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Global attention needed to end food insecurity: An interview with Rajendra Aryal

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The devastating effect of global food insecurity is grave and it is severely affecting lives and livelihoods of more than 108 million people worldwide. To address this plight, global development agencies such as the FAO, WFP, UNICEF and many other NGO partners met earlier in Rome to discuss and draw policy recommendation on how best to address global food insecurity once and for all. Rattana Lao talked with Rajendra Aryal, Senior Advisor with the global Food Security Cluster (gFSC) in Rome on why this topic matters and what the global community needs to do in order to end global food crisis.

What is food insecurity?

To understand food insecurity, it is important firstly to define what food security is. It is a situation when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. Currently there is more than enough food produced to feed everyone. However, the world is still facing a situation of food insecurity in many parts unfortunately. Availability of food is one thing, but it is another thing to have it distributed to those who need it. Food insecurity arises due to poverty, inequality and lack of access to food. There are different types of food insecurity. It can be in terms of poor farmers who do not have enough land and as a result cannot produce sufficient food or it can be in terms of those who live in agriculture-based areas like Myanmar and Thailand but cannot afford to buy food. Even in commercialised areas, food insecurity is possible. Food might be available for some but the insecurity could be due to lack of access for the others.

Who are the most affected?

It is estimated that almost 108 million people around the world are currently facing food insecurity. This is an alarming 35% increase from 2015. Out of these numbers, around 30 million people living in North-Eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are facing severe food insecurity with millions on the verge of a famine. 5.7 million children are facing malnutrition and 1.4 million children are almost dying from the crisis. 27 million people also lack access to clean water. This situation is unfortunately worsening.

What are the causes of this crisis?

There are two major causes: protracted conflicts and natural disasters. When these conflicts occur, they disrupt trade and economic activities and also create obstacles for transportation and inhibit access to food supply chain. Food is hardly produced when countries are at war. Then, conflicts can instigate currency instability, disable the market from functioning properly that makes it impossible for the country to buy sufficient food for its people. Natural disasters like drought result in subsequent crop failures and worsen the situation, such as currently in Somalia.

Are food insecurity and famine the same thing?

They are not the same thing but they are not mutually exclusive. Food security can cause death, however famine is declared only if 20% of the households in the area face extreme shortages and lack the ability to cope. At least 30% of the people must face acute malnutrition and the death rate must be at least 2 people per 10,000 on a daily basis. The world witnessed the worst case in Somalia in 2010 – 2011. The famine was declared in July 2011 when 258,000 people were dead, but 50% of those people had already died even before the famine was officially declared. The world therefore needs to closely watch food insecurity situation before more tragedies happen and do not just wait for famine to be declared.

What MUST BE DONE to mitigate or better yet end this crisis?

To mitigate the crisis, urgent attention is needed from all stakeholders at different levels to acknowledge that food insecurity is real and dangerously taking away people’s lives and livelihoods. First, stronger commitment is needed from national governments and local communities to create food supply in sustainable manner. Second, sufficient financial support is needed from national and international sources to pool together sufficient resources to buy food and produce food.

From a financial standpoint, a lot of work is needed to generate global resources for food. The total humanitarian requirement in 2005 was USD 3.8 billion to support 26 million people whereas the needs in 2017 is USD 22.6 billion to support 95.3 million people. An exponential growth can be seen over the decade which needs to be addressed most urgently. Even today, only 50% of the required humanitarian needs are met. So either some people are left out from getting support or many affected people are getting reduced support. More aid is only one side of the solution. Better partnership, including with the private sector is also equally important to collaborate and coordinate food production and distribution. Most importantly, I strongly believe that there is a critical need for the national governments and the international community to put more focus on local capacity building, creating an enabling environment for local production and distribution, local employment generation and strengthening local safety nets. There is a need for poor countries to help themselves and this is possible when the national governments and international community work and invest together.

In light of global food insecurity, is the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 and 2 that aim to end global hunger and poverty possible?

I always look at the glass as half full and strongly believe that if we all work together achieving SDGs 1 and 2 (i.e., ending poverty and achieving zero hunger respectively) is not a distant dream. The work of my organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is articulated around 5 strategic priorities, which largely aim to contribute to achieving these SDGs in sustainable way. Similarly, other organizations as well as the member countries are committed to achieving the same. However, the changing global context is putting up a lot of challenges on the way at the same time and therefore the member countries, the international community, the civil society and the private sector need to work together, realize each other’s comparative advantages, complement each other’s work and facilitate pro-poor investments for the benefits of the poor, marginalized and small farmers. This understanding and collaboration will definitely pave us the way forward to achieve this beautiful number ‘zero’.

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Climate Change Problem: an Emerging Threat to Global Security

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Climate Change is one of the greatest challenges faced by humanity. The Greenhouse–gas emissions and over-exploitation of natural resources result in a rise in temperature which brings floods, droughts, a rise in sea level, and other destructive events. The problem is that climate change is a global bad, and it requires collective efforts and cooperation to limit its effects. One state cannot control Climate change alone because it does not take it into borders. Formally, the climate change issue was a matter of low politics, but the inception of the 21st century brought an understanding that it poses greater threats than traditional ones. The Covid-19 plays a major role in the realization of steps taken towards climate cooperation. States often make climate promises but cannot fulfill these promises because of the fascination with development and ignore climate change. But now world leaders have realized that the lessons of COVID-19 can tackle global climate change problems otherwise it will make this world difficult to live in.

 The newly elected President of the United States (US) Joe Biden inaugurated a virtual climate change summit with 42 world leaders. It includes leaders from Russia, China, Turkey, Israel, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Setting aside all the differences, he invited leaders from those countries that are a major contributor to Greenhouse gas emission and those who are most vulnerable to climate change risk. In this summit, the Biden administration asked the world leaders to take actions to combat climate change collectively as the climate is a global good and requires collective efforts to tackle climate change. Biden has announced an aggressive new goal policy for greenhouse gas emissions. 2030 committed the US administration to reduce its greenhouse gas emission to 50-53%. The National Intelligence Director of President Avril Haines told world leaders that the climate change issue is no longer remains a peripheral issue but at the center of foreign policy. Other states such as France and Russia also promised to limit their greenhouse gas emission to 42-46% by 2030. It also committed China to play its role in the summit by announcing its willingness towards coal reduction. India reiterated its target of 450 GW of non-renewable energy by 2030 and announced to launch the “US-India 2030 Climate and Clean energy Agenda 2030 Partnership”. The Brazilian Environment Minister argued they need funds to enforce their plan to eliminate deforestation and carbon emission from their country. Vice president Harris argued that climate actions are necessary to tackle climate crises and to promote job opportunities. . Now, the US has put climate change at the center of its security and foreign policy because climate change is not only changing the pattern of the environment but it speeds up the geopolitical competition, undermine security and provoking ethnic conflicts. The climate change results in cyclones, floods, the rising temperature that disrupts social and economic conditions that threaten food security and human security.

By exploring the climate solution, the virtual summit announced the need to increase the public finance for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Biden emphasized the importance of investment in the public and private sectors to achieve the collective goal of net zero-emission. Further, climate actions require cooperation at the national and sub-national governments to speed up efforts to transform communities in line with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Another change that needs to be highlighted at the national level is that the government must not subsidize renewable energy industries and keep their prices high to contain their over-exploitation.  It is easy to make promises as states do, but the problems emerge in its implementation. For decades, climate change has raised concern but states often prioritize development over the environment. This is real-time for states to limit their emission and comply with the promises they have made in the summit otherwise it will lead to never-ended consequences.

COVID-19, a super-fast placed event that emerged from one part of the world and quickly spread throughout the entire world. By its speed of diffusion, it reduced all the emissions at an expensive cost, thus halting the global economy. So still we have time to think about other efficient means of emission reductions to prevent countries from the intolerable burden of Climate Change. But the challenge is how to keep that emission reduction after the pandemic. Second, just an as sharp and instant change of behavior is possible with COVID-19 so to deal with climate change a behavior change is also possible, thus shifting to the low carbon emission all depends on seriousness and credibility to the mortal threat. Third, a key implication of COVID-19 to climate change is that how to reorganize the economy so, in the post-pandemic world, it is the human interaction that would determine the organization of the economy. Thus future will determine whether a low contact economy with a clean environment would be a lower carbon emission economy or not. Further, states must focus on how to open up the economy in the Green Revolution. Another major issue which the world leaders failed to address is the global problem of Covid-19. Despite the technological advancement and huge development, zoom diplomacy began with a distorted voice from the most advanced countries of the world. There is a need to cooperate on a matter of Covid-19 so that states think on the wider notion of climate actions. Thus we have to use all these lessons in the context of climate change to make this world a better place to live in.

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Rails, Roads And Emissions

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It is common knowledge that emissions affecting climate are least for rail travel in comparison with airplanes or road vehicles.  Consequently the $80 billion allocated to rail in an otherwise laudable budget appears paltry. 

Why is the US not investing in rail?  The usual reason given is that distances are so vast that it’s a no-brainer for business travellers to rely on commercial airlines.  But the way the technology is advancing, and as Europeans (and the Chinese) have demonstrated, a network of high-speed rail can offer a greener alternative. 

Trains are getting faster and new innovations like tilting trains lower the cost of replacement tracks.  If 200 mph is being breached more often, then 250 mph should be in our sights.  And Elon Musk has proposed vacuum tubes to remove wind resistance and reach even higher speeds. 

Yet a 250 mph rail network with average speeds in excess of 200 mph would revolutionize the concept of travel.  New York to Chicago in five hours and east to west coast overnight with the possibility of visiting neglected areas out of reach with expressways and airplanes would bring new growth and dynamism where it is needed. 

A point to note is prevailing interest rates.  They are so low historically that railroad bonds at a competitive interest rate would be snapped up  especially if they were guaranteed by the government. 

While one can agree with the aims and compassion clearly evident in the president’s proposals, the process to achieve them is less clear.  In particular on climate change the goal of net zero emissions within a decade is laudable.  But a speedy switchover to electric vehicles raises questions: Simply, how?

The system is geared to internal combustion engines.  Mechanics train for years to become proficient.  Aside from that, has anyone wondered what happens to all those large electric car batteries when they have to be replaced?  Since lithium used in them is a finite resource, it would have to be recovered or the 80 million tons estimated to be the world’s store would eventually be depleted.  

Another issue is the electricity used to charge the batteries.  If it comes from a coal-fired plant, are we back to square one?  Currently about a quarter of the electricity generated in the US comes from coal. Of course dealing with pollution at the source (like a coal plant) is easier. 

The number of Americans living paycheck to paycheck (roughly half) is just one more reason the changeover to electric vehicles might take a while; they just don’t have the funds.  Add to these numbers the elderly living on fixed incomes or the ranks of the unemployed and one can understand the scale of the problem.  

One can laud the US president’s goals but we need to see some action (even proposals) to facilitate them. 

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Global Environmental Governance and Biden’s Administration

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Being the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world, it is the responsibility of U.S to contribute expeditiously to manage the environmental issues at domestic and international level but the previous government, under the leadership of Trump, took back seat and reversed all the decisions of Ex-president Barack Obama to combat the climate change. Unlike this, New Elected President, Joe Biden, who is very enthusiastic and firm to fulfill all the promises regarding climate change which were done during the general election’s campaign. Moreover, he views climate change a thwart to national security. One of the biggest achievements associated with Biden’ administration regarding environmental issues is to bring U.S back into Paris Climate Accord and brought executive order’’ Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring science to tackle the climate crisis’’ on the surface.

A flurry of changes to U.S environment policy is going to play a constructive role in global environmental governance under Biden administration. Even before elections, climate change was one of the top priorities and aimed to put the U.S on a path which leads towards ‘’ Zero Net’’ greenhouse gas emission. In the very early of His office days, He is very committed to deal with the climate change as they hosted ‘’ Climate Day’’ to introduce government climate centric approach to emphasize on the climate change.  Biden administration also ordered to revoke a permanent issued for Keystone XL oil pipeline which trump issued for extraction of oil and energy which is dangerous to national ecosystem. In addition to this, they are also very active to promote US role to tackle the climate change at domestic and abroad. At domestic level, Biden’s actions are speaking louder than the words as he has ascribed the climate crisis with a national emergency. At the time of his inauguration, Biden said: ‘’ A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any clearer’’. He also directed his cabinet to work on the policy of ‘’ social carbon cost’’ to measure the cost of actions and how costs will impact the climate change. He endeavors to control the climate change by keeping a strict eye on the big project’s reviewing process before working under the National Environmental Policy Act which calculates the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions.

On international level, Biden has been striving to improve the spoil image shaped by the previous government regarding global environmental governance as he has declared to rejoin the Paris Climate accord which would help to reduce the greenhouse gas emission. In the result of this action, Biden was welcomed by the General Secretary of the United Nations and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron by saying ‘’ Welcome Back to the Paris Agreement’’. Moreover, Biden Administration is very determined to convene a global climate summit on the earth day to encourage leaders to align themselves with scientist to alleviate the impacts of climate change. On international forums, US need to cooperate and compel the economic trade partner to take actions to combat with climate crisis. One of the essential steps taken by the Biden administration is to manage the climate refugees which aim to make strategies to compensate the climate affected migrants.

The thin majority of democratic in the senate does not only limit the possibility for Biden to achieve climate change reforms along strong anti-climate lobbyist business group who are inimical to the reforms particularly relevant to vehicle, power plants and oil and gas drilling industries. Without new climate legislation from congress, it would be not an easy task to implement the climate agenda across the borders. The vocal resistance comes from the coal production sectors which result in burning of fossil fuels and caused of greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas, few sectors are opposing the agenda there are also companies specially electrical vehicles are exclusively offering assistance to Biden for the sustainable development. Undoubtedly, environmental organizations and scientists community applauded the Biden decisions but few business groups have also filed a lawsuit against Biden to not stop the new permit for oil and gas drilling. There are also concerned raised by the community that climate actions will delete many jobs and cause of upsurge in unemployment percentage across the federation.

It is very evident from the ambitions of Biden’s action regarding climate crisis that he is very interesting to mitigate and curb the climate change but it will require highly comprehensive strategy aims to manage the reforms in laws while taking congressmen in confidence because most of them are not in favor of climate actions due to clash of interests. On the other hand, there is need to work on renewable energy resources at domestic and international level and for this US should compensate the companies to compete with the old capitalized firms which do not want safe and peaceful planet. Moreover, there is need to bring reforms in existing environmental treaties and their compliance process which should be strictly followed by the harsh actions against the violators. The process of financing the agendas which are very environment friendly and transforming the resources to the periphery states should be done swiftly to improve the environment across the globe. The aims of achieving sustainable development should be promoted and supported by the US across the world.

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