UNFCCC: Don’t trade off climate!

Food sovereignty can cool down the earth!

Via Campesina position on UNFCCC (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change)

Small-farmers and peasant communities are among the first victims of climate change. Everywhere, in our fields, amongst the plants we cultivate and the animals we raise, the consequences of climate change are palpable. Yet, this is nothing new. Already back in the 1970s, African farmers started to suffer the consequences of desertification and a radical change in the seasons. Since then, many of us have suffered hurricanes, large-scale floods, shortening of the wet season and plant and animal diseases caused by unusual temperatures. Small-scale farmers and peasants have adapted their way of living and farming in order to withstand these changes. For example, they have chosen seeds from varieties that grow more quickly or resist dryness, they have developed water management systems to deal with floods and to keep soils humid during the dry season. Most of the time, they have done it so successfully that it has gone unnoticed. The attention of the mass media was only brought to the long-term crisis faced by farming communities and the critical situation of food production in the globalized economy by the food price crisis in Spring 2008 and riots in cities that threatened national governments.

Corporate « solutions » to climate change are a threat to peasants and small farmers

However, it seems that farming communities are more threatened now by the so-called solutions to climate change promoted by corporate interests, G8 countries, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank, than by climate change in itself. Industrial agrofuels, climate-ready seeds, fertilization of oceans and carbon-trading schemes, both deepen and widen the privatization of all natural resources on Earth and thus exclude local communities from access to those resources which where once called the Commons: land, water, seeds and now, perhaps, even the air we breathe.

Many of these “solutions” are, in fact, linked more to the problem of shortage of fossil fuel than with fighting climate change. One of the explicit goals of COP is now also to « secure long term energy supply ». Agrofuels illustrate this problem well. While they are supposedly developed to diminish carbon emissions linked to fossil fuels, their main goal is to replace fossil fuels and to allow increasing energy consumption to continue at the global level, to the benefit of corporate interests.

The neo-liberal solutions to climate change and the shortage of fossil fuel supplies make it increasingly difficult for small-scale farmers and peasants to make a living from agriculture. All over the world, land is being taken away from local food producers by transnational corporations to grow agrofuels. All over the world, seed giants widen their intellectual property rights agenda to forbid peasants to reproduce their own seeds, the only varieties that can effectively adapt to changing climatic conditions. The seed giants impose patented hybrid and GM seeds. The aggressive free-trade agenda, promoted by Japan, the US and the EU through bilateral agreements, takes food markets out of the hands of local communities to ensure their by financial interests, the agro-industry and the retailing sector. Farmers are unable to make a living out of their work even though they produce sufficient food in an efficient manner, because of the aggressive take-over by corporate-interests of all natural resources and their control over markets. Indeed, this year’s food crisis has shown that no food shortage was responsible for rocketing food prices, but that rather this was due largely to financial speculation on commodity markets.

More generally, the solutions advocated by neo-liberal governments and institutions are all based on placing the costs of adjustment policies to climate change on the shoulders of the poor. On the one hand they promote « green » consumption for the rich, enabling them to dismiss their responsibility for climate change and, on the other, they prevent the poor from accessing basic necessities by increasing the prices of basic commodities (while rich Europeans and Americans are acclaimed for buying CO2 efficient cars, the price of cooking oil in the South has become so expensive that most of the people can't afford it anymore). Climate change has become a new pretext for exploitation of the poorest while an ever smaller elite can enjoy business as usual.

The destruction of sustainable family farming is one of the main causes of climate change

Massive rural exodus is one consequence of these policies. In Europe and in the United States, where almost all common goods have been privatized and where small farmers face harsh competition from highly subsidized industrial agriculture, less than 5% of the population is still engaged in farming. Everywhere in the world, small farmers and peasants are trapped between dependency on expensive seeds, inputs, and pesticides that they must buy from industry and the low prices they receive for their products. Peasants are being forced to leave the countryside and join the misery of urban shantytowns. Of the six billion inhabitants on Earth, three are now urban, including one billion that live in slums. Experts predict that soon the majority of urban people will live in shantytowns.

This rural exodus is one of the biggest threats to climate stability. Indeed, while small-scale family farming cools down the Earth, the industrial model of production and consumption that replaces it multiplies carbon emissions. Over the last 150 years, the industrialization of agriculture has meant replacing people's energy – men and women's work as farmers and peasants – by the energy of fossil fuel: tractors, fertilizers, the specialization of production and development of monocultures which requires long-distance transports of food and animal feed. This has meant replacing a model of production which was keeping great quantities of carbon in the soil by taking care of humus, by a system which uses four times more calories in fossil fuel than it is able to produce as food.

UNFCCC should recognize the failures of the Kyoto Protocol and adopt a radically new agenda of negotiation

The Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997 and has been in force since 2005, has already proved to be a failure. As discussions start for its revision before it expires in 2012, governments and international institutions should recognize that the solution they proposed, namely emission-trading mechanisms, has had no effect in stopping climate change. Since 1997, global CO2 emissions have exceeded the worst projection undertaken by the climate experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If the UNFCCC and governments want to take the grave issue of climate change seriously, must discuss the real causes of climate change. They have to start recognizing their mistakes and failures and start an open public debate with all movements from civil society to tackle the real root of climate change: the corporate-based, greedy model of development and its spread all over the world.

In order to achieve this, the agenda of climate negotiations should be radically changed. It should include the following topics of discussion:

  • the impact of trade on carbon emissions and how to re-localize economies;

  • the impact of industrialized agriculture on climate and how to support small-scale family farming and agro-ecological models of production;

  • strategies to implement food sovereignty;

  • strategies to keep fossil fuels in the soil, to radically reduce energy consumption, and to develop locally-controlled renewable energies;

  • strategies to ensure fair access to the commons, specifically through agrarian reform and renationalization of water supplies;

  • strategies to end plundering of the Global South’s resources by the Global North as it has done since colonial times.

Unless such an agenda is discussed in the UNFCCC, instead of discussing emission trading mechanisms as planned, it is clear it will not have any positive effect on the climate catastrophe.

UNFCCC: tackle the real roots of climate change or sink

UNFCCC's mandate is to deal with climate change in a serious manner, not to pave the way for another wave of green capitalism to the benefit of corporations. Unless it deals with this mandate in a serious manner it will be useless or even have negative impacts, as it prompts people to believe that governments are dealing with climate change when they are not. The Bali summit has set a bad precedent of corporate take-over of the negotiations.

UNFCCC’s next meetings, in Poznan in December 2008 (COP14) and in Copenhagen in December, 2009 (COP15) will be decisive.

La Via Campesina calls on UNFCCC and on governments not to wait to decide on another agenda of discussion already for Poznan. People and social movements will judge by whether or not UNFCCC is relevant to tackle climate change and thus whether UNFCCC is legitimate or not according to the results of COP14.

We are committed to work with our allies in Poznan, Copenhagen and throughout the year, all over the world, to denounce false solutions to climate change and to build real alternatives at the local, national and international levels based on food sovereignty and peasant agriculture.