Stopping Marine Plastic Pollution: A Key IUCN Congress Goal

Civil Society, Climate Change, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Plastic bags may remain intact for years in the marine environment. Plastic products certified to be industrially compostable are no solution for littering, as they do not degrade efficiently in the environment and continue to pose a threat to wildlife as they break down. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

St David’s, Wales, Jul 1 2021 (IPS) – Documented images of albatross chicks and marine turtles dying slow deaths from eating plastic bags and other waste are being seared into our consciences. And yet our mass pollution of Earth’s seas and oceans, fuelled by single-use plastics and throw-away consumerism, just gets worse.


Plastic debris is estimated to kill more than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless sea turtles every year. Plastics, with all their benefits and promises, have revolutionised societies and economies since their development in the 1950s, but now some 8 million tonnes end up in the oceans every year.

Waste plastic, making up to 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments, breaks down into micro-plastics which enter the digestive systems of sea and land animals and humans. Invisible plastic is in the water we drink, the salt we eat and the air we breathe. Experts are still working out the long-term impacts, such as cancer and impaired reproductive systems.

The fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture also leave a massive legacy in terms of ocean waste, poisoning and ensnaring sea life.

Hasna Moudud heads a small NGO in Bangladesh, working to protect coastal areas where vast rivers pour into the Indian Ocean, providing livelihoods and food for millions.

Her NGO, Coastal Area Resource Development and Management Association (Cardma), plants coastal trees, protects olive ridley sea turtles in a conservation hatchery in the Bay of Bengal, and helps women in cottage industries, using cane grass to make mats instead of plastic.

“Oceans are always neglected,” she tells IPS. “Small NGOs like myself take risks to save whatever we can of the fragile ecosystem that is left for our future generations.”

Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most frequent items found along Mediterranean shores. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

But to combine her NGO’s efforts with those of others, Moudud says she is “praying” to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille this September where government, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations from around the world will join discussions to set priorities and drive conservation and sustainable development action.

Meeting every four years – with this Congress delayed by the Covid pandemic – member organisations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, vote on major issues to shape humanity’s response to the planet’s conservation crises. This particular Congress in Marseille is offering both in-person and virtual participation options, allowing those unable to make the trip to Marseille for the full Congress the opportunity to join discussions and provide their feedback.

Moudud’s NGO is a co-sponsor of Congress Motion 022: “Stopping the global plastic pollution crisis in marine environments by 2030.”

The broad resolution goes to the heart of the waste plastics issue. It notes that global production is due to increase by 40% over the next 15 years from current levels of around 300 million tonnes and that the world’s “predominant throwaway model” means that over 75% of the plastics ever produced to date are waste, “notably because the price of plastic on the market does not represent all of the costs of its lifecycle to nature or society”.

Recalling previous international efforts to set goals for ending marine plastic litter, the motion calls on the international community to reach a wide-ranging global agreement to combat marine plastic pollution. This would entail, among other measures, eliminating unnecessary plastic production, in particular single-use plastic waste; recycling and proper prevention of leakage into the environment; and public awareness campaigns.

Sunlight, salt and pounding waves grind marine litter down to plastic grains. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

Activists say previous international efforts to curb plastic pollution have been toothless. Moudud is among many who want mandatory and enforceable measures, accusing big business of what she calls “manipulative practices through sponsorship and malpractice without helping build the natural world”.

“No one is looking or holding the polluters responsible,” she says, calling for a toughening up of the resolution. “I am deeply involved in everything IUCN does to help save the natural world and sustainable living.”

Steve Trott, project manager for IUCN-member Watamu Marine Association which is tackling plastic pollution in their Marine Protected Area in Kenya, says Motion 022 clearly sets out the threats posed by plastic waste to marine and coastal environments, economies and human health and well-being.

“Watamu Marine Association and EcoWorld Recycling based on the Kenya coast embrace the IUCN call for action,” Trott told IPS.

Pushing circular economy initiatives, their NGO has created dynamic plastic value chains through partnerships between the hotels industry and local communities, sponsoring beach clean-ups and collecting plastic waste for recycling. This provides a second source of income for community waste collectors while local artists are also up-cycling plastic waste.

Reflecting one of the main themes of IUCN’s membership structure bringing together civil society and indigenous peoples and government authorities, Trott says Watamu is following a “win-win model which can be replicated and up-scaled, sending out an ‘Act Local, Think Global’ message to inspire others”. He hopes to attend the Congress in Marseille if all goes well.

Single Use items are littering the world’s oceans. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

The Plastic Waste Makers index, a study by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation, identifies 20 companies producing more than half of all single-use plastic waste in the world. Some are state-owned and multinational corporations, whose plastic production is financed by major banks. The report notes that nearly 98% of single-use plastic is made from what is called virgin fossil fuels — plastic created without any recycled materials.

Single-use plastics explain why fossil fuel companies are ramping up their production as their two main markets of transport and electricity generation are being decarbonised. By 2050 plastic is expected to account for 5%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Humankind possesses unprecedented levels of knowledge but also the accompanying responsibility, knowing that oceans are in the poorest health since humans started exploiting them.

Single use plastics – and the estimated 130 million tonnes that are dumped each year around the world – have dominated studies and discussions on waste. Plastic bottles, food containers and wrappers, and single-use bags are the four most widespread items polluting the seas.

One element woven into similar narratives of how to tackle the world’s burning environmental issues – such as carbon emissions, species loss, and plastic waste – is the potential fix offered by technology. Motion 022 refers to the need for more investment in environmentally sound plastic waste collection, recycling and disposal systems as well as forms of recovery.

A study led by biologist Nikoleta Bellou at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon institute focuses on inventive sea-cleaning solutions to date, including floating drones. But her paper suggests that it could take about a century to remove just 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using clean-up devices because plastic production and waste are accumulating so fast.

Activists welcome IUCN’s intervention on plastic waste pollution and the strong mandate a successful and unanimous motion can convey to governments and international institutions. But they also caution against taking too narrow an approach towards tackling marine pollution at the September 3-11 Congress.

Eleonora de Sabata, spokesperson for the Clean Sea Life project, co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE programme, told IPS that the narrative needs to shift away from single-use plastic to single-use everything. “Technology” has come up with so-called ‘bio’ plastics as a replacement for some plastics but only to create a whole suite of problems of their own.

“It’s the throwaway culture that creates problems, whether plastic or not. Green washing and sloppy leadership are filling our world of single use,” she argues. Washing our consciences by simply substituting single-use plastics with other single-use items, such as supposedly biodegradable bags and cutlery, are not the answer.

 

Maldives’ UN General Assembly Presidency Renews Hope for Small Island Developing States

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Taking Stock, Looking Forward. Credit UNESCO

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia , Jun 23 2021 (IPS) – Earlier this month, Abdulla Shahid, the Maldives’ foreign minister, was elected President of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which commences in September.


This is the sixth time a candidate from a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) has been elected to steer the work of the UN’s highest policy-making organ during its 76-year history:

Rudy Insanally of Guyana became the first president of the General Assembly elected from the UN-SIDS category in 1993; followed by Saint Lucia’s Julian Hunte in 2003; Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain in 2006; and the late John William Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda in 2013, while Peter Thomson of Fiji, took the helm during the GA’s 71st session in 2016.

https://www.un.org/ohrlls/content/list-sids

It may seem surprising that such small nations have so frequently been named to this high position—the aggregate population of all SIDS is only 65 million, less than one percent of the global population—but the UN’s 38 SIDS constitute one fifth of the international organization’s total voting membership.

This position gives SIDS outsized power as a voting bloc, which they have wielded to great effect, perhaps most significantly when it comes to climate change, which as we will see has benefited the entire global community.

Abdulla Shahid. Credit: United Nations

Far from representing a monolithic group, SIDS hail from every region of the world and are home to dozens of languages and a wide variety of social and economic characteristics. Some, like Guyana and Belize, are not even islands, but they all share unique social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities (like size, remoteness, and limited resources base) that the UN has recognized a distinct group of developing countries since 1992.

They are also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, like extreme weather, sea level rise, and biodiversity loss, making them natural allies in the fight to cut the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the crisis.

In fact, in 1989, the Maldives hosted one of the first international conferences on sea level rise, a consequential event in the international climate change fight and the inspiration for the creation of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which has been credited to establish the the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and winning the inclusion of the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature goal in the Paris climate accord in 2015, the latter during the Maldives chairmanship of the group.

SIDS have also shown critical leadership in the creation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2014, SIDS helped lead the negotiations, ultimately creating what is known as the SAMOA Pathway, a blueprint to ensure priorities of SIDS were reflected in the final 17 SDGs.

Before that, John William Ashe skillfully set the stage for the SDGs by working with larger countries to create a process for the SDGs that truly had global buy in.

All along, SIDS main argument that the specific challenges they face need to be given special consideration, and today a number of the SDGs do just that, including sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism. Such recognition was further solidified in 2015 as part of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda adopted at the UN Conference on Financing for Development and again that year in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Catherine Haswell, the UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives (left) meets a group of local women. May 2021. Credit: UN Maldives/Nasheeth Thoha

Unsurprisingly, another theme that has emerged in SIDS international diplomacy over the years is ocean conservation. In December 2017, under Peter Thomson’s leadership, the General Assembly decided to convene negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, what is known as the high seas.

Thomson was also instrumental in developing the UN Ocean Conference that sets out to conserve and sustainably use ocean resources.

SIDS’ important endeavors during the General Assembly not only showcase the value of their contributions there, but of the GA itself, a place where all 193 UN countries, large and small, can elevate their concerns.

During the campaign for the post competing with Zalmai Rassoul, the candidate from Afghanistan, the Maldives’ Shahid launched “a presidency of hope”, noting that his priorities during the year-long presidency are to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and rebuild economies better and greener.

“The General Assembly can boost efforts towards greater climate action” and “renew momentum” on issues of energy, biological diversity, sustainable fisheries, desertification and the oceans – that are at the heart of SIDS’ concerns.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, while welcoming the new President-elect Shahid commended his “selection of hope as the central theme in his vision statement” and noted that, “coming from a small island developing state, Mr. Shahid will bring unique insights to the 76th session of the General Assembly, as we prepare for COP26 in Glasgow in November.”

Shahid’s election, as with the SIDS leaders before him, not only offers new hope for islands, but the whole international community. At this precarious moment in history, it is truer than ever that by promoting the interests of SIDS, what we are really doing is protecting the future of mankind.

Ahmed Sareer was the Ambassador/ Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations from 2012 to 2017 and chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States from 2015 to 2017. He is presently serving at the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) based in Jeddah.

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Time to End Generational Injustice with a ‘Global Blue New Deal’ to Protect Oceans

Active Citizens, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Education, Environment, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Opinion

Credit: Australian Institute of Marine Science

PARIS, Jun 8 2021 (IPS) – Increasingly, youth are rising up to declare that they’ve had enough of the cyclical exploitation of the environment that jeopardizes their own future.


Youth activism through the Global Climate Strikes and Fridays For Future protests have helped spur revolutionary policy frameworks, like the Green New Deal championed by U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

International organizations and sovereign governments have now interpreted the Green New Deal into frameworks and policies of their own; it’s clear that environmental policy led by youth has energized the discussion on global decarbonization and the social impacts of climate change.

However, the Green New Deal only mentioned the ocean once. We need to insert more Blue into the green transition.

Earth’s vast oceans are humanity’s single most important climate regulation tool. As governments coalesce around plans to quite literally save our species, we must recognize that there is no future without understanding the role the ocean has to play.

Beyond human life support, the ocean economy contributes to ecosystem services, jobs, and cultural services valued at USD 3-6 trillion, with fisheries and aquaculture alone contributing USD 100 billion per year and 250+ million jobs.

Our ocean, however, is overfished, polluted with plastic, and exploited for non-renewable resources like minerals and fossil fuels. This perpetuates a cycle of generational injustice and leaves youth to inherit an increasingly degraded environment with less and less time to restore it. Not only is this detrimental to progress at large, but our most vulnerable global communities, who contribute the least to global emissions, will feel the effects of our degraded environment the most severely.

Youth not only need to be proactive advocates for the SDGs, we need to hold the global community accountable to commitments they have made between nations and to youth as the greatest stakeholders in the future health of our environment.

Creating the “Global Blue New Deal”

In 2019, the Sustainable Ocean Alliance distributed surveys across its network to identify the key youth policy priorities for a healthy ocean and just future. We received 100+ responses from 38 countries in 5 languages.

Over the past year, SOA’s Youth Policy Advisory Council synthesized these into a youth-led, crowdsourced ocean policy framework: the Global Blue New Deal.

The first public draft of our Global Blue New Deal is being launched now, at the dawn of the UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which aims to gather global ocean stakeholders behind a common framework to deliver “the ocean we need for the future we want.”

Youth want to contribute to the success of the Ocean Decade and call on the international community to recognize our policy suggestions as part of the solutions our planet needs.

The vision of the Global Blue New Deal is to “outline an ocean policy framework that integrates crowdsourced youth priorities that will be proposed to governments on international, national, and local scales for implementation.”

It is organized under four pillars, each containing specific ocean policy solutions.

In brief:

Pillar 1
Carbon Neutrality: Transition to a Zero Carbon Future

    1. End offshore drilling and invest in renewable ocean energy
    2. Decarbonize the shipping industry
    3. Reduce land-based marine pollution
    4. Transition to a circular economy
    5. Strengthen legislation and enforcement against ocean contamination

Pillar 2
Preserve Biodiversity: Apply Nature-based Solutions to Promote Healthy Ecosystems and Climate Resilience

    1. Support the global movement to protect 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030
    2. Enforce against non-compliance in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
    3. Establish a global moratorium against deep-sea mining
    4. Transition from “gray” manmade infrastructure like culverts and seawalls to nature-based blue carbon infrastructure including the restoration of wetlands, mangroves and marshes

Pillar 3:
Sustainable Seafood: Match Increasing Global Demand Sustainably

    1. Encourage sustainable governance of capture fisheries
    2. Enforce against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing
    3. Eliminate capacity-enhancing fisheries subsidies
    4. Provide a sustainable path for aquaculture
    5. Fund research and development of plant-based and cell-cultured seafood

Pillar 4:
Stakeholder Engagement: Include Local Communities in Natural Ocean Resource Management

    1. Ensure the sustainability of coastal ecotourism
    2. Promote ocean research and innovation, with a goal of mapping 100% of the global seafloor by 2030.
    3. Emphasize ocean literacy and capacity building
    4. Build stakeholder participation in ocean governance

We invite like-minded youths, scientists, policymakers, and other ocean stakeholders to visit https://www.soalliance.org/soablog/youth-led-blue-new-deal and help as we finalize the Global Blue New Deal ocean policy framework during our public comment period throughout July.

Each generation has inherited an increasingly degraded ocean environment with the poorest, most vulnerable communities feeling the impacts the most severely. This is our opportunity to rewrite the long history of compromising our ocean.

Mark Haver and Marina Porto are Chair and Co-Chair respectively of the Youth Policy Advisory Council of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, the world’s largest youth-led network of ocean allies.

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‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ Discussion Highlights Risks to Women

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women’s Health

Nordic Talk moderator Katja Iversen shown here with Natasha Wang Mwansa, Emi Mahmoud, Dr Natalia Kanem and Flemming Møller Mortensen during a recent Nordic Talks webinar. Credit: Shuprova Tasneem

DHAKA and NEW YORK, Jun 4 2021 (IPS) – Every two minutes, a girl or woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, including unsafe abortions. Every year, around 12 million girls are married while in their childhoods. An additional 10 million are now at risk of child marriage due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


In this context, the most recent Nordic Talk—a high-level debate on bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as a cornerstone of gender equality, aptly titled “Let’s Talk About Sex” — could not have come at a better time.

Moderator Katja Iversen, Dane of the Year (2018) and former CEO of Women Deliver, kicked off the discussion by focusing on the close link between bodily autonomy, gender equality, economic growth, and a healthy planet.

In an exclusive interview with IPS, Iversen said it was clear that “bodily autonomy for girls and women—in all their rich diversity—is political, social, economic and health-related.”

Women needed to have power and agency over their “bodies, fertility, and future, living a life free of violence and coercion in both the private and public sphere. It ties into norms, structure, systems – and if we want equity and health for all, we need to address all of it.”

Emi Mahmoud, two-time World Champion Poet and Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR, set the tone for the Nordic Talk with her emotive poetry reflecting women’s experiences in patriarchal societies, asking: “What survivor hasn’t had her struggle made spectacle?”

The three other panellists agreed that the right to control their bodies was a fundamental aspect of women’s rights and that gender equality was an essential part of the sustainable development agenda.

As Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UNFPA, explained that “(women’s) freedom over her own body means freedom of choice”, and that all the data points towards how investment in SRHR could be the first step to empowering women to “ultimately contribute to sustainable development.”

It was critical that SRHR was adequately resourced – but warned these would be in short supply because of the COVID pandemic recovery plans.

“Part of the financing challenge is what we abbreviate as political will. It actually does not cost a lot for the agenda for SRHR to be a reality by 2030. It would take $26 billion a year to end the unmet need for contraception and to stop mothers dying at birth, many of whom were too young to be pregnant, but resources are going to be a challenge now with Covid having affected the world economies.”

While Flemming Møller Mortensen, Danish Minister for International and Nordic Development and Nordic Cooperation, expressed optimism regarding resources for SRHR now that “the US is back on track” and the global gag rule had been revoked. He was worried about a growing conservatism and pushback against women’s rights, particularly in the pandemic’s wake.

Iversen told IPS the cuts in various countries could be devastating.

“UNFPA estimates that with the $180 million the UK wants to withdraw from the Supplies Partnership, UNFPA could have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions. We will need foundations and other donor countries to step up, and we will need national government step up and step in and ensure that their national budgets reflect and fill the SRHR needs.”

She expressed concern that women on COVID-19 decision-making bodies were unrepresented.

“Less than 25% of national COVID-19 decision-making bodies have women included. It is too easy to cut resources from people who are not at the decision-making tables,” she said. “We urgently need to get a lot more women into leadership, including of the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. All evidence shows that when more women are included in decision-making, there is a more holistic approach and both societies and people fare better.”

This call for inclusivity, not just for women but for the youth, was strongly echoed by adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights expert Natasha Wang Mwansa.

“So many commitments have been made by so many countries, yet there is no meaningful progress or accountability, and young people are not involved when making these decisions,” Mwansa said. “Young people are here as partners, but we are also here to take charge. From making choices over our own bodies to choices on our national budgets, we are ready to be part of these decisions.”

To deal with challenges in providing access to SRHR, Kanem stressed the importance of gender-disaggregated data for planning. She added that despite the hurdles, she was hopeful about the future because “young people and women are not waiting to make the case and show solidarity and understanding when it comes to racism or issues of discrimination and equity that divide us.”

Iversen echoed this optimism in her IPS interview.

“It gives me hope that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services are included in the roadmap for Universal Health Coverage, in the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being, and latest in the Generation Equality Forum blueprint,” she said.

“Civil society has played a key role in ensuring this with good arguments, data and a lot of tenacity. But words in the big global documents about Health For All is one thing; gender equality and women’s rights, if it has to matter, it has to manifest in concrete action.”

The conversation rounded off with recommendations and commitments from the panellists: Mwansa stressed more investments in youth-run organisations and more social accountability from decision-makers; Mortensen asked for governments to be held accountable and for youth voices to be heard; and Kanem reaffirmed the UNFPA’s goal to put family planning in the hands of women as a means of empowerment, to end preventable deaths in pregnant women and girls, and change fundamental attitudes to end gender-based violence.

In her final comments to IPS, Iversen also stressed the importance of SRHR as a means of empowerment.

“Study after study shows that it pays to invest in girls, women and SRHR – socially, economically and health-wise. But we cannot look at SRHR alone; we need a full gender lens to the COVID response and recovery and development in general,” she said.

“And if we want to see positive change, we have to put girls and women front and centre of coronavirus response and recovery efforts, just as we, in general, need to see many more women in political and economic leadership.”

The Nordic Council of Ministers supports the Nordic Talks, and “Let’s Talk about Sex” was organised in partnership with UNFPA, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Generation Equality, the Danish Family Planning Association, and Mind your Business, as a lead up to the Paris Generation Equality Forum.

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CORRECTED VERSION: Struggle for the Future of Food

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Global Governance, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 10 2021 (IPS) – Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.


Longer term perspective
The recent joint report – by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – is ominous, to say the least.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

A Long Food Movement, principally authored by Pat Mooney with a team including IPES-Food Director Nick Jacobs, analyses how food systems are likely to evolve over the next quarter century with technological and other changes.

The report notes that ‘hi-tech’, data processing and asset management corporations have joined established agribusinesses in reshaping world food supply chains.

If current trends continue, the food system will be increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations (TNCs) at the expense of billions of farmers and consumers.

Big Ag weds Big Data
The Davos World Economic Forum’s (WEF) much touted ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (IR4.0), promoting digitisation, is transforming food systems, accelerating concentration in corporate hands.

New apps enable better tracking across supply chains, while ‘precision farming’ now includes using drones to spray pesticides on targeted crops, reducing inputs and, potentially, farming costs. Agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use.

Digital giants are working with other TNCs to extend enabling ‘cloud computing’ infrastructure. Spreading as quickly as the infrastructure allows, new ‘digital ag’ technologies have been displacing farm labour.

Meanwhile, food data have become more commercially valuable, e.g., to meet consumer demand, Big Ag profits have also grown by creating ‘new needs’. Big data are already being used to manipulate consumer preferences.

With the pandemic, e-retail and food delivery services have grown even faster. Thus, e-commerce platforms have quickly become the world’s top retailers.

New ‘digital ag’ technologies are also undermining diverse, ecologically more appropriate food agriculture in favour of unsustainable monocropping. The threat is great as family farms still feed more than two-thirds of the world’s population.

IR4.0 not benign
Meanwhile, hi-tech and asset management firms have acquired significant shareholdings in food giants. Powerful conglomerates are integrating different business lines, increasing concentration while invoking competition and ‘creative disruption’.

The IPES-ETC study highlights new threats to farming and food security as IR4.0 proponents exert increasing influence. The report warns that giving Big Ag the ‘keys of the food system’ worsens food insecurity and other existential threats.

Powerful corporations will increase control of most world food supplies. Big Ag controlled supply chains will also be more vulnerable as great power rivalry and competition continue to displace multilateral cooperation.

There is no alternative?
But the report also presents a more optimistic vision for the next quarter century. In this alternative scenario, collaborative efforts, from the grassroots to the global level, empower social movements and civil society to resist.

New technologies are part of this vision, from small-scale drones for field monitoring to consumer apps for food safety and nutrient verification. But they would be cooperatively owned, open access and well regulated.

The report includes pragmatic strategies to cut three quarters of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift US$4 trillion from Big Ag to agroecology and food sovereignty. These include “$720 billion in subsidies” and “$1.6 trillion in healthcare savings” due to malnutrition.

IPES-ETC also recommends taxing junk food, toxins, carbon emissions and TNC profits. It also urges criminal prosecution of those responsible for famine, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Food security protocols are needed to supercede trade and intellectual property law, and not only for emergencies. But with food systems under growing stress, Big Ag solutions have proved attractive to worried policymakers who see no other way out.

Last chance to change course
Historically, natural resources were commonly or publicly shared. Water and land have long been sustainably used by farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists. But market value has grown with ‘property rights’, especially with corporate acquisition.

Touted as the best means to achieve food security, corporate investments in recent decades have instead undermined remaining ‘traditional’ agrarian ecosystems.

Big Ag claims that the food, ecological and climate crises has to be addressed with its superior new technologies harnessing the finance, entrepreneurship and innovation only they can offer.

But in fact, they have failed, instead triggering more problems in their pursuit of profit. As the new food system and corporate trends consolidate, it will become increasingly difficult to change course. Very timely, A Long Food Movement is an urgent call to action for the long haul.

Food systems summit
According to Marchmont Communications, “writing on behalf of the UN Food Systems Summit secretariat”, the “Summit was originally announced on 16 October 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and was conceived following conversations with the joint leadership of the three Rome-based United Nations agencies…at the High-level Political Forum in July 2019”.

On 12 June 2019, ‘Inspiration Speaker’ David Nabarro announced to the annual EAT Stockholm conference that a World Food Systems Summit (WFSS) would be held in 2021. The following day, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Office of the UN Secretary-General.

It stirred up so much controversy that the MOU was later removed from the website of the WEF, hardly reputed for its modesty. Unsurprisingly, many believe that the WEF “pressed the Summit onto a reluctant UN Secretary-General”, and can be traced to its Food Systems Initiative.

Apparently, initial arrangements had bypassed the Rome-based UN food agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme. Their heads were then consulted and brought on board in July 2019.

With so much at stake, representatives of food producers and consumers need to act urgently to prevent governments from allowing a UN sanctioned corporate takeover of global governance of food systems.

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Struggle for the Future of Food

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Global Governance, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 27 2021 (IPS) – Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.

Longer term perspective
The recent joint report – by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – is ominous, to say the least.


Jomo Kwame Sundaram

A Long Food Movement, principally authored by Pat Mooney with a team including IPES-Food Director Nick Jacobs, analyses how food systems are likely to evolve over the next quarter century with technological and other changes.

The report notes that ‘hi-tech’, data processing and asset management corporations have joined established agribusinesses in reshaping world food supply chains.

If current trends continue, the food system will be increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations (TNCs) at the expense of billions of farmers and consumers.

Big Ag weds Big Data
The Davos World Economic Forum’s (WEF) much touted ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (IR4.0), promoting digitisation, is transforming food systems, accelerating concentration in corporate hands.

New apps enable better tracking across supply chains, while ‘precision farming’ now includes using drones to spray pesticides on targeted crops, reducing inputs and, potentially, farming costs. Agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use.

Digital giants are working with other TNCs to extend enabling ‘cloud computing’ infrastructure. Spreading as quickly as the infrastructure allows, new ‘digital ag’ technologies have been displacing farm labour.

Meanwhile, food data have become more commercially valuable, e.g., to meet consumer demand, Big Ag profits have also grown by creating ‘new needs’. Big data are already being used to manipulate consumer preferences.

With the pandemic, e-retail and food delivery services have grown even faster. Thus, e-commerce platforms have quickly become the world’s top retailers.

New ‘digital ag’ technologies are also undermining diverse, ecologically more appropriate food agriculture in favour of unsustainable monocropping. The threat is great as family farms still feed more than two-thirds of the world’s population.

IR4.0 not benign
Meanwhile, hi-tech and asset management firms have acquired significant shareholdings in food giants. Powerful conglomerates are integrating different business lines, increasing concentration while invoking competition and ‘creative disruption’.

The IPES-ETC study highlights new threats to farming and food security as IR4.0 proponents exert increasing influence. The report warns that giving Big Ag the ‘keys of the food system’ worsens food insecurity and other existential threats.

Powerful corporations will increase control of most world food supplies. Big Ag controlled supply chains will also be more vulnerable as great power rivalry and competition continue to displace multilateral cooperation.

There is no alternative?
But the report also presents a more optimistic vision for the next quarter century. In this alternative scenario, collaborative efforts, from the grassroots to the global level, empower social movements and civil society to resist.

New technologies are part of this vision, from small-scale drones for field monitoring to consumer apps for food safety and nutrient verification. But they would be cooperatively owned, open access and well regulated.

The report includes pragmatic strategies to cut three quarters of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift US$4 trillion from Big Ag to agroecology and food sovereignty. These include “$720 billion in subsidies” and “$1.6 trillion in healthcare savings” due to malnutrition.

IPES-ETC also recommends taxing junk food, toxins, carbon emissions and TNC profits. It also urges criminal prosecution of those responsible for famine, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Food security protocols are needed to supercede trade and intellectual property law, and not only for emergencies. But with food systems under growing stress, Big Ag solutions have proved attractive to worried policymakers who see no other way out.

Last chance to change course
Historically, natural resources were commonly or publicly shared. Water and land have long been sustainably used by farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists. But market value has grown with ‘property rights’, especially with corporate acquisition.

Touted as the best means to achieve food security, corporate investments in recent decades have instead undermined remaining ‘traditional’ agrarian ecosystems.

Big Ag claims that the food, ecological and climate crises has to be addressed with its superior new technologies harnessing the finance, entrepreneurship and innovation only they can offer.

But in fact, they have failed, instead triggering more problems in their pursuit of profit. As the new food system and corporate trends consolidate, it will become increasingly difficult to change course.

Proposed by the WEF, the UN Secretary-General’s Food Systems Summit later this year clearly seeks to promote corporate ‘solutions’. Very timely, A Long Food Movement is an urgent call to action for the long haul.

With so much at stake, representatives of food producers and consumers need to act urgently to prevent governments from allowing a UN sanctioned corporate takeover of global governance of food systems.

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