Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cut greenhouse emissions not food supplies

The plea of Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions echoed across the planet as he launched a book on  "Paradise Drowning"  at the UN-backed Business for the Environment conference. The book whose title was chosen by the President himself indicates the desperate attempts by many leaders around the planet to instil in us the need to address the issue in a urgent manner.

Before the islands sink, the world will face a lot more crises and the worst is yet to come. Few months ago I looked at a number of tipping points and none of them really looked at the present food crisis. Is it climate related, or are we trying to find a good reason to jump on the 'climate change bashing' bandwagon?

The United Nations thinks it is linked and has set up a specific task-force on food security. In June 2008 the Food and Agricultural Organisation is calling for a high-level meeting to address the issue of food security in the light of climate change. Naturally climate change is not the only factor driving the current food crisis, but it is an important and relevant factor.

A few years ago a seasoned economist told me that Seychelles would not need to produce its own food anymore as these can be produced much cheaply elsewhere. I responded by saying once climate change hits 'elsewhere', where will Seychelles import its food? Unfortunately, I spoke too soon. Food production is a necessity for every nation and the current crisis illustrates my point. The days of cheap food are certainly over and nations of world are each turning to their own borders to ensure food security by imposing export bans or high export taxes.

Our inability to cut greenhouse gases through direct policies aimed at increasing efficiency, conversion to renewables  and technology transfer in the industry and transport sector has created subsidised markets for energy sources which have close substitutability with food. These include potential food sources which are now being converted into bio-fuels. Furthermore increase drought or flooding, direct result of climate change, continues to place pressure on global food production.

In small islands the effects may not be clearly understood, but the food crises combined with the price of fuel which today has reached over USD 120 a barrel, has also increased transportation costs of food. Since small islands consume much lower amounts of food, the disproportionate cost of transportation, distance from major food distribution routes and relatively weak bargaining power results in much higher prices. Furthermore increased coastal erosion, intrusion of seawater as a result of sea level rise into coastal agricultural land further weakens the ability of small islands to bolster their national food security. Islands may not face the same issues as poverty-struck areas, but they would certainly be severely affected which may lead to malnutrition and other health problems.

By refusing to implement emissions reductions and lifecycle approaches to the bio-fuel markets, developed nations have delivered yet another blow to small island nations - successfully cut food supplies - despite making bold commitments to reverse poverty through the Millennium Development goals.

So lets cut emissions -not food supplies-the health of our nation and our children depends on it.