Scientific Panel’s Scoping Report Instructive for Global Food Systems Transformation

Biodiversity, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Green Economy, Headlines

Biodiversity

A fisherman displays his catch of the day in Dominica. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

DOMINICA, Sep 24 2021 (IPS) – On September 10th, on a sweltering summer afternoon, three fishers drove a van around the residential community of Castle Comfort in Dominica, blowing forcefully into their conch shells – the traditional call that there is fresh fish for sale in the area.


One of the men, Andrew Joseph, urged a customer to double her purchase of Yellowfin Tuna, stating that at five Eastern Caribbean dollars a pound (US$1.85), she was getting the deal of the summer. (In the lean season, that price can double).

“It’s good fish, it’s fresh, it’s cheap,” he told IPS, adding that, “People eat too much meat. This is what is good for the body and the brain.”

Little did he know that he was echoing the words of a scientist who is rallying the world, and the landmark United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) to put greater emphasis on the financial, nutritional and traditional benefits of aquatic foods.

“Foods coming from marine sources, inland sources, food from water, they are superfood, but this is being ignored in the global debate and at the country level, because we have had a focus on land production systems and we have to change that,” Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health at World Fish told IPS.

The nutrition scientist is also the Vice-Chair of Action Track 4, Advancing Equitable Livelihoods, at the UNFSS.

As the landmark summit hopes to deliver urgent change in the way the world thinks about, produces and consumes food, issues like the linkages between aquatic systems and health are emerging.

So are other linkages a scoping report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says the world cannot ignore. The report, approved in June, paves the way for a 3-year assessment of the interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health.

In the case of the UNFSS, it shows how food systems transformation can be achieved if tackled as one part of this network.

“It will assess the state of knowledge, including indigenous and local knowledge, on past, present, and possible future trends in these interlinkages, with a focus on biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people,” IPBES Executive Secretary Dr Anne Larigauderie told IPS.

“The IPBES nexus assessment will contribute to the development of a strengthened knowledge base for policymakers for the simultaneous implementation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Landscape Ecology Professor Ralf Seppelt was one of the scoping experts for the nexus assessment. He says the science is clear on how food systems impact biodiversity and why agroecology must be a pillar of efforts to transform food systems.

“Micronutrients are lacking a lot. Micronutrients are provided by fruits and vegetables, which need pollination. So, the nexus is really strong between agroecological principles and the nutritional value of what we are producing,” he told IPS.

“Wherever we have to increase production, we should do it on agroecological principles. We should consider what farmers say and do, their needs, their access to production goods such as fertilizers and seeds, and it’s equally important to change our diets. It’s not just reducing harvest losses and food waste, but also about moving away from energy-rich, meat-based diets and feeding ourselves in an environmentally friendly way,” he said.

Professor Seppelt is also hoping that the voices of small farmers and indigenous communities are amplified in the global food transformation conversation. “IPBES made an enormous effort to work with indigenous peoples and local communities and include indigenous and local knowledge in its reports. We organized workshops, to collect a diversity of views about nature and its contributions to people, or ecosystem services to make the assessment as relevant as possible to a range of users,” he said.

For Thilsted, any plan to revamp food systems must come with a commitment to weed out inequality. She says from access to inputs and production to consumption and waste, inequality remains a problem.

“This unequal distribution of who wins, who loses, who does well, who does not do too well, who profits and who does not is putting a strain on food and nutrition and it is limiting our progress towards a sustainable development future,” she told IPS.

“COVID-19 has shown the fragility of the system and it is further displacing the vulnerable, for example, women and children who are being more exposed to food and nutrition insecurity.”

The IPBES nexus assessment hopes to better inform policymakers on these key issues.

It is not the first assessment of interlinkages. Earlier this year IPBES and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched a landmark workshop report that focused on tackling the climate and biodiversity crises as one.

Now, the current nexus assessment on interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food and health will explore options for sustainable approaches to water, climate change, adaptation and mitigation, food and health systems.

IPBES Executive Secretary Dr Anne Larigauderie says it also shows that there is hope for restoring the balance of nature.

“I would like people to remember and know that they are a part of nature, that the solutions for our common future are in nature; that nature can be conserved and restored to allow us, human beings, to simultaneously meet all our development goals. We can do this if we work together, act more based on equity, social and environmental justice, reflect on our values systems, and on our visions of what a good life actually is.”

 

Nurturing a New Generation of Food Leaders

Biodiversity, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations

Food Sustainability

An European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (EIIS) programme focusses on production, distribution, and consumption issues of food systems. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

NAIROBI, KENYA, Sep 22 2021 (IPS) – Food security experts have raised an alarm that with as many as 811 million people the world over or 10 percent of the global population going hungry, the world is off-track to ending hunger and malnutrition.


More so, after a decade of steadily declining, the number of malnourished people grew by 161 million from 2019 to 2020 alone, a spike attributed to complex global challenges such as COVID-19, climate change and conflict, according to the United Nations.

Against this backdrop, the European Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (EIIS) launched a three-month, challenge-based and solutions-oriented food sustainability certificate course in May 2021 to actively help countries fix their food systems.

“Our aim is to provide a comprehensive base for a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics of food, giving course participants the tools and insights to perform better at work, shift careers, and become even more conscious and responsible consumers,” says Sveva Ciapparoni, the Food and Sustainability course coordinator.

With a special focus on G20 countries, as they are most representative of the world’s population and economy, the EIIS food sustainability programme uses the Food and Sustainability Index (FSI) to help learners understand the dynamics behind food systems and their inherent power to promote or derail the attainment of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation, the food index collects data from 67 countries worldwide to showcase best practices and highlight key areas for improvement towards the production and consumption of sufficient, sustainable and healthy food.

The EIIS programme breaks away from traditional food courses solely centred around gastronomy, culinary management and hospitality to focus on production, distribution and consumption issues at the very heart of the SDGs.

Marcela Villarreal, the Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indicates that the “course directly addresses several SDGs. These include fighting hunger (SDG 2), promoting the health of both people and planet (SDGs 3, 13, 15), and encouraging conscious and responsible consumption (SDG 12).”

“The food system approach adopted by the course through specific challenges is particularly conducive to understanding the SDG agenda and proposing solid and interconnected solutions,” Villarreal, also one of the foremost experts from the Food and Sustainability course’s faculty, says.

As such, participants, who were part of the May 2021 cohort of learners, had an opportunity to intersect the three critical pillars of any food system, including sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges and food loss and waste, with the three areas where food experts say solutions to the broken food systems lie: innovation, education and policy.

Also unique to the course, the programme is taught through a Challenge Based Learning approach that “allows for the practical application of the concepts learned throughout the modules.

“How to feed 10 billion healthy foods, preserving the health of people and planet is the ambitious challenge tackled by the participants,” says Villarreal.

Participant Anant Saraf confirmed that being taken through online tuition combined with practical workshops enabled them to analyse food systems, understand the complexities of the food systems, and identify the most pressing problems facing specific food systems to provide solutions.

Importantly, Ciapparoni says that the course is an opportunity to interact with topics increasingly crucial to food production, distribution, and consumption in line with the SDGs and the UN’s first-ever food systems summit that kicks off on September 23, 2021.

Held within the UN General Assembly week in New York, the virtual UN Food Systems Summit will set the stage for global food systems transformation.

To do so, the UN will engage citizens from all over the world, including youth, researchers, food producers, indigenous people, civil society, and the private sector, in a discourse to transform how the world produces and consumes food.

As with the EIIS food sustainability course, the UN Food Systems Summit is a golden opportunity to empower people to understand and use the power of food systems to recover from COVID-19 and get back on track to end world hunger and malnutrition.

Ciapparoni indicates that course participants were aware that they would be contributing to the Summit.

The course challenge aligns with the UN Food Systems Summit agenda as it was developed in consultation with Martin Frick, deputy to the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, he added.

Therefore, at the heart of the EIIS course was an urgent need to build a generation of food leaders that can effectively transform food systems for food security, improved nutrition, and affordable healthy diets for all.

Towards this objective, Villarreal says that course participants were “divided into teams based on their backgrounds, diversity being the main criteria and that each team got assigned a G20 country to be analysed, with a specific focus on its food system.”

“After identifying the country’s key challenges, each team proposed possible solutions to improve their assigned country’s food system. The underlying idea is that, by proposing ways in which single countries can improve the sustainability of their food systems, participants will be able to suggest how to promote food sustainability globally – and thus address the course’s main challenge,” Villarreal adds.

Team South Africa, for instance, discussed the country’s rapid urbanisation and unfolding food production and security challenges in light of climate change and complex social, economic, and environmental challenges.

As for Saudi Arabia, the team concluded that the food system faces numerous challenges, as highlighted in the food and sustainability index of 2021 that ranked Saudi Arabia last compared to other G20 countries.

Saudi Arabia has the highest reliance on food imports among the G20 countries. The team aimed to identify how the country could overcome the food production challenges caused by its dry and hot climate.

Team India had the task of identifying how the country, ranked 13th among the world’s extremely water-stressed countries due to inefficient irrigation systems, groundwater depletion, and high production of water-consuming crops, can overcome these challenges.

With regard to the USA, the team analysed how the country, which has the highest food waste per capita globally, can address this problem.

Team Russia sought to fix the country’s faulty food production systems, processing, and transportation.

Team South Korea’s challenge was found in the globalisation of the country’s food system has increased consumption of highly processed foods leading to a food crisis.

Participants navigated through these challenges under the guidance of food and sustainability experts, including Villarreal. By providing solutions to fix broken food systems in specific countries, the EIIS course will have contributed towards practical solutions on how to feed 10 billion people by 2050 healthy food without harming the planet.

 

The UN Food Systems Summit and Some Issues of Concern

Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Oxen have been used to plough in agriculture for at least 3,000 years. They are still used today. Painting from the burial chamber of Sennudjem c, 1200 BC, Egypt. Credit: Trevor Page

LETHBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 21 2021 (IPS) – Why is the UN holding a Food Systems Summit? Two issues that need discussion at the international leadership level are: Long before the Covid crisis was upon us, the number of hungry people in the world was increasing. Why ? What is the cause of this disturbing trend? And, can a country really claim to be food secure, unless it produces or can buy enough food to feed its population and its people can access sufficient quantities to keep themselves fit and healthy? Disquietening questions as extreme weather begins to show the destructive power that climate change will have on the planet and its people.


A whole range of food system issues will be discussed at the summit, among them: production, processing, supply chain, consumption, nutrition, malnutrition, food aid and waste.

Food Production

Food, or the nutrients it contains, is fuel for the body. Agriculture and the production of food in an organized way is one of the earliest human endeavors. It started in the fertile crescent of the Middle East, some 10,000 BCE. While mechanization dominates the way food is produced today in the major food producing countries, animal traction is still important in many parts of the world.

Million dollar combines handle reaping, threshing, gathering and winnowing in a single operation on North American and European cereal fields today. GPS programmed, they are set to become driverless within a decade. Fruit and vegetables grown in vertical farms in cities using aquaponics are already springing up around the world. Aquaculture too can be moved to vertical farms, making fish much cheaper for urban dwellers. Vertical farms will greatly reduce labour costs and transportation requirements. Mechanization hugely reduces the number of people engaged in farming and consequently, the cost. Robotics and digital agriculture are already with us in some parts of the world. But where most people live in the world, traditional manual methods and animal traction are set to continue until the high investment needed for cutting-edge technology becomes doable.

Combines harvesting barley for the 2021 annual Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB) food drive, Alberta, Canada. The grain is auctioned and the proceeds matched 4:1 by the Canadian government and used by CFGB to promote agriculture in developing countries. Credit: Trevor Page

Wrestling with nature

Despite the advances in technology, drought can badly affect a crop. Cereal crops in western Canada and the United States have been seriously affected by drought this year. Climate change presents the greatest challenge yet to agriculture, and to the human species, generally.

Agriculture is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses contributing to climate change. According to FAO, the rearing of livestock accounts for the highest proportion because of the methane produced from enteric fermentation as well as manure left on pastures. Also according to FAO, 44% of GHGs are emitted from Asia, 25% from the Americas, 15% from Africa, 12% from Europe and 4% from Oceania.

Is organic agriculture the answer to healthier food and also the way to go because it’s kinder to the planet? Studies have found that there are higher antioxidant levels in organically grown plant-based foods. There is also evidence that organic food has lower toxic, heavy metal levels and less pesticide residue, for instance organic eggs, meat and dairy products. Organic farms use less energy and have lower GHG emissions. They also reduce the pollution caused by the widespread use of nitrogen fertilizer on industrial farms, with the runoff causing the eutrophication of water bodies. Organic agriculture is based on nourishing the soil with composts, manure and regular rotations, keeping it covered with different crops throughout the year. That sequesters carbon, building healthier soil.

The problem is that organically grown food is more expensive that industrially produced food. On average, it retails around 25% more than food sold in supermarkets. Also, most organic farmers need to supplement their income from an additional occupation in order to make ends meet. So, despite the benefits to human health and to the planet, does organic farming have a future? The answer is a resounding “yes!”, both from producers and consumers. Although globally, only 1.5% of farmland is organic, in 16 countries 10% or more of all agricultural land is organic, and the proportions are growing. The countries with the largest organic share of their total farmland are Liechtenstein at 38.5 %, Samoa at 34.5% and Austria 24.7%, according to IFOAM Organics International. Today, organic food is more of a lifestyle choice, both by the producer and the consumer. But if its growth is an indicator of concern for our health and for that of the planet, and more and more people are willing and able to pay the extra cost involved, then organics can be seen as an indicator of wellbeing and a reduction of inequality, which is a major cause of conflict in the world today.

Healthy root formation on Mozart red potatoes on The Perry Farm in Taber, Canada. Regenerative agriculture is practiced on this farm. Credit: Trevor Page

Although humankind has grown up largely on a diet of just three cereals: wheat, corn and rice, potatoes are actually more nutritious. Furthermore, potatoes can be grown on marginal land and they require only one-third of the water needed to grow the world’s three main cereals. Five years ago, China moved to double its potato production and to add them to the diet of its growing population. Should Africa be following suit?

Conclusion

The Food Systems Summit kicks off in New York on September 23 during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. World leaders will come together to find common ground and form alliances that accelerate our way to realizing the SDGs in this remaining decade of action before 2030 is upon us. Will we succeed in making Zero hunger a reality? If we are serious about this goal, the answer includes rethinking and redesigning our food systems to make them more sustainable.

Trevor Page, resident in Lethbridge, Canada, is a former Emergencies Director of the World Food Programme. He also served with the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, FAO, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR and what is now the UN Department of Political and Peace Building Affairs.

 

If Women Farmers were Politicians, the World Would be Fed, says Danielle Nierenberg

Biodiversity, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women in Politics

Food Sustainability

Women produce more than 50 percent of the food in the world but are disadvantaged when it comes to access to resources such as land and financial services. Credit: Busani Bafana, IPS

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Sep 17 2021 (IPS) – Women, key contributors to agriculture production, are missing at the decision table, with alarming consequences, says Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg in an exclusive interview with IPS.


Giving women a seat at the policymaking table could accelerate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and keep the world fed and nourished. This necessitates a transformation of the currently lopsided global food system, she says.

Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg.

Nierenberg, a top researcher and advocate on food systems and agriculture, acknowledges that women are the most affected during environmental or health crises. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global food production, affecting women farmers and food producers who were already excluded from full participation in agricultural development.

“We still have a long way to go in making sure that policies are not gender blind and include the needs of women at the forefront when mass disasters occur,“ Nierenberg told IPS, adding that policymakers need to understand the needs of farmers and fisherfolk involved in food systems.

“I think it is time we need more people who are involved with agriculture to run for political office because they understand its challenges,” she said. “If we had more farmers in governments around the world, imagine what that would look like. If we had women farmers running municipalities, towns and even countries, that is where change would really happen.”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), women contribute more than 50 percent of food produced globally and make up over 40 percent of the agricultural labour force. But while women keep families fed and nourished, they are disadvantaged in accessing critical resources for food production compared to men. They lack access to land, inputs, extension, banking and financial services.

“Until we end the discrimination of women around the globe, I doubt these things will change even though women are in the largest part of the world’s food producers,” said Nierenberg, who co-founded and now heads the global food systems think tank, Food Tank.

Arguing that COVID-19 and the climate crisis were not going to be the last global shocks to affect the world, Nierenberg said women and girls had been impacted disproportionately; hence the need to act now and change the food system. Women have experienced the loss of jobs and income, reduced food production and nutrition and more girls are now out of school.

“It is not enough for me to speak for women around the globe. Women who are actually doing the work need to speak for themselves; they need to be included in these conversations,” Nierenberg said.

“What happens is that in conferences, there are a lot of white men in suits talking on behalf of the rest of the world. But we need the rest of the world, and women included, to be in the room.”

A food system is a complex network of all activities involving the growing, processing, distribution and consumption of food. It also includes the governance, ecological sustainability and health impact of food.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted invisible issues, like the interconnectedness of our food systems, she said it was urgent to invest in regional and localized food systems that included women and youth. Food Tank and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) work collaboratively to investigate and set the agenda for concrete solutions for resetting the food system.

Divine Ntiokam, Food Systems Champion and Founder and Managing Director, Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network Global (GCSAYN), agrees. While youth are ready to engage in promoting a just and inclusive transformation of rural areas, it was unfortunate they were rarely involved in decision-making, she said. They are excluded from the household level to larger political institutions and companies and need better prospects of financial security to remain in the farming sector.

“Young men and women need to be given special attention in formulating legislation to purchase land and receive proper land rights,” Ntiokam told IPS.

“International donors and governments need to invest in youth, particularly young women and girls, for their meaningful participation along with the food systems value network,” he said.

“Youth need to have a ‘seat at the table’, as they have at the Summit, in terms of decision-making on where governments and international donors invest their resources to make agriculture and food a viable, productive and profitable career.”

Researchers say current food systems are unfair, unhealthy, and inequitable, underscoring the urgency to transform the global food system. According to the FAO, more than 800 million people went to bed hungry in 2020, and scores of others are malnourished.

Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

For food systems to be just, there is an urgency to close the gender resource gap, says Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at IFPRI and Custodian for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Lever of the UN Food Systems Summit.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will, on September 23, 2021 host the UN Food Systems Summit during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. The Summit is billed as a platform to push for solid support in changing the world food systems to help the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while spurring the achievement of the SDG by 2030.

The Summit, the UN says will “culminate in an inclusive global process, offering a catalytic moment for public mobilization and actionable commitments by heads of state and government and other constituency leaders to take the food system agenda forward”.

“They (food systems) must also transform in ways that are just and equitable, and that meaningfully engage and benefit women and girls,” Njuki told IPS. She added that harmful social and gender norms creating barriers for women and girls by defining what women and girls can or cannot eat, what they can or cannot own, where they can go or not go should be removed.

“This transformation has to be driven from all levels and all sectors in our food systems: global to local, public to private, large scale producers to smallholder farmers and individual consumers,” Njuki said.

Leaders should enact policies that directly address injustices – such as ensuring women’s access to credit, markets, and land rights, Njuki said, noting that individual women and men need to confront social norms and legal prejudices and demand changes.

Njuki believes that current food systems have contributed to wide disparities among rich and poor.

“These negative outcomes are intimately linked with many of the biggest challenges facing humanity right now – justice and equality, climate change, human rights – and these challenges cannot be addressed without transforming how our food systems work,” Njuki told IPS.

“We are at a pivotal moment on the last decade before the deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This must be the decade of action for food systems to end hunger.”

 

In a Watershed Year for Climate Change, the Commonwealth Secretary-General calls for Urgent, Decisive and Sustained Climate Action

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Commonwealth, Conferences, Conservation, COP26, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation, Women & Climate Change

Climate Change

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. Scotland expressed concerns about the impact of climate change on exacerbating superstorms, like this 2019 event which took a massive human toll. Credit: Commonwealth

London, Sep 8 2021 (IPS) – This November, five years after signing the Paris Agreement and pledging to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with a further target of below 1.5 degrees Celsius, world leaders will meet in Glasgow, UK amid COVID-19 pandemic shocks, rising hunger and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warns of more extreme temperature, droughts, forest fires and ice sheet loss due to human activity.


The leaders are expected to submit more ambitious targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Out of the 197 countries which signed the Paris Agreement, 54 are members of the Commonwealth. That association has been helping its members to craft their national climate targets and follow through with implementation.

IPS spoke to Commonwealth Secretary-General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC about the Association’s climate initiatives, the unique challenges faced by small states, its focus on gender mainstreaming and access to financing for critical adaptation and mitigation projects.

Scotland is the sixth Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and the first woman to hold the post. The Commonwealth is an association of 54 countries that work together to advance shared values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, including democracy, human rights and sustainable development.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

===========
Inter Press Service (IPS): Secretary-General, it is a pleasure to be able to interview you from a small community in Dominica. Dominica continues to be proud of not just being a member of the Commonwealth but the land of your birth and the home of the Baroness Patricia Scotland Primary School.

In Dominica, we know that the Commonwealth is invested in climate change, and I’m happy to be speaking to you about one of the most pressing issues of our time.

The IPCC report has been dominating the climate change headlines in the lead-up to COP26. It is a sobering report that calls for urgent, increasingly ambitious action by world leaders to tackle the climate crisis. What does the report mean for the 54 member countries of the Commonwealth?

The Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC (PS): The latest IPCC report is a stark warning for humanity. One cannot argue with the definitive scientific evidence in the report, which shows how climate change is intensifying on a global scale, with widespread impacts. Some of these impacts are unravelling on our television screens and even right before our eyes, including increasingly destructive extreme weather events – from monstrous super storms in the Pacific and Caribbean to deadly floods in Africa and raging wildfires in Europe.

In many ways, the report reaffirms many of the concerns the Commonwealth has been advocating for over the past 30 years, particularly in relation to small and other vulnerable states. It also challenges us, as an international community, to respond – urgently!

We no longer have any excuse not to act. We already have a blueprint for international cooperation in the form of the Paris Agreement. What’s more, emerging from the Covid pandemic, we have a critical window to set a new development path and build back better. What the world needs now is urgent, decisive and sustained climate action. As I’ve always said: if not now, then when; if not us, then who?

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at COP 25. She was speaking to IPS ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to be held in Glasgow in October and November 2021. Credit: Commonwealth

(IPS): We know that Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are important to gauge how each country intends to do its part to reduce global warming. We also know that new NDCs should be submitted every five years, but some countries have not met the deadlines. How is the Commonwealth assisting member countries with articulating and submitting their NDCs?

(PS): The Nationally Determined Contributions – or national climate plans – are at the heart of the Paris Agreement. I cannot overstate their importance. It is through the NDCs that we translate this global agreement into reality on the country level.

This is why the Commonwealth Secretariat is working with the NDC Partnership to support governments in enhancing and delivering their national climate plans under the Climate Action Enhancement Package (CAEP).

Through this initiative, we embed highly skilled Commonwealth National Climate Finance Advisers in countries to fast-track the process. In Jamaica and Eswatini, our experts help create frameworks to include climate-related spending in national budget planning. In Belize and Zambia, our advisers assist in developing national climate finance strategies.

Our flagship Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub has also deployed advisers in nine other countries across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific to help governments develop strong climate finance proposals for NDC implementation and wider climate action.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland pictured in Seychelles. She is particularly concerned about the financing and support of small island developing nations with their climate change challenges. Credit: Commonwealth

(IPS): How can Commonwealth countries help each other with their NDCs submission and implementation?

(PS): The Commonwealth is a family of 54 equal and independent nations, spanning five geographical regions with a combined population of 2.4 billion people, 60 percent of whom are under age 30. Thirty-two members are considered ‘small states’, while we also have some of the world’s biggest economies along with emerging countries in our group.

One of the most valuable aspects of the Commonwealth is, therefore, its diversity and incredible capacity to be a platform for countries to share experiences on a wide range of global issues, examining what works and what does not work and cross-fertilising ideas. Building on this, the Secretariat organises regular virtual events, convening a range of actors from different regions and sectors to exchange knowledge and best practices for climate action.

We also welcome the generous financial and in-kind support from member countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Mauritius, which enables the work of key programmes like the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub and the CommonSensing Project (funded by the UK). The CCFAH ‘hub and spokes’ model ensures a dynamic network of expertise and a useful mechanism for cross-regional dialogue and international cooperation around NDCs.

(IPS): Access to finance for climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives continues to be an issue of concern, particularly for small island developing states. What mechanisms have the Commonwealth Secretariat established to assist countries in financing their climate commitments?

(PS): Funding for climate action is absolutely critical for the survival of our small and vulnerable member states. However, a concerning paradox is that countries most vulnerable to climate change are often the ones that find it most challenging to access climate finance.

This is mainly because they have constrained resources or capacity. For example, a small island developing nation may have just a small ministry or unit dedicated to climate change, and a single officer, if any, focused on mobilising finance. When you look at the complex requirements, application processes and varying criteria set by different international climate funds, it is clear there is a gap.

Consequently, many countries can spend months and even years working through the process to access finance, delaying climate action whilst impacts are ongoing.

This is why the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH) was initiated in 2015, whereby long-term Commonwealth national climate finance advisers are embedded in government departments to help them develop successful funding proposals, and who then pass on the knowledge and skills to local officials and actors. As of June 2021, CCFAH has helped raise US$ 43.8 million of climate finance, including US$ 3 million of country co-financing for 31 approved projects. More than US$762 million worth of projects are in the pipeline.

We are also looking at innovative ways to fill the data gap in project proposals. Under the CommonSensing Project, we work with UNITAR-UNOSAT, the UK Space Agency and others, to use earth observation technology and satellite data to build more robust, evidence-based cases for climate finance in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

(IPS): According to agencies like UNICEF, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change – a reflection of patterns of gender inequality seen in other areas. Are you satisfied with the work of the Commonwealth in ensuring gender integration across climate change initiatives?

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland planting mangroves in Sri Lanka. Scotland believes that the diversity of the Commonwealth is its strength in tackling climate issues. Credit: Commonwealth

(PS): To tackle climate change, we simply cannot ignore the role of half the world’s people who are women. In fact, the most recent Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting in 2019 reiterated gender and climate change as one of four priority areas on gender equality. It is absolutely a top concern for the Secretariat, which is committed to mainstreaming gender across its work programmes.

All our regional/national climate finance advisers are expected to mainstream gender and youth considerations in their operations. All their projects must be responsive to the needs of women, men, girls and boys, as equal participants in decision-making and beneficiaries of climate action.

For instance, the Commonwealth National Climate Finance Adviser in Jamaica helped the government secure a grant of US$270,000 from the Green Climate Fund for the project ‘Facilitating a Gender Responsive Approach to Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation’.

The Secretariat recently launched a gender analysis of member country climate commitments. This research will help us better understand the current situation and inform future activities and programmes.

 

IUCN Congress to Push for Stronger Regulations against ‘Imported Deforestation’

Biodiversity, Conferences, Conservation, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations

Conservation

Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis ssp. kandti) Endangered in IUCN Red List. In Cameroon, 1999 bushmeat was openly on sale along the road as 100-year-old trees were illegally logged and transported. Today large primates face the same fate, even if not so openly. Credit: Steve Morgan / Greenpeace

BHUBANESWAR, India, Sep 2 2021 (IPS) – As Arti Prasad rode the Kuala Lumpur Pavilion mall escalator up to the third floor, a pair of luscious lips pouted down at her. Next to the towering and oversized lips, the vibrant red shades of lipstick on the giant screen immediately caught the 36-year-old Indian tourist’s fancy.


Prasad headed straight to the cosmetic outlet and bought all four of the advertised lipsticks. She, like many others, is oblivious to a baby Orangutan’s plight – orphaned when its forest home was burned down to grow the palm oil that went into these beauty products. Primary forest losses mean that only 10% of gorilla habitat will remain in the Congo Basin by 2032.

Deforestation, a significant threat to biodiversity and climate change, is accelerated by global demand for commodities. However, a considerable share of this agro-commodity production is intended for export – driving massive deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems in the global south.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates global forest areas declined by 129 million hectares between 1990-2015, equivalent in size to South Africa.

Data from satellite imagery released on Global Forest Watch in June 2020 recorded 3.75 million hectares of tree cover loss in humid primary forests in the tropics in 2019, an almost 3% increase from 2018 and the third-largest tropical forest loss since 2000. 

Consumption patterns of G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the US) drive an average loss of 3.9 trees per person per year, over 15 years from 2001-2015, says a study published this year in Nature.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will hold the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, from 3-11 September 2021. This premier conservation event will address global deforestation. More importantly, Congress motion 012 – the fight against imported deforestation – was co-sponsored by numerous IUCN Members and voted on and approved before Congress.

The IUCN Congress meets every four years to tackle the most pressing issues impacting people and the planet. This IUCN Congress in Marseille will drive action on nature-based recovery, climate change, and biodiversity for decades to come.

Congress motion 012 calls on countries to stop imported deforestation through several ambitious strategies, including imposing additional taxes on imported products that generate deforestation.
The aim is to recommend that private companies establish concrete action plans to guarantee supplies that did not result in deforestation.

Red-faced spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus) are found in undisturbed primary rainforests, in northern Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana and Venezuela. Because of its ability to climb and jump, it tends to live in the upper layers of the rainforest trees and forages in the high canopy. With habitat loss and hunting it is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Credit: la Vallee des Singes

The list of imported agricultural products contains, first and foremost, soy, palm oil, cacao, beef and its by-products, rubber, timber, and derived products that do not come from sustainably managed forests. Others include coffee, tea, or even cane sugar, which impact the deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems.

“The most recent IPCC and IPBES reports show that we are now at the point where significant and permanent changes to consumption patterns and legislative regulation can no longer be delayed,” David Williams-Mitchell, Director of Communications, European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) told IPS via email. Netherlands-based EAZA, an IUCN member, is one of the co-sponsors of Congress motion 012.

More than 50% of global forest loss and land conversion is attributable to the production of agricultural commodities, and forestry products are driven by consumer demand, as shown by a 2020 WWF study on Switzerland’s overseas footprint for forest-risk commodities.

To end deforestation, companies must eliminate 5 million hectares of conversion from supply chains each year.

“The concept of imported deforestation is still quite new to the public in Europe. For EAZA, the key issue is to establish understanding globally that imported deforestation is one of the root causes of climate change and biodiversity loss,” Williams-Mitchell said.

He cited examples of a hugely expanded meat industry leading to increases in greenhouse gases, carbon sink capacity loss, and biodiversity loss through habitat conversion.

In 2017 alone, the international trade of agricultural products was associated with 1.3 million hectares of tropical deforestation emitting some 740 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – this is equivalent to nearly a fifth of the EU28’s total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

“We need countries all over the world to participate in the fight against imported deforestation. We need to learn to use local resources and establish sustainable sources for exported products, especially without harming the forests,” says Jean-Pascal Guéry of Primate Conservation Trust. This France-based IUCN member also co-sponsors Congress motion 012.

The world’s forests absorb 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, one-third of the annual CO2 released from burning fossil fuels. Forest destruction emits further carbon into the atmosphere, with 4.3–5.5 gigatons of total anthropogenic Green House Gas (GHG) emissions per year, generated annually mainly from deforestation and forest degradation, according to Cameroon-based NGO Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF).

IUCN Member ERuDeF, co-sponsor of Congress motion 012, estimates that half of the tropical forests worldwide have been destroyed since the 1960s. Every second, more than one hectare of tropical forest is destroyed or drastically degraded.

“Deforestation and conversion-free supply chains must protect not only forests, but all the terrestrial natural ecosystems threatened by the expansion of commodity production and trade including savannahs, grasslands, and peatlands among others,” Romain Deveze, WWF Switzerland’s senior manager, sustainable commodities & markets and co-author of the WWF 2020 study told IPS.
“It is vital that people understand that their choices and the frameworks that allow them to make those choices are at the heart of the solution,” Williams-Mitchell concurs.

“As governments, science engagement institutions, schools, and other providers and facilitators of education, we need to act to ensure this level of understanding at all levels of society,” Williams-Mitchell says, explaining why EAZA is sponsoring the motion.

Guéry is critical of some of the efforts to combat deforestation.

“There is awareness (too late, in our opinion) in certain European countries of the deleterious effects of this imported deforestation, and the French initiative to establish a national strategy to combat imported deforestation is commendable, but it lacks ambition and does not set binding and short-term goals,” he said.

“The assessments of companies including distributors, manufacturers, operators, rely too much on self-assessment rather than establishing an independent external certification,” Guéry said.

WWF also mentions that despite more initiatives to halt deforestation, including certification, corporate commitments, and market incentives, the rate of commodity-driven land use doesn’t appear to be declining. This means the negative impacts on local people and nature continue.

A full truck loaded with 60-70 Mukula logs at Katanga Province, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2016. Around 8-10 trucks transported out Mukula logs every day. Mukula is a rare and slow-growing hardwood unique to southern and central Africa, illegally logged and traded from Zambia and DRC. Credit: Lu Guang / Greenpeace

In a study earlier this year, Greenpeace said that “certification is a weak tool to address global forest and ecosystem
destruction.”

By certifying their products as ‘sustainable,’ some certification schemes can help guide consumption choices and have a positive impact locally, “but it is (largely) greenwashing destruction of ecosystems and violations of Indigenous and labour rights.”

So, while buyers think they are making the right ethical choice, they might still buy products linked to abuse and destruction.

However, WWF’s Deveze says, “certification and legality are critical to halt deforestation at scale. A hectare of conversion is just equally as harmful to people and nature whether or not it is done legally.”

Ranece Jovial Ndjeudja, Greenpeace Africa’s campaign manager in Cameroon, told IPS in a Zoom interview, “the limitations to the policy effectiveness for the IUCN Congress motion on imported deforestation is increased taxation aimed at deterring forest clearing. This, however, cannot always prevent deforestation.”

“Companies would just increase production to compensate for the tax hikes,” Ndjeudja said, speaking from Yaoundé, where Cameroonians rallied in early August to demand EU stop deforestation for rubber production.
“It is industrial logging and industrial agriculture which is the problem. Are these industrial productions really bringing in a large revenue to the exporting governments? No. If it did, Cameroon and Congo would not be so poor. A small group gets rich. While Cameroon’s natives lose access to food, health, and their culture,” Tal Harris, Greenpeace Africa’s international communications coordinator, told IPS from Dakar, Senegal.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) hosts the second-largest contiguous tract of tropical forests globally, including roughly 60 percent of the Congo Basin rainforest. It is home to plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.

“A government cannot work out of a capital city thousands of miles distant from such extensive forests,” Harris said. “Devolution of power to the local population is necessary.”

Local communities play a vital role in wildlife conservation and environment protection. Comprising less than 5 percent of the world’s population, indigenous communities protect 80 percent of global biodiversity, says ERuDeF.

Cameroon’s Ndjeaudja echoes this. To ensure trees are not cut, there is the need to work with local communities because, for generations, they have been living with forests and have the knowledge of their sustainable management.

“We have a lot to learn from them and must allow indigenous communities to share this knowledge,” he said.

Deveze concluded: “Economic and technical incentives are required to shift producer behaviour. At an international policy level, go for differentiated custom tariffs based on sustainability requirements and due diligence processes. Compensation mechanisms to support farmers in protecting high conservation value areas should be amplified.”