to tackle a warming planet. The repeated discussion of the nexus between climate change and national security Monday makes clear that this is no longer a political question – it’s a fact.

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Empowering Women in the Fight for Global Food Security

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Women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

“The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have gender equality and women’s empowerment at their core, and include a target to ‘double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women.’ Indeed, rural women are critical to the success of almost all of the 17 SDGs.” UN SG Ban Ki-moon

There is no doubt that climate change affects less developed countries more dramatically. It also affects women more significantly, since they represent the majority of the poor  and vulnerable. On 15 October, the world recently celebrated the 6th anniversary of the International Day of Rural Women, “the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods.” Climate change’s effects on food security are well-known and well-established; therefore, in order to fully address food security, women’s issues must be at the forefront. The UN FAO released a report on 13 October indicating that expanding social protection will offer a faster track to ending hunger.

How can food security via women’s empowerment be achieved through the UN’s SDGs? Specifically, 1 (4) , 2 (3)  5(7)  relate to women’s rights to land. Current land use practices coupled with the exacerbating effects of climate change like droughts and other extreme events have led to soil degradation and desertification.  Women are often responsible for supplying the food and fuel for the household and finding ways of making up for the shortfall when these catastrophic events occur. However, they are not in a position to make decisions about how the land is used – either for their benefit or the environment’s – because they do not have the authority or ownership of it. For example, in most African countries, approximately 75% – 90% of land is held under traditional rules, customs and practices, which mean that women are not able to assert control over it or its use even though they are primarily responsible for its cultivation.

Solar Market Garden in Benin

Solar Market Garden in Benin

The outlook is not dim, however. As the world looks to COP21’s negotiations in Paris, the Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities – an initiative spearheaded by the UNFCCC Secretariat – is shining light on models that “mov[e] the world toward a highly resilient, low-carbon future.” Projects profiled are “innovative and transformative solutions that address both climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges.”  One Lighthouse winner is the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF ) Solar Market Garden. In Benin, women are now able to grow food year-round despite a six-month dry season. By using solar-powered pumps with drip irrigation systems, women farmers are able to pump water for irrigation from nearby rivers and underground aquifers instead of hauling it long distances. This is both an environmental and socio-economic benefit as the girls of the village are now able to attend school and the women can allocate their time to other economic pursuits.  “It also empowers them to become entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities. By embracing solar power and micro-irrigation technologies, these female leaders are trailblazing solutions for both climate change mitigation and adaptation that can be replicated throughout the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa.”

A Group of women attend a workshop in the oasis of Serkla, Guelmima.

A Group of women attend a workshop in the oasis of Serkla, Guelmima.

This is just one example. Looking forward to COP22 in Marrakesh, perhaps the world can witness firsthand the success that women living in the Moroccan province of Errachidia have realized by cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants using renewable energy and selling them in the markets. This UN Women  project is supported by the UNDP Tafilalet Oasis Programme and the Swiss Cooperation.

Clearly, the support of women’s rights to land, mobilizing their agricultural knowledge, and providing social support will provide food security and opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

 


Growing Pains: Are GMOs an Adaptation Solution for Growing, Hungry Populations Affected by Climate Change?

Chronic hunger plagues 805 million people worldwide. Although this is 100 million less than 10 years ago, the future of food security remains uncertain in the face of climate change. The world is growing, and so is the demand for food. The World Resources Institute projects the world will face a 69% food gap in 2050 if food production remains the same.

Adaptation efforts will be particularly challenging due to changing precipitation patterns, warming temperatures, and extreme weather events resulting from climate change. The agriculture sector accounts for 55% of total world GHG emissions; paradoxically, it must strive to reduce GHG emissions and to increase food production simultaneously. Ideally this will be done without increasing deforestation and consequently decreasing carbon storage. To face these climate change hurdles and maintain consistent crop yields, countries will likely consider using or expanding current use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

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Photo Credit: www.darkgovernment.com

GMOs are organisms that have been inserted with another organism’s genetic material to achieve new properties. The new properties for crops typically include herbicide tolerance, virus resistance, and water-uptake efficiency. The new genetic material can come from plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. For example, in the US the majority of soybeans, corn, and cotton are GMOs with genetic material from soil bacterium, bacillus thuringiensis; the bacteria produces a protein toxic to certain insect larvae, but not to humans and animals.

In addition to the US, many countries have already taken stances on this divisive topic. Others remain undecided as they weigh the pros and cons. The US along with Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and India are leading producers of GMOs. Among countries limiting GMOs are: EU countries, requiring approval of all genetically modified products prior to distribution; Switzerland, banning GMO farming since 2005; Russia, banning all imported GMO products; and China, banning GMOs for human consumption but allowing them for livestock.

Monsanto, a producer of GM seeds and Roundup herbicide, advocates for using heat and drought resistant GM seeds to adapt to climate change impacts. Other proponents argue GMO crops can adapt more quickly to sudden weather changes than conventional breeding methods.  They also maintain that farmers can produce more with fewer resources, thus having less climate affecting impacts.

Opponents of GMOs champion alternatives like ecological agriculture and conventional breeding that, they say, are just as good if not better. They also site environmental hazards, unknown human health risks, biodiversity loss, and economic concerns as reasons to ban or at least label GMO crops.  Mark Spitznagel, professor of risk engineering at NYU School of Engineering, compares the “GMO experiment” to the US financial system before the 2008 crash, which many people believed to be “too big to fail.”  He differentiates the two explaining that there are no possible bailouts when the GMO enterprise fails, and that the consequences would be much more devastating. Genetic engineering is only 40 years old. Uncertain future consequences of using this new technology is troubling to many people who believe the risks outweigh the potential benefits.

As more countries submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and consider adaptation methods to climate change, it will be interesting to see how the global dialogue surrounding GMOs develops. The agriculture sector is the largest contributor to global anthropogenic non-CO2 GHGs. The agriculture sector directly impacts climate change. Climate change directly impacts the agriculture sector. Deciding how to feed a growing, hungry planet and also curb temperature increases will be one controversial topic stemming from this paradoxical challenge.

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Quick boost from short-lived climate pollutants

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) says that “due to their short lifetimes, compared to CO2 which remains in the atmosphere forSLCPs approximately a century, actions to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants will quickly lower their atmospheric concentrations, yielding a relatively rapid climate response. Fast action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, especially methane and black carbon, has the potential to slow down the warming expected by 2050 by as much as 0.5 Celsius degrees.”  While the UNFCCC negotiations have focused on C02, CCAC doesn’t want us to lose sight of these short-lived contributors to atmospheric warming.

Not only does their mitigation have an impact on climate change, but it also bodes well for human health Time%20To%20Act%20Web%202_7_0and food security.  It is estimated that adoption of advanced cookstoves and clean fuels alone has the potential to prevent over 2 million of premature deaths each year.   Tropospheric (the closest part of the atmosphere to earth) ozone exposure – what we usually call ground-level ozone or O3 – and black carbon’s effect on cloud formation are estimated to decrease wheat, soybean, rice, and maize crop yields significantly.  By collecting landfill gas and recovering methane from coal mines, CCAC sees the potential to avoid the annual loss of more than 50 million tons of crops.  Read here for more short-lived climate pollutant facts and graphics illustrating them.


Food Security Will Require Collaboration (not just a combination of raspberry and chocolate)

bandj un SOS“If it’s melted, it’s ruined”; raising awareness for climate change by raising a cool spoonful of a creamy treat. That’s a tall order for Ben and Jerry’s new flavor of ice cream “Save Our Swirled”, which they revealed at the UN climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany in early September.  While admirable, and admittedly every bit of positive publicity helps, it ironically belies one of the most serious consequences of climate change – food insecurity for a vast proportion of the world’s population. Acknowledging the critical nature of nutrition to our survival and our absolute dependence upon climate for food production, the UNFCCC established as its objective under Article 2  to stabilize “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system …. to ensure that food production is not threatened.”

Test your knowledge about the Sustainable Development Goals  - Take the QUIZ : http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/sep/25/sustainable-development-summit-2015-quiz-global-goals

Test your knowledge about the Sustainable Development Goals – Take the QUIZ.

But a luscious creamery and the UN Executive Secretary aren’t the only significant combination of interests that are going to need to join forces in order to  satisfy the mandate set forth in The Rio+20 Declaration and Working Group that prepared the Sustainable Development Goals and the outcome document “The Future We Want”. [Note that food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are particularly addressed in paragraphs 108-118.]    It is the culmination of those efforts that have just been adopted by the UN’s  2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  in New York this weekend (September 25-27). It calls for all countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, to  implement this plan in an integrated,  swirled up way; well, the UN officially used the term “indivisible” in paragraph 18.  While Sustainable Development Goal 2.4 links food security to climate change by requiring that by 2030 countries have sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices in place that will strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, the FAO notes well that “issues related to food and agriculture are comprehensively integrated among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”  All the ingredients exist in the various SDGs to discover a success recipe for food security.

“If it’s melted, it’s ruined”. Most often people think about sea level rise or glacial melt when thinking about climate change, but forget about the devastating effects on fisheries. The newly released World Wildlife Fund report indicates that species like tuna, mackerel and bonito may have declined as much as 74% in the last 40 years. Climate change has profound effects on the health of marine food production which can be the mainstay of food security for some populations.  SDG 14 addresses the need to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”.  Melting polar ice and sea level rise can also affect coastal and low-lying field arability. For rice paddies, a global staple, this will have devastating effects. The world’s food supply is in dire straits with the poorest countries to be hit hardest and soonest. That is the point underscored by the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. All countries and all peoples have a right to food security in order to achieve their full potential.

Perhaps what Ben & Jerry’s newest ice cream flavor teaches us most about climate change and food security is that it will take a mixed balance of many factors to find the proper combination to get the solution right. It wasn’t a straight-forward “vanilla” response from thun 4e ice-cream company[i], and so the response for food insecurity will also have to be a multidimensional one. SDG 2 is a broad call to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, but it will will require contributions from a variety of sectors to achieve that goal.  Perhaps we need to think in terms of “Common but Differentiated Vulnerabilities” with regard to food insecurity. This appears to be the approach taken by the Global Policy Report: “Where Rain Falls: Climate Change, Food and Livelihood Security, and Migration”.  Populations can make “informed, resilience-enhancing decisions” if they are supported by sustainable policies that are adaptable to the local situation. At a time when humanity is facing a migrant / refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions, we cannot allow an exacerbation of the problem due to climate change food insecurity issues. We must address the agricultural adaption strategies where possible to ease the dramatic impacts to attempt to preserve livelihoods.

 

 

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[i] Indeed it was a Raspberry Ice Cream with Marshmallow & Raspberry Swirls & Dark & White Fudge Ice Cream Cones response! [http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/save-our-swirled-ice-cream]