Food prices menace worsens while Kyoto Protocol is in the throes of death

Mauritanian farmer Aissata
Abdoul Diop with dried maize
(Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam)

A new research shows that the full impact of climate change on future food prices is being underestimated, while governments of developed countries don't seem to have the will to accept in the next seven weeks further greenhouse gases emissions cuts to reach an agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol after 31 Dec, the expiry date of the first period.

“By the end of the most recent round of climate talks in Bangkok (30 Aug to 5 Sep), there was no movement from developed countries to increase the level of their ambition with regard to emissions reduction  ̶  the low pledges, subject to many conditions, made in Durban, South Africa last December remain unchanged,” wrote Chee Yoke Ling and Hilary Chiew, both from Third World Network (TWN), on the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) web site.

“Even as scientific evidence mounts on worsening climate change, developed countries are not willing to meet their legal obligations to make deep greenhouse gases cuts under the Kyoto Protocol,” they concluded.

Representatives of civil society organizations reacted angrily at the end of the UN climate talks in Bangkok, and said it is apparent that the 8th annual session of the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to be held in Doha, Qatar, from 26 Nov to 7 Dec will not approve further action on climate change this decade.

“The United States government is opposed to a top-down structure under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period,” said Meena Raman, legal advisor to the TWN. “The United States wants a voluntary pledging system to cut emissions that is not based on science nor based on equity.”

“The United States and its allies want the UN to ‘be silent’ on issues where they haven’t yet reached agreement. To be clear that means they want the UN to be silent on solving climate change. The US is taking a wrecking ball to the climate convention and any hope of stopping run away climate catastrophe.”

The conference in Bangkok “have been marred by on-going clashes between rich and poor nations, attempts to re-open talks on the controversial topic of measuring, reporting and verifying different countries’ emission reductions and the future of the Long-term Cooperative Action working group, which is focused on climate funding, adaptation and technology transfer mechanisms,” explained journalist Kevin Wafula in an report published by Africa Science News web site.

“Undermining a key alleged achievement of the Durban summit last year, agreement to undertake an effective second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was slowed as the EU refused to take on deep emission cuts and others like Australia dragged their feet on fulfilling the promises made in Durban,” he added.

The meetings in Bangkok were held after the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned last month that its Food Price Index climbed 6 percent on July, driven by heat waves and droughts in the United States and extreme weather conditions in India, Australia, the Russian Federation and other countries. The price spike wakes up the ghost of a global crisis like the one that badly hurt the poor and vulnerable groups among the world population in 2007-2008, experts warn.


Prices hike due to extreme climate events

The same day the meetings in Thailand ended, Oxfam issued a report titled “Extreme weather, extreme prices”, managed by German economist Dirk Willenbockel (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK). The study forecasts that “food price spikes will get worse as extreme weather caused by climate change devastates food production.”

By using a global dynamic multi-region computable general equilibrium model of the world economy, the paper goes beyond the gradual impact of climate change patterns and shows “how extreme weather events in a single year could bring about price spikes of comparable magnitude to two decades of long-run price rises,” and “signals the urgent need for a full stress-testing of the global food system in a warming world.”

Some of the findings of the research are:

■ Even under a conservative scenario, another US drought in 2030 could raise the price of maize by as much as 140 per cent over and above the average price of food in 2030, which is already likely to be double today’s prices.

■ Drought and flooding in southern Africa could increase the consumer price of maize and other coarse grains by as much as 120 per cent. Price spikes of this magnitude today would mean the cost of a 25kg bag of corn meal – a staple which feeds poor families across Africa for about two weeks – would rocket from around $18 to $40.

■ A nationwide drought in India and extensive flooding across South East Asia could see the world market price of rice increase by 25 per cent. This could see domestic spikes of up to 43 per cent on top of longer term price rises in rice importing countries of such as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

“The huge potential impact of extreme weather events on future food prices is missing from today’s climate change debate. The world needs to wake up to the drastic consequences facing our food system of climate inaction,” said Tim Gore, Oxfam’s Climate Change Policy Adviser.

In the scenarios traced by Willenbockel in the study he managed, “the average price of staple foods could more than double in the next 20 years compared with 2010 trend prices – with up to half of the increase caused by climate change (changing mean temperatures and rainfall patterns).”

According to the report, between 2010 and 2030, average world market export prices:

• For maize could rise by 177%, with up to half the increase due to climate change;

• For wheat could rise by 120%, with around one-third of the increase due to climate change;

• For processed rice could rise by 107%, with around one-third of the increase due to climate change.


Civil society proposes viable solutions

Some 120 relevant civil society organizations contributed with feasible solutions to this grim outlook in a “statement of concern” issued at the second Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change held in Hanoi, Viet Nam, from 3 to 7 Sept. They propose the international community a significant change of mindset, from the “market-based approaches” to the “focus on the protection of agriculture from climate change.”

“Climate change is already threatening the livelihoods and food security of the poor and vulnerable. The industrial model of agricultural production threatens the viability of ecosystems and contributes massively to climate change. Nothing less than a system change – towards ecological agriculture, based on principles that create healthy soils and cultivate biological diversity, and which prioritize farmers’ and traditional knowledge – is needed in the face of climate change,” the organizations warned.

“We are frustrated that the peasants, small-scale producers and indigenous peoples who provide 70 percent of the world’s food continue to be left out of the debate,” they added. At the same time, they called to “a global transition to ecological agriculture, focus on enabling peasants, small-scale producers and local and indigenous communities to adapt to climate change, ensure adequate public financing for agriculture, and avoid questionable technological fixes and market mechanisms.”

Some of the 121 signatories of the “statement of concern” are the Center of Concern, Institute for Policy Studies, TWN, War on Want, Focus on the Global South, the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, Friends of the Earth International and several of its national chapters, Biofuelwatch, Biowatch, Intercontinental Network of Organic Farmers Organisations, Oakland Institute, and the Transnational Institute.


Kyoto second commitment period remains elusive (SUNS):
“Extreme weather, extreme prices” (report):
Civil society organizations’ press release on Bangkok:
Civil Society Statement of Concern on Hanoi conference:
Africa Science News:
Responding to Climate Change: