The G20 summit’s now wrapped up. In a summit otherwise dominated by the Eurozone crisis, our small team – together with our partners from ANEC, a Mexican farmer’s network – have been pushing our messages to press and policymakers on the need for real solutions to tackle food price volatility and climate change.
Today, we had a bit of a dramatic moment. Late last night NGOs here got our hands on a leaked copy of the communiqué. So we decided to hold a press conference today at noon to give the press our reaction to the leaked draft we had gotten hold of. The room was packed – as the media center was full of journalists just waiting to get any kind of news.
Then it got a bit strange. Colleagues from Oxfam Mexico, CAFOD, World Vision Mexico, and ONE finished their statements, and reporters starting asking questions. Next thing you know, a representative of the Mexican government came on stage and asked the moderator to end the event – apparently, the Mexican government wanted no press conference about communiqués until the final one comes out.
It ended up creating more of a news event than if they had let us be – drama makes for good news – so not the best PR move. And it was a bit out of character, as the Mexican governments has actually been very helpful to NGOs in the media center – giving us full access, providing regular briefings (a rarity in these summits for us NGOs), and letting use official press conference spaces. They later formally apologized.
Other than that occasional moment of mild intrigue, we’ve been focused on highlighting the findings of our report that US biofuels production is fueling the rise in the price of corn tortillas in Mexico. It’s been great to see how our report and advocacy on biofuels has been picked up by other NGO colleagues from World Vision, Oxfam, and the Hunger Project – all of whom have been asking officials and journalists about this issue along with us. Just a few years ago ActionAid was a lonely voice on the linkage between biofuels and hunger but it’s become a key talking point for the community, which is great.
Special props to Patricia Brooks our phenomenal US communications coordinator and to Zoe Van Gelder from ANEC who’ve been working the press room here. That’s paid in off the form of a number of great stories and interviews. It also paid off when a reporter we spoke with earlier today about how US biofuels production is driving up corn prices in Mexico was called on by Mexican President Calderon in the closing G20 news conference. In response to the reporter’s question, President Calderon indicated that he supported the recommendations made by the Business 20 on food security. The B20 called clearly for removal of subsidies for biofuels and a re-evaluation of mandates.
While we made some progress in highlighting the issues, the summit’s outcome was pretty disappointing on the issues we’ve been tracking. For our reaction, we’ve said that rather than taking the bold new steps needed to address food price volatility and biofuels and climate change, leaders turned in last year’s homework, reiterating old pledges and commissioning studies rather than taking bold steps.
On biofuels and food price volatility:
The G20 put their heads in the sand and failed to address the key drivers of food price volatility. Despite the important role played by biofuels production in contributing to food price swings, the word ‘biofuels’ doesn’t even appear in the final communiqué. The G20 ignored the growing consensus – including from the Business 20 – urging them to stop converting food for fuel.
“G20 leaders opted for more studies on how to finance the Green Climate Fund. These will be cold comfort to farmers living in poverty who are already facing the ravaging impacts of increased floods, droughts, and heat waves due to climate change.
“Viable options for financing the GCF already exist, including international shipping and aviation levies and financial transaction taxes. The longer we ‘study’ global action on climate change rather than acting decisively on one or more of these proposals, the more deadly and expensive it will become in the future.”
In short, much work left to do. This won’t be a summit for the history books on development, food security or climate change. In fact, it raises more questions about the role of the G20 in development. It seems like the G20 either needs to get much more engaged on key development challenges at a political level – or reduce its focus and allow other institutions like the UN to pick up the primary responsibility. The current role – a middle ground where the G20 commissions studies and reiterates past pledges with little accountability – is not delivering results for people living in poverty.