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Hint: To fix climate & ag, consult farmers first

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman's picture
Marcia Ishii-Eiteman
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Several of my friends have just returned from The Hague, Netherlands, where they joined nearly 1,000 people from 80 countries in a Global Conference on Climate, Agriculture and Food Security. With the planet on the precipice of climate chaos and nearly a billion people hungry, the stakes in finding genuine solutions could not be higher. And with only three weeks left til the UN Conference on Climate in Cancun, the Hague meeting had the potential to do something really useful. Like champion a global transition to climate-resilient ecological agriculture, with enough financial and policy support to enable farmers around the world to adapt to and survive the stresses of climate change. Alas, it did not.

In the run-up to the Hague conference, PAN joined over 100 civil society groups in urging conference organizers to address the lack of transparency and democratic participation in the conference planning process. The warning went unheeded.

Instead, at the end of the week, a “Roadmap for Action” was rolled out, and participants were exorted by the Conference Chair to organize their efforts around it. Civil society groups immediately and firmly rejected the Roadmap, declaring:

Those most impacted by climate change and whose livelihoods are most at risk, in particular small-scale farmers, indigenous people and women especially from developing countries, have not been present, or consulted, nor have genuinely participated in this process.... The "roadmap for action" drafted by a few cannot be claimed to have been "collectively developed," even by those present at the Conference.

Business as usual

Ultimately, lack of legitimacy and inclusiveness undermined the event, and should serve as a lesson to future global processes. To be sure, some interesting examples of ecologically viable solutions such as community-based agroforestry were highlighted. Alongside these were more controversial financial “solutions” such as carbon markets—widely rejected by climate justice and other social movements as a way for rich countries to buy their way out of their obligations to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. What resulted was a hodge podge of random and sometimes conflicting initiatives and proposals. 

I've been more struck by what was apparently not addressed: the negative impacts of our corporate-controlled, industrial agricultural system on climate, food and livelihood security; how power and influence continue to privilege a resource-extractive agricultural growth development model at great cost to social equity and the environment; the responsibility and obligations of governments to control both public and private sector actors whose actions and institutions are destroying the basic ecosystem functions on which our survival depends. This blind, ahistorical approach was reflected in the Chair’s roadmap that described today's problems in purely biophysical terms, avoiding any mention of the political, institutional and financial drivers of climate change.

Janice Jiggins, guest researcher at Wageningen University and a lead author of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, confirmed my suspicion: “It seems that none of the ‘hard challenges’ of moving on from ‘business as usual’ are emerging in the plenary.” The unpalatable truth, she explains, is this: “We cannot mitigate, adapt, or develop so long as we keep in place the current economic and financial drivers that have brought us to this point. Until there is broader acceptance of this fact, there is no future except political chaos and biological and ecological tipping points, that will make everyone's life less secure and more miserable.”

So the Hague was a bust. What about Cancun?

“The U.S. approach to Cancun," warns the International Forum on Globalization, "would put the world on an emissions pathway to increase global average temperatures more than double what scientists say we must stay below if we are to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system.”  Knowing this, those of us living in the U.S. cannot simply throw up our hands in despair. We too have an obligation—to vociferously challenge our government's agenda, and join social movements like La Via Campesina in fighting for genuine climate justice.  

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