Tackling Economic Growth, Climate Change and Food Scarcity Cannot be Separated

By Alison Withers

While the global economy continues to struggle to recover from the 2008 financial crash and as the UK Government prepares to consult on selling off many of the countries currently protected ancient woodlands pressure is growing for economic reform towards sustainable economics to protect the planet from climate change.

At the 2011 Davos annual economic summit the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon described the world's current economic model an environmental "global suicide pact".

He also announced that his focus will shift form direct involvement in international climate change negotiations to promoting clean energy and sustainable development.

Pressure for economic change is building as indicated by the uprisings in Tunisia and now in Egypt as well as demonstrations in Yemen, Algeria, Libya and Jordan. What has been striking about all of them is that they began with educated and jobless young people but has spread across all sectors of their communities and that they have been prompted by unemployment and rising food prices as part of the wider call for a change in their political - and economic - systems.

Frequently protestors have been pictured on camera brandishing loaves of bread, a staple that is a symbol of the basic foods people need.

As the prices of basic commodities, like rice, sugar, wheat, maize and oil continue to climb, fuelled in part by financial speculation, food shortages and scarcity have been growing.

There are other tensions feeding into the mix, such as the competition for land between production of biofuels and food and the buying-up of land by countries like China, to protect their own populations from predicted food shortages.

But it is becoming clearer that there is a link between the relentless obsession with economic growth and both climate change and food scarcity and not only in the developing world.

In the UK and France recent scientific studies urged a "revolution" in food production as well as in its distribution, as well as the reduction of waste, if the projected demand for food from a growing world population is to be met.

The reports suggested that being open to new research and innovative technology, including genetic modification, is needed and that these should be taken out of private sector hands and publicly funded.

India, for example, is already running trials on various GM aubergines, and has had to put approval on hold until 2012 because of public worries about the dangers and unknowns of using GM technology, concerns that are shared by many people around the world, including the UK and Europe, where use of GM crops is currently banned.

But there are other, safer and more natural technologies currently being developed, called low-chem agricultural products. Biopesticides developers in small research and development operations have had some success in producing a range of biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers that are based on naturally occurring plants and insects in the environment.

The problem is that it can be very expensive and take years to develop these from the lab into widely-available products. This is partly because of the huge costs of funding trials, licensing and regulation in different countries around the world.

It affects the large numbers of small farmers across the world, which needs these tools to farm sustainably as well as increasing their yields, but at a price they can afford and with the infrastructure to get their produce to market quickly to minimise waste.

This is where action on climate change and global economic models come together and with them the call for revolutionary overhaul of the current economic model from growth at all costs regardless of the consequences to sustainable growth that also addresses climate change and the unequal distribution of food across the world.

A shift of focus to investment in "green" technologies would provide the growth in jobs and activity that is so much needed as part of the global economic recovery but in a way that is also sustainable for the planet's environment.

Alison Withers
Article by Alison Withers
The UN secretary general has shifted his focus to promoting clean energy and sustainable development and called for a radical rethink of the global economic system. Both affect food security. Writer Ali Withers asks whether we may see action to speed up regulation and licensing of biopesticides. www.agraquest.com.

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