Representatives of world governments are gathering this week in Rio de Janeiro for the final round of negotiations prior to next week’s Earth Summit. The gathering, commemorating twenty years since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, is the latest opportunity for world leaders to lay out a plan to tackle the world’s most urgent problems – including poverty, hunger and climate change.
Twenty years ago world leaders promised a better future for our planet. While a lot has been achieved – from nations agreeing to slash carbon emissions to poverty rates falling across many countries – much more needs to be done. On the issue of hunger, a systematic change in the global food system is urgently needed. But countries so far seem unwilling to tackle this and other important issues, instead promoting false solutions that are a direct threat to food security. Worse still, some governments, particularly the United States, seem intent on actually moving backwards.
In recent weeks, the US government has lobbied hard for a draft outcome document that would remove references to the right to food, a human right recognized in the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The US remains one of a handful of governments who have not ratified this convention, which forms part of the basis for the international human rights framework. While the world is struggling to identify how to meet the right to food, the US appears to be questioning whether such a right should even exist.
The debate on the right to food is an example of the kinds of backsliding that we’re seeing in the current negotiations, but it’s by no means the only example. Instead of moving forward with a sense of urgency – remember that there are still nearly a billion people living in hunger, and that number is likely to increase unless urgent measures are taken – countries seem more interested in protecting the interests of corporations who are making a lot of money from the way that the food system currently functions.
The most frustrating thing about the situation is that these are not intractable problems. Supporting a transition to more sustainable agriculture practices will not only help ensure adequate food for all, it will help farmers to deal with increased droughts, flooding, climate-related disasters and other effects of climate change that mare already affecting their livelihoods.
Meanwhile many countries are still promoting biofuel production. This is despite a recent G20-commissioned report done by numerous international agencies (including the World Bank, IMF, FAO, WTO and others) which recommended ending subsidies and targets for biofuel production because of concerns over rising food prices. Transferring subsidies from false solutions such as biofuel promotion – a practice that other studies show has no impact in terms of reducing carbon emissions and has already led to the buying up of 37 million hectares of agricultural land by big companies and rich farmers – to sustainable agriculture would be a common-sense solution to many of the problems being discussed.
ActionAid International is urging world leaders to take action at the Rio summit towards a transition to a more sustainable economy.
We are also supporting alternative events such as the People’s Summit, a gathering of NGOs, trade unions, farmers associations and social movements promoting the alternatives – including sustainable agriculture. Our hope is that leaders in the official summit listen to the voices coming from the ground calling for an urgent change to the world’s food system and the broader economy – a change that would put the needs and rights of people above the omnipresent desire for profit and private gain. As a global community, the crisis we’re facing is grave. Either we move forward in promoting a new economy based on the principle of sustainable development, or we continue to condemn millions to poverty and hunger.
The question that we must answer not only in the Rio summit but also in the months and weeks ahead is the following: Will we as a global community demand that our leaders take urgent action, or will we continue with a dangerously unjust status quo?