Numerous recent meetings have focused on food security and biofuels, and it is interesting to see how the issues have been discussed, based on how they are framed in the meetings’ agendas.
Delegates to the 16th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 16), which convened in New York, US, from 5-16 May 2008, “reviewed” the thematic cluster of agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa. Based on this focus, rural- and land-related elements figured more prominently than they have in some other discussions, with delegates highlighting land degradation, poor harvests, and declining investments in rural and agricultural development along with high energy costs, climate change, speculation in agricultural commodities, inequitable terms of trade, and increased production of biofuels from food crops as the drivers of food prices. This session was not meant to develop policy recommendations – that will be the task of next May’s session – so delegates did not focus on developing a consensus for the way forward, but rather looked to further developments in other fora prior to their next meeting.
On the heels of CSD 16, the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) Special Session on the Global Food Crisis, which began on 20 May 2008 and extended into 22 May due to the large number of UN member States wishing to take the floor, convened in New York, US. This meeting sought to contribute to the process of defining a response to the crisis “and serve as a bridge” between CSD 16 and the High-Level Conference on World Food Security, ECOSOC’s July substantive session, and the UN General Assembly’s 25 September high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals. As summarized in the ECOSOC President’s Statement, speakers highlighted possible actions that are traditionally addressed within the UN negotiation context, such as ensuring that funding pledges for emergency food assistance are delivered urgently, reexamining the sectoral allocation of official development assistance, and urging governments to rethink biofuel policies. Additional suggestions, such as calls for greater regional dialogue to enhance regional food security, and enhanced collaboration with the private sector, foundations and other civil society organizations on innovative programmes to combat hunger and malnutrition, looked to roles that other actors could play in the solution. However, this Special Session also had a deliberative agenda and did not develop consensus options for the way forward.
The UN Human Rights Council emphasized a different set of actors and approach during its Special Session on 22 May 2008 to consider “The negative impact on the realization of the right to food of the worsening of the world food crisis, caused inter alia by the soaring food prices.” This body adopted aresolution calling for active participation by States, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food in the High-Level Conference on World Food Security, “so as to help to mainstream a human rights perspective in the analysis of the world food crisis, with a focus on the realization of the right to food.”
The ninth Conference of the Parties (COP 9) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which was held from 19-30 May 2008, in Bonn, Germany, offered one of the first normative sessions in this recent series of discussions. This Conference was scheduled to discuss the CBD agricultural biodiversity work programme, and its consideration of biofuels and agricultural development issues were framed accordingly. Application of the precautionary approach for large-scale biofuel production, and the development of voluntary or mandatory guidelines, criteria, standards, certification schemes and other sustainability tools were proposed. The decision fell short of either of these proposals, and instead asks parties to engage in research and information exchange to provide the basis for an informed decision at COP 10. As the Earth Negotiations Bulletin analysis of this meeting indicates, “the timing of COP 9 was not really conducive to anything beyond a process-oriented decision.” Because the topic is relatively new and discussions are ongoing in several other fora, from the FAO’s High-Level Conference that followed immediately after COP 9 to the G8+5 Initiative on Biodiversity and initiatives such as the Global Roundtable on Biofuels, the CBD delegates were not in a position to collectively take a more substantive decision.
The focus then shifted to this week’s High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the
Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, convening in Rome, Italy, from 3-6 June 2008. This “de facto summit” did not develop normative decisions, but as a forum for Heads of State, government and UN organizations and agencies, it offered an opportunity for decision makers to tacitly develop directions for future action, focusing primarily on the UN organizational response. The Declaration adopted at the conclusion of the Conference outlines immediate as well as medium- and long-term measures to ensure food security, and requests the FAO, in partnership with the World Food Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and others, to monitor food security and develop strategies to improve it. Together with the Report of the Conference, the Declaration offers input to the draft framework for action developed by the Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented to the Conference.
July will again see a flurry of discussions on these issues, with the ECOSOC substantive session contributing normative decisions and the G8 meeting in Japan engaging the leadership of the industrialized nations. Each discussion will begin from a set of assumptions and agenda-shaping frameworks, structuring the options that are identified and determining the directions and pace that the international response to these issues will take.