ActionAid International
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: ActionAid International
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Water (8 hits),

Full Submission

ActionAid International

Submission to UNCSD 2012 (Rio+20)


Many developing countries suffer from increasingly unstable environments with severe consequences for their people. Loss of biological diversity, natural resources and areas fit for human habitation would be huge challenges for even the most developed countries. But challenges are even greater when countries are confronted with the simultaneous tasks of climate change, improving governance, strengthening national application of human rights, ensuring growth and reducing inequality.

Almost 20 years after the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio (ECO 92), the world is facing an unprecedented intersection of crisis in: energy, climate, food and finance. The crises are interlinked and caused by the current and dominating model of development. From production to consumption, populations are using more natural resources and consuming more, at an exponential rate. At the same time, climate change is putting additional strain on natural resources such as Water and arable land. The rush to increase biofuels production has further linked food and fuel crises, putting increased pressure on land and agricultural resources without realizing the promised environmental gain. And the continuous rise of the world?s population, which has reached 7 billion, will increase the strain on our natural resources.

Within this context, the United Nations has decided to host another UNCSD, in 2012, to rethink the model of development and to propose new ways to transform our economy into a more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Some have called this the ?green economy?. UNCSD also searches for a new and better institutional framework, in which countries can continue the debate how best ensure a just and equitable transition to this green economy.

ActionAid believes that the UNCSD presents a new opportunity to evaluate the actions and policies that have led to the intersecting crisis. Through its work on the ground with local communities around the world, and particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, ActionAid has seen how the increasing promotion of export-oriented industrial agriculture, the use of agrochemicals inputs, new technologies without proper impact analysis, human induced climate change, and the use of large amounts of land and natural resources have contributed to inequality, poverty and hunger and has increased soil degradation and harmed our environment. Moreover, the lack of investment in smallholder farming, in particular, women smallholder farmers together with weak social protection policies, diminishes countries? possibility to develop a sustainable and equitable model of production.

Women pay a high price in our current model of ?development.? Women farmers have little or no access to land, credit, agricultural research or extension and are often excluded from cooperatives. Access to financial services including social transfers in the case of marginal farmers and loans and credit for smallholder farmers is essential so that they can pay for inputs, improve farming and develop small business enterprises to empower themselves economically.

8 out of 10 of the world's smallholder farmers are women and it is these farmers who produce half the world?s food. In Africa, this rises to as much as 80%. Women smallholder farmers play a key role in feeding 2 billion people. Also sustainable agriculture based on smallholder farming not only provides more employment it also increases productivity, without degrading the natural resources it is based on.

Climate change, as mentioned above, is creating further stresses on food and Water supply while degrading our environment. According to the IPCC, in some countries in Africa, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020 as a result of climate change; scientists estimate that already global production of key staples, such as wheat and corn, has fallen by 3.8 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively over the last three decades, as a result of climate change; and 75-250 million people across Africa could face more severe Water shortages by 2020. Tragically, while industrialized nations are largely responsible for the current human induced climate change, it is poor countries and communities who are suffering the most from its impacts. A transition to a green economy will require, in part, a transition away from fossil fuels to truly clean and renewable energy, and a just transition is only possibly by providing adequate financial and technical support to developing nations and communities to help make this transition in a sustainable manner.

ActionAid sees Rio+20 as an opportunity to demand real national actions and international commitments that actually does eradicate hunger and poverty, and saves the environment.

The Rio+20 Conference will focus on two themes: a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Green Economy

According to the UN, the Green Economy can be defined as one that results in improved well- being due to a greater concern for social equity, environmental risks and scarcity of natural resources. However, the concept is still in discussion within the different Parties. There are four aspects of the green economy:

one addresses this issue through the analysis of market failures,

another has a systemic view of the economic structure and its impact on the relevant aspects of sustainable development,

a third is focused on social goal (employment, for instance) and examines policies necessary to reconcile social objectives with other objectives of economic policy,

and fourth with respect to macroeconomic and development strategy with the aim of identifying dynamic path to sustainable development.

There have been discussions and proposals for a Green New Deal or a new set of sustainable goals, in order to increase countries? wealth by reducing environmental risks and to drive growth with new forms of eco-efficiency and new clean technologies, directing the flow of capital to low carbon sectors. Instead of tackling the real causes of unsustainability, this debate may lead to false solutions.

For example, a rush towards large scale use of biofuels without adequate research into their social and environmental impacts has led to increased food prices and in many cases failed to deliver the promised reduction in greenhouse gases.

A transition to a green economy must include the transition to truly clean and renewable energy, but must also be based on a more sustainable model of production and consumption. Sustainable agriculture, especially agroecology, must take a central role in the discussions.

Institutional Framework

The Institutional framework relates to a system of international governance for sustainable development, for example, global institutions responsible for developing, monitoring and implementing policies on sustainable development around the three pillars: social, environmental and economic. A deep analysis shows that the current system has some flaws, such as the lack of a legally binding mandate on the institutions that deal with the matter. UNEP (United Nations Environment) has the status of the program, has no authority within the UN system, and the mandate of the Commission on Sustainable Development overrides the UNEP, which culminates in a competition between instances instead of collaboration.

This issue must be addressed taking into account the profound changes in the international system, where different interests besides governments, such as corporate are in place. This is essential to stop the privatization of these processes to enlarge the debate and to include the interests and rights of ordinary citizens.

ActionAid recommendations for the outcome document

Rio+20 will be an important opportunity for:

Transforming the current hegemonic production model into a climate resilient sustainable agriculture model. In other words this means a transition to a new model;

Ensure that technologically driven approaches are rigorously tested before implementation. The use of genetically modified organisms, geo-engineering and other technologies should be delayed until we have a full analysis of their social and environmental impacts

Ending the commodification of natural resources, such as Water, soil and biomass.

Better soils and a more fair distribution of lands and wealth.

Ending mandates for unsustainable biofuels.

1. Transforming the current hegemonic production model into a climate resilient sustainable agriculture model

ActionAid believes that climate resilient sustainable agriculture offers an efficient and real solution to combat poverty while at the same producing few greenhouse gas emissions (as compared to conventional agriculture, which contributes roughly a third of all GHG emissions) serving as a power tool for adaptation to climate variability.

Climate resilient sustainable agriculture integrates several goals including environmental management, farm profitability, and the prosperity of communities. It refers to the ability of farms to produce food indefinitely, without damaging soils and ecosystems, or human and social capital.

Climate resilient sustainable agriculture encompasses approaches such as agro-ecology, low external input, agroforestry, organic agriculture, integrated crop and Water harvesting in dry land areas. It also can mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration and offers a genuinely low GHG emission alternative.

Conclusions from the UN agricultural panel, IAASTD, are very clear. The problems facing the global food supply are enormous; therefore "business as usual is not an option." In a world heading towards 9 billion people the solution for the enormous challenges lies in, what the IAASTD calls, "agro-ecological multifunctional agriculture", i.e. agriculture based on organic methods (though without necessarily being subject to organic certification). Unlike industrial agriculture, climate resilient sustainable agriculture can simultaneously reduce agricultural GHG, make food supplies more resistant to climate change, improve soil and Water resources, and feed a world in 2050 of 9 billion people without agriculture occupying even more land.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concludes in a new report that ??agroecology, if sufficiently supported, can double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty. The report therefore calls States for a fundamental shift towards agro-ecology as a way for countries to feed themselves while addressing climate- and poverty challenges. "

A fundamental shift to climate resilient sustainable agricultural practices, according to De Schutter, would help to eradicate poverty and hunger, and to stimulate inclusive and broad based economic growth, since growth in agriculture is known to be more effective to generate growth in other sectors as well as providing increased yields per hectare, because climate resilient sustainable agricultural practices are based on local seed corn and traditional farming methods, which provide ample opportunities for local communities to grow themselves out of hunger. Additionally, it is essential to find ways to link smallholder farmers with the growing urban population so that they can gain access to healthy, nutritious food.

Bearing this in mind, ActionAid calls for:

Public investment to strengthen sustainable agriculture and to facilitate this transition process through exchange of experiences between smallholder farmers, for example, especially women and youth.

Building and strengthening public policies and laws to support sustainable agriculture.

Securing poor women farmers? access to and control over land.

Appropriate extension services and training, building staff capacity on climate resilient sustainable agricultural methods and technologies.

Additional public finance, through innovative mechanisms, to help smallholders build resilience in the face of climate change.

2. Interrupting the use of new technologies, such as GMO`s , until we have an analysis of their social and environmental impacts

During the end of the last century and the beginning of this XXI century, a massive concentration of corporate power has taken place. Unprepared, the UN has lost its capacity to track technologies and to monitor the transnational corporations who own and/or control them. Just after the first Rio Earth Summit, governments abandoned the ability to advice on the cost, safety, and utility of different technology options, with failure or surrendering of both UN Centre for Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD), and the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations (UNCTC). So, there was no intergovernmental capacity to identify trends among the world?s largest private enterprises (although UNFCCC is discussing the creation of technology Centre and Network, but without taking this issue too much into account). In other words, on the eve of the biotechnology and genomic revolutions the international community is still very far to start this debate and it has been pushed away from the process.

There is no certain knowledge on how GMO`s, specially terminator seeds, and other new technologies produced by geo-engineering can affect the environment and the health of populations.

ActionAid believes the world should adopt a precautionary approach and have a moratorium on this kind of technology until there is enough scientific proof that there is no negative impact of using GMO seeds, or using geo-engineering and nanotechnologies.

By doing this the international community would live up to one of the central principles they agreed to at the last Rio conference in 1992. Principle 15 states the precautionary approach in order to protect the environment: ?where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.?

3. Ending the commodification of natural resources, such as Water and soil

Commodification of Water and soil has been presented as a solution to climate issues; but it is a false solution. This mechanism diverts attention from the real problem, which is the need to build a new development model.

ActionAid believes that the Rio+20 should resist the commodification and commercialization of nature and all offset markets that would include agriculture and soil carbon sequestration in the carbon market. Such market-based mechanisms do not address the root causes of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture but tend to provide perverse incentives to polluters and benefit the emitters.

Instead of market-based financing mechanism, developed countries must commit to new and innovative sources of public finance (via the UNFCCC), such as a tiny tax on the financial speculation, tax on shipping fuel or airline tickets, redirection of fossil fuel subsidies, or use of Special Drawing Rights.

4. Better soil and a more fair distribution of land and wealth

The current productive model contributes to land and wealth concentration. There is growing international recognition that public or private domestic or cross-boundary land grabs are destructive of the environment and food security. The estimated 80 million hectares involved in land deals transactions could be made available to peasants and family farmers.

Today, the industrial food chain leads to an annual loss of topsoil amounting to 75 billion tonnes and costs the world $400 billion. Peasant soil conservation systems utilizing naturally occurring soil microorganisms are responsible for fixing 140-170 million tonnes of nitrogen W equivalent to $90 billion in chemical fertilizers.

Policies must support these conservation strategies. Improved land management, especially using sustainable land management, could increase agricultural GDP between 3% and 7%.

In this context, ActionAid believes that in Rio+20 it is necessary to discuss a fairer distribution of land and a productive model that promotes the inclusion of smallholder farmers, income distribution and access to education and health, among other basic rights. Once more, governments must show a clear commitment to improve poor people?s lives.

5. Ending mandates for unsustainable biofuels

Rio+20 has an important role to play in ensuring that biofuels production and consumption globally does not encourage land grabs, threaten food security, escalate food price volatility and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The report on food price volatility prepared by the FAO, the World Bank and other international organizations at the request of the G20 takes a firm position against increases in biofuel production, and the use of mandates and financial incentives that encourage growth of the industry.

Biofuels overall now account for a significant part of global use of a number of crops. On average, in the 2007-09 period that share was 20% in the case of sugar cane, 16% for vegetable oils, 15% for corn, and 4% for sugar beet. As food supply is diverted to biofuels while world demand for food continues to rise, it is clear that biofuels contribute to increasingly volatile food prices and pressure on land.

While biofuels can potentially be produced and consumed in a sustainable way for local use, current biofuel policies in several G20 member states and regional blocs to which G20 states belong are not sustainable.

For example, implementation of the European Union?s Renewable Energy Directive wil require that around 9 per cent of transport fuel come from biofuels by 2020. This will mean a tripling oftoday?s levels of consumption. Much of this will be imported from other regions, and the EU has not put in place robust safeguards to ensure that such imports do not adversely affect food security or provoke increased land-grabbing. In addition, EU policy does not ensure that this biofuel use will actually deliver a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States biofuels policy is also unsustainable. Corn ethanol is the dominant biofuel produced and consumed in the US. Due to a triple incentive structure including a mandate for production and blending targets, subsidies and a protective tariff, almost 40% of the US corn crop is diverted from food and feed to fuel. Although farmers have increased corn yields, the combination of the rising demand for corn and weather shocks has depleted corn stocks and resulted in record breaking corn prices. Since many countries are heavily dependent on corn imports from the US for food and feed, the rising price of corn paid at the global level has had a devastating impact on local markets. US biofuel policy is also leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Better protection for agricultural land and biodiversity areas are also needed globally. In Brazil, the government has approved Agro-ecological Zoning (ZAE) for sugarcane to certify that ethanol doesn?t cause deforestation. The zoning project has identified approximately 64.7 million hectares of land suitable for sugarcane cultivation. However, the expansion of sugarcane in these designated areas may displace food production activities and push cattle- raising into the Amazon region. There are no guarantees that cultivation in these more sensitive environmental regions will not result in negative impacts such as indirect deforestation or contamination by pesticides.

Eliminate targets, mandates and financial incentives (such as subsidies and tax exemptions) that encourage the expansion of unsustainable industrial biofuels production.

Accelerate scientific research on alternative paths to reduced carbon emissions and improved sustainability and energy security, including improved energy efficiency.

Implement proven solutions including increasing fuel efficiency of cars and investing in public transport.

Ensure that all biofuels, whether domestically produced or imported, meet strict social and environmental sustainability criteria that ensures that their production and consumption does not compromise food, land and workers? rights and that they result in lower net greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels when considering the full life- cycle of the biofuel production process. This must include realistic analysis of the impact of indirect land use change on greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis of biofuels must be specific to both the type of crop grown and the location where it is produced.

Ensure that any further study on the relations between biofuel production and food, agriculture and the environment or proposals for ?flexible mandates? which would adjust existing mandates during times of food price stress should be done with the active engagement of civil society. The FAO?s Committee on Food Security would be the ideal venue for further exploration on these issues, and recent studies by its High Level Panel of Experts offer insights on biofuel policies.


Harjeet Singh:

Marcelo Montenegro:

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