As candidates jostle to head the United Nations’ multibillion dollar food agency, experts called on Thursday for a strong leader to tackling rising hunger and climate change threats.
Levels of hunger have grown for the past three years, with one in nine people — or 821 million — worldwide without enough to eat, due to drought, floods, conflict and economic slowdowns, U.N. figures show.
“We don’t see improvement in terms of poverty and hunger. What we see is degradation and resources that would be lost for future generations. So there’s an emergency,” said Frederic Mousseau, a food policy expert at U.S.-based Oakland Institute.
“Agriculture and the way we produce our food and the way we consume our food has to have a major solution. That’s the key challenge for the new director.”
The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a budget of $2.6 billion for 2018 and 2019, employs nearly 6,000 people and works in more than 130 countries with governments to reduce rural poverty and hunger.
The four contenders include a European Union-backed French agronomist, who could become the FAO’s first female head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and an agriculture vice-minister from China, whose global influence is on the rise.
Georgia and India have also fielded candidates for the June vote by delegates from the FAO’s 194 member states.
“There is very much at stake in an election like this,” said Mousseau, adding that governments are under constant pressure “to expand the corporate-driven model of agriculture that is polluting and unsustainable”.
“We need someone strong enough at the FAO to stand against that and to be able to propose a different path which is about farmers and sustainability,” he added.
Rising populism and nationalism
The elections come at a time of rising populism and nationalism with major powers cutting aid budgets, including the United States — FAO’s largest funder.
The current director-general Jose Graziano da Silva, architect of Brazil’s landmark Zero Hunger program, has overseen a drive to push through ambitious internal reforms. His predecessor, Jacques Diouf, served an 18-year term amid donor criticism about inefficiencies.
Times have changed since FAO was founded in 1945, when hunger was the main concern, said Patrick Caron, chairman of the U.N. High-level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition.
“Food security is no longer only a question of food supply but also of nutrition,” he said, as limited progress is being made to tackle malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity.
“Now is time for a new deal … We absolutely need a huge transformation of our food systems.”
France’s Catherine Geslain-Laneelle said her priorities would include boosting sustainable agricultural output to keep pace with population growth, building farmers’ resilience to climate change and creating jobs for young rural Africans.
The former head of the European Food Safety Authority also said she was keen to support women farmers.
“Although they are present everywhere in the food system, sometimes women have difficulties to access land, to water, to the forums where decisions are made,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Davit Kirvalidze, former agricultural minister in Georgia said his experience growing potatoes during the difficult period when Georgia emerged from Soviet rule gave him an insight into the needs of farmers, “especially in times of trouble.”
“Not only did I manage to feed my family but also eventually my community,” said Kirvalidze, who also sits on the board of Washington-based non-profit Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture and advises Georgia’s prime minister.
Representatives from the embassies of India and China did not respond to requests to interview their candidates. (VOA)
Does fighting climate change mean wrecking the economy?
That’s the question my editor posed to me about a year ago. It has been the focus of my reporting ever since.
The rhetoric from climate change skeptics suggests it would. President Donald Trump has made canceling Obama-era greenhouse gas regulations a central part of his tenure. Economic rationales are always front and center.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates say they will create millions of jobs by transforming the energy system to carbon-free sources.
Job killer or job creator? Leaving aside for the moment the fact that climate change is already imposing enormous costs that are only becoming worse, I went looking for answers in Massachusetts, Wyoming and Colorado.
Here’s some of what I learned. It’s not simple. And much remains to be seen.
1. Where steps have been taken, the economy has kept growing.
Take Massachusetts, for example. The Bay State passed the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008, calling for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2050. Massachusetts requires power plants to pay for their carbon dioxide emissions. The state was among the first to require power companies to generate a certain portion of their electricity from renewable sources. The government offers rebates and incentives for renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and more.
Greenhouse gas emissions have come down by 17% from 2008 to 2017 in the state.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts’ economy has continued to grow. The state’s total output went up by 19% in that period, outperforming U.S. economic expansion as a whole by 3% in that time frame.
Employment went up in Massachusetts by 9%. The state has invested in growing a clean-energy economy. Jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency and related areas have grown by 86% since 2010 and now make up more than 3% of the state’s workforce.
It’s hard to know, though, to what extent the state’s climate policies were responsible for either the greenhouse gas reductions or economic growth. From 2008 to 2017, carbon emissions went down in every state but six: Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Mississippi, Texas and Washington. GDP shrank in just four states: Connecticut, Louisiana, Nevada and Wyoming.
That’s largely because cutting carbon has become much easier to do with the rise of natural gas and renewable power.
2. Some of the most significant greenhouse gas reductions have happened not because of state policies but because of dramatic shifts in energy markets.
The biggest factor lowering carbon dioxide emissions nationwide is that natural gas has replaced coal as the main fuel for electric power plants.
Burning natural gas generates the same amount of energy with half the carbon dioxide emissions as coal. The price of natural gas has plunged as drilling technology has made the United States the world’s leading producer. That has helped drive a wave of fuel-switching at power plants across the United States. Coal generation fell 40% from 2008 to 2017, while natural gas climbed 47%.
Renewable energy is growing quickly, but it still makes up a small portion of the power supply. Wind generated just 6.5% of the nation’s electricity last year. Solar produced 2.2%.
Wind and solar are starting to give fossil fuels serious competition, though. After dramatic cost declines over the last decade, these sources are now significantly cheaper than coal and often cheaper than natural gas, even without subsidies.
They need to replace fossil fuel generation much faster, however, in order to take a serious bite out of emissions.
3. Some good jobs are going away. Dealing with the changes is not easy.
Powering the nation is not the job it used to be. Coal once generated more than half the nation’s electricity. Coal mines and power plants are mostly unionized. The jobs pay well and provide good benefits for workers without a higher education.
Coal mining, however, employs 42% fewer workers than in 2011. More than 300 coal-burning power plants have closed or are slated to be shuttered.
There are growing opportunities in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The solar industry employed 242,000 people in 2018, for example, about 45,000 more than the coal industry.
The jobs are not equivalent. Many solar installation jobs are not unionized, don’t pay as well and have fewer benefits than those for people working at coal plants. And a solar farm doesn’t need many workers once it’s built, while a coal plant can steadily employ hundreds.
Workers hurt by the energy transition are a small part of the overall economy. But coal mines and power plants tend to be in rural areas without much else in the way of industry. When these jobs go away, the pain is localized but intense.
Some policymakers are trying to blunt the impacts. Last year, Colorado was one of several states that passed laws aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and included provisions for a “just transition” — job retraining, economic development aid and other measures to help workers and communities find a life after fossil fuels.
4. No one is doing enough.
The plunge in coal-fired power helped the United States cut its emissions by an estimated 2.1% in 2018. Since 2005, emissions are down 12.3%.
But the United States pledged to cut greenhouse gases at least 26% by 2025 under the U.N. Paris climate agreement. Emissions must go down by 2.8% per year on average to hit that target. It’s not impossible, experts say, but it’s a stretch.
The Trump administration is moving policy in the opposite direction, aiming to weaken fuel economy standards for vehicles, approving construction of a new oil pipeline from Canada and vowing to shore up America’s coal industry.
Meeting the Paris pledge is not enough, however. Scientists say the world needs to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050 to stave off a climate disaster. Almost no one is on track to do so.
Unless cost-effective carbon capture technology appears soon, natural gas will have to go. Transportation, the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gases, will have to go electric (or hydrogen or biofuel) much, much faster than it is. And someone will have to figure out what to do about emissions from energy-intensive industries like glass, steel, aluminum and concrete.