Measuring different dimensions of food security

food-security1Food security in terms of the prevalence of undernourishment indicator is a measure of dietary energy deprivation. As a standalone indicator, the prevalence of undernourishment indicator is not able to capture the complexity and multidimensionality of food security, as defined by the 2009 Declaration of the World Summit on Food Security: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Based on this definition, four food security dimensions can be identified: food availability, economic and physical access to food, food utilization and stability (vulnerability and shocks) over time. Each food security dimension is described by specific indicators. Measuring the complexity of food security is part of a broader debate that currently takes place in the preparation process of the post-2015 development agenda.

Food security and its four dimensions

Stability: exposure to short-term risks may endanger long-term progress

Two types of indicator have been identified to measure the extent and exposure to risk. Key indicators for exposure to risk include the area equipped for irrigation, which provides a measure of the extent of exposure to climatic shocks such as droughts, and the share of food imports in total merchandise exports, which captures the adequacy of foreign exchange reserves to pay for food imports. A second group of indicators captures risks or shocks that directly affect food security, such as swings in food and input prices, production and supply. The suite of indicators covers a number of stability measures, including an indicator of political instability available from the World Bank.

A thorough and comprehensive review of stability measures is not possible here because of space constraints.

The content that follows takes a limited and more focused look at two important aspects of stability, namely those that pertain to food supply and food price stability.

The recent vagaries of international food markets have moved vulnerability to food insecurity to the forefront of the food policy debate. However, newly available data on changes in consumer prices for food suggest that the changes in prices on international commodity markets may have had less impact on consumer prices than initially expected. Where world price shocks induced high domestic volatility, food producers risked losing the inputs and capital they had invested. The low capacity of small-scale producers, such as smallholder farmers, to cope with large swings in input and output prices makes them risk-averse, lowers their propensity to adopt and invest in new technologies and ultimately results in lower overall production.

Together with swings in prices, food supplies have seen larger-than-normal variability in recent years. However, there is also evidence that production variability is lower than price variability, and that consumption variability is smaller than both production and price variability. Among the main regions, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced the widest fluctuation in food supply since 1990, while variability has been smaller in Asia. Variability in food production per capita was greatest in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The vulnerability dimension of food security is increasingly cast in the context of climate change. The number of extreme events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes has increased in recent years, as has the unpredictability of weather patterns, leading to substantial losses in production and lower incomes in vulnerable areas. Changeable weather patterns have played a part in increasing food price levels and variability. Smallholder farmers, cotters and poor consumers have been particularly badly affected by these sudden changes.

Climate change may play an even more prominent role in the coming decades. Mitigating its impacts and preserving natural resources will be major objectives, especially in connection with the management of land, water, soil nutrients and genetic resources. Improved management of natural resources should focus on reducing variability in agricultural outputs and increasing resilience to shocks and long-term climate change.

The pressing need to improve natural resources management extends well beyond agriculture. Forests and trees outside forests play a large part in protecting soil and water resources. They promote soil fertility, regulate climate and provide habitat for wild pollinators and the predators of agricultural pests. They can help stabilize agricultural output and provide protection from extreme weather events.

According to FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, 48 percent of the world’s forests (330 million hectares) are managed specifically to address soil and water conservation objectives. They not only provide a wide range of nutritious foods on a regular basis, but they also help protect access to food in the form of dietary supplements during times of poor yields, natural calamities and economic hardships.


Read the full report at this link

The garbage orchestra from Paraguay

« The world sends us garbage – we send back music ». That’s the motto of Favio Chavez. He opened a music school in Cateura on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital Asunción. There’s no money for instruments – but no shortage of refuse in the neighbourhood.

Gomez turns the garbage into violins, guitars, cellos and other musical instruments. The orchestra he started has had invitations to perform around the world. A documentary film about the project called « Landfill Harmonic » has received backing from crowd funding.

Cateura exists virtually on top of a landfill site where residents make their livings recycling and selling other people’s rubbish.

Situated along the banks of the Paraguay River, 1,500 tons of waste is dumped in the area each day.
But despite the critical levels of pollution and the threat to their health residents of Cateura manage to find the most positive of uses for the rubbish.

Inspired to do something to help the inpoverished families, Chávez began using the trash in the landfill to create instruments for the children.

« One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments, » explains 36 year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill.

« But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few. »

Pleas but no progress at COP19 climate talks

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The climate conference in Warsaw began under the shadow of last week’s disaster in the Philippines. But despite passionate appeals, the conference moves into its second week without any significant progress.

« There is no Planet B », « leave the coal in the hole » outdoors demonstrators shouted. A number of technicalities are to be sorted out in advance, so that the ministers – due to arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday 19 November – will be left with deals in which only political questions are still up for debate.

Time to show up the records

There are still plenty of issues to address on a technical level, too. Work is being done, but there are no concrete results to report yet. Not everyone sees it this way. Switzerland’s negotiator Franz Perrez expressed deep frustration with the progress made in the first week. « We began the conference with a strong appeal that we should not continue business as usual, and that we have to move towards concrete decisions,  » he said. « Too often we were moving back to traditional finger-pointing, and not searching for solutions.  »

Disagreement on criteria

This is the situation ahead of the global climate agreement, due at a climate conference in Paris in two years’ time, when all countries – both industrialized and non-industrialized – will be expected to put figures on the table and declare by how much they intend to reduce their carbon emissions.

Discussions about fundamental criteria are already being held in Warsaw. Delegates are trying to come to a common understanding on criteria such as which year will be used as a point of reference for emissions targets, and how the tonnage of carbon emissions will be calculated. And there are plenty of disagreements.

Delaying tactics: Brazil looks set to delay an agreement

Brazil, for instance, wants the historical responsibility of the industrialized countries to be taken into account. Their industries, so their argument goes, have been releasing carbon into the atmosphere since the end of the 18th century – much longer than industries in the developing world. But the European Union suspects that this argument is untruthful.

From the EU perspective there is no problem with discussing historical emissions, but there are a number of serious procedural and substantive concerns with this proposal, since historic emission rates would then serve as the only indicator in this equation. With that, the proposal poses a very serious risk of delaying the agreement beyond 2015, because of the time that would be needed to develop the indicator and then apply it to parties’ commitments.

Even though Brazil is right to argue that the industrialized countries should pay for their historical responsibilities, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to delay an agreement. Brazil looks particularly reluctant in the negotiations – like a country that wants to postpone and delay talks, presumably also because of their presidential election next year.

Japan changes its mind

There were generally more steps back than forward in this preliminary first week of talks. Even though countries were supposed to present figures showing how much they intended to reduce emissions before the global agreement comes into force in 2020, environmentalists often saw a lot to be desired when it came to actual progress in that direction – prominently so in the case of Japan: Its representatives declared on Friday that it was giving up its target altogether.

Instead of reducing emissions by 25 percent until 2020 – compared to 1990 – it now wants to allow emissions to increase by three percent. With a hint of an apology, Japanese chief negotiator Hiroshi Minami declared that since the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011, none of Japan’s 50 reactors were producing electricity.

Previous climate target estimates, he explained, were based on the assumption that 40 percent of Japan’s energy needs would be covered by nuclear power – now they had to assume that the nuclear reactors would not produce any power, meaning that fossil fuels would have to be used instead.

Japan’s announcement of reducing its own goals sends a fatal signal to India and China as those are countries that we desperately need to be part of a future climate change agreement. The EU expressed disappointment with the move, as it is more than just disappointing. But above and beyond, is Europe (and OECE countries) doing enough on climate innovation? That is, fixing ambitious targets to reduce emissions all through binding carbon budgets and implementing a clear accountability framework.

Climate change must be stopped – but in such a way that the world becomes more just, not less.

What Does ‘Sustainable Development’ Really Mean?

The model for ‘sustainable development’ as espoused in official UN documents cannot withstand a serious critique. A real sustainability requires a change of economic paradigm, not a continuation of the industrialist/capitalist/consumerist economic model that is dependent on unimpaired profits.

An Attempt to Define SustainabilityImage

There is a conflict among the different ways people understand sustainability and sustainable development. The definition of the 1987 Brundland Report of the United Nations is classic: Sustainable development is one that attends the needs of present generations without endangering the capacity of future generations to attend to their needs and aspirations. This concept is correct, but it has two important limitations: it is anthropocentric (it only considers human beings) and it says nothing about the community of life (other living beings that also need a biosphere and sustainability).

Let’s make a formulation that is as inclusive as possible: Sustainable development is every action destined to maintain the energy, information, and physical-chemical conditions that make all beings sustainable, especially the living Earth, the community of life and human life, seeking their continuity, and also to attend the needs of present and future generations in such a way that the natural capital is maintained and its capacity of regeneration, reproduction and eco-evolution is enriched.

Let’s rapidly explain the terms of this holistic vision:

To make sustainable all the conditions necessary for the creation of all beings: they exist starting with the combination of energies, of the physical-chemical and informative elements that, combined together, give origin to everything

To make sustainable all beings: this is about completely overcoming anthropocentrism. All beings emerge from the process of evolution and enjoy an intrinsic value, independent of human use.

To especially make the living Earth sustainable: the Earth is much more than a «thing» (res extensa), lacking intelligence, or a mere means of production. She does not contain life; she is alive, she self-regulates, self-regenerates and evolves. If we do not guarantee the sustainability of the living Earth, called Gaia, we take away the basis of all other forms of sustainability.

To also make the community of life sustainable: the environment does not exist as something secondary and peripheral. We do not just exist: we coexist, and are all interdependent. All living beings are carriers of the same basic genetic alphabet. We form the net of life, microorganisms included. This net creates the biomass and the biodiversity that is necessary for the subsistence of our life on this planet.

To make human life sustainable: we are a singular link of the net of life, the most complex being in our solar system and a spearhead of the process of evolution as we know it, because we are carriers of consciousness, sensibility and intelligence. We feel that we are called upon to care for and to guard Mother Earth, to guarantee the continuity of civilization and also to be vigilant of our destructive capacity.

To make the continuity of the process of evolution sustainable: all beings are conserved and supported by the Basic Energy or the Source that Creates all Beings. The universe possesses an end in itself, by the simple fact of existing, of continuing to expand and create itself.

To make tending to human needs sustainable: through the rational and caring use of the goods and services which the cosmos and the Earth offer us, and without which we would cease to exist. To make sustainable our generation and the generations that will follow ours: the Earth is sufficient for each generation so long as a relation of synergy and cooperation with the Earth is established, and goods and services are distributed equitably. The use of those goods must be guided by generational solidarity. Future generations have the right to inherit a well preserved Earth and nature.

Sustainability is measured by the capacity to conserve natural capital, that it may renew itself and, perhaps through human genius, that it may be enriched for future generations. This widened and integrating concept of sustainability must serve as criteria for evaluating whether or not we have progressed along the path of sustainability, and should serve equally as inspiration or idea-generating for making sustainability a reality in the different fields of human activity. Without it, sustainability is pure rhetoric of no consequence

Durban Conference: Questionable Expectations

As the world meets in Durban, South Africa, for what has become a yearly attempt to secure a global response to climate change, let us look back on 20 years of events that have brought negotiations to this point.

1988. The IPCC is born
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is established in response to record heat levels, droughts and studies that point to carbon dioxide as a factor in global warming. Set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) ant the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the panel is seen as both a political and a scientific body. Through the review and assessment of the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information, it aims to enhance global understanding of climate change and the consequences thereof.

1990. Experts warn of a pressing need to tackle global warming
In its first assessment report, the IPCC predicts a rise in global mean temperature of some 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade throughout the 21st century. The increase would be greater than the experienced over the previous 10,000 years. The panel warns that the trend towards serious global warming can only be stopped if ‘strong measures’ are put in place to tackle it.

1992. US shows first signs og going it alone
Rio de Janeiro hosts the Earth Summit which leads to 154 nations signing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The aim of the convention is to reduce emissions from industrialized countries to 1990 levels by the year 2000. While the majority of signatories call for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, US President George W. Bush insists that any targets or timetables must be entirely voluntary and non-binding.

1995. Berlin mandate paves the way for the Kyoto Protocol
In the spring of what is the hottest year on record thus far, Berlin hosts the first UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP). Industrialized nations agree on the need for longer-term action to prevent climate change, and the session results in the Berlin Mandate. Under the terms of the declaration, which lays the groundwork for the Kyoto Protocol, legally binding obligations commit industrialized nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By now, economic growth in China means it is en route to become the largest greenhouse gas polluter by 2010.

1997. Kyoto Protocol is adopted but not ratified
On December 11, the Kyoto Protocol is adopted in the Japanese city of the same name. According to its core principle of «common but differentiated responsibility,» industrialized countries responsible for climate change have to do more to solve the problem than developing nations. The document agrees legally binding emissions cuts for industrialized nations and sets a target of reducing 1990 levels by 5.2 percent before the year 2012. The USA says it will not ratify the Protocol until it sees developing countries do their bit.

2001. President George W. Bush pulls the US out
Despite campaign promises to tackle the problem of America’s greenhouse gas emissions, when George W. Bush enters the White House, he pulls the US out of the Kyoto Protocol, which he describes as «fatally flawed in fundamental ways.» He justifies the move on the grounds that Kyoto fails to address two major pollutants –black soot and tropospheric ozone– and would have «a negative economic impact.» The Bush administration’s decision not to ratify the Protocol forces the delays of its implementation.

2002. Russia is put in a decisive position
In order to come into effect, Kyoto has to be ratified by nations collectively responsible for 55 percent of emissions from the industrialized world. European Union countries and Japan press ahead with ratification, but with the US no longer in the game, there is little room for anyone else to back out. Australia follows Bush’s lead, leaving Russia holding the final card.

2004. Moscow finally agrees to ratify Kyoto
After a long period of uncertainty, on November 18, Moscow ratifies the Kyoto Protocol. Although there are fears that the agreement could have a negative impact on economic growth, talk of stronger EU support for Russia’s bid to become a member of the World Trade Organization helps to tip the scales.

2005. Kyoto comes into effect but its limitations are clear
Kyoto comes into effect seven years after it was agreed. Ratified by 144 countries, the treaty aims to reduce the emissions by 5.2 percent by 2012. Major developing nations, such as India and China, are not yet required to meet targets. The European Union launches its Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), limiting levels of greenhouse gases from large industrial emitters of carbon dioxide. Under the scheme, companies are given emissions allowances to buy and sell among themselves. The plan is to cut allowances gradually to reduce emissions.

2007. Bali talks start a critical countdown
Tensions reach a boiling point at the 2007 Climate Conference in Bali. Countries’ failure to reach consensus on a successor to Kyoto proves too much for UN climate chief Yvo de Boer, who dramatically breaks down in tears. Nerves fray as China appears to walk out and the US chief negotiator is openly jeered. The world eventually agrees to pursue two tracks of negotiations: one on extending Kyoto and another on a potentially new agreement. Delegates give themselves two years to settle the question.

2009. Copenhagen descends into farce
Hopes abound that Copenhagen will conclude with a tough legally-binding agreement for the planet. Not since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 have so many world leaders come together in one place. With Barack Obama in the White House, there is speculation of grater US commitment and many hope China and India will sign up to targets. The talks end instead in acrimonious chaos. The most to emerge are references to significant financial incentives for poor countries, and grater –if voluntary– pledges to cut emissions under the Copenhagen Accord.

2011. The death knell for Kyoto
Government representatives and climate experts meet in Durban for COP17. With the first phase of the Kyoto agreement due to expire at the end of next year, the need to decide on its future looms large. Japan, Russia and Canada have said they will only sign if all major economies, including China (now the world’s largest emitter) and the US are bound by mandatory targets. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has already made clear that it is too late for Kyoto and that an interim solution will have to be found.

World climate talks in Cancun: a new kick in the teeth?

One year after efforts to plan a global climate treaty felt to pieces in Copenhagen, negotiators are going into this month’s United Nations summit in Cancun, Mexico, with brand new hopes – but limited expectations.

A man and a boy, displaced by floods, walk through flood waters, Pakistan (Photo: GETTY)

As almost 200 nations gathered in Cancun for the first day of climate talks on Monday 29, representatives were focused on securing smaller-scale agreements on issues fluctuating from deforestation to green technology-sharing, rather than a comprehensive pact on global warming.

Efforts to carry out a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol have slowed down in the midst of partial disagreements on binding emissions cuts – with the last big push to draw up a set of collective targets falling short at the UN summit in Copenhagen last December.

As a compromise, the Copenhagen Accord saw countries sketch out their climate protection approaches – but the last-minute document was non-binding and opposed by some developing countries.

Climate change is definitely tangible

At the opening of the talks, host and Mexican President Felipe Calderón emphasized that the effects of climate change were already being felt, with the most severe hurricanes on record in Mexico, flooding in Pakistan and the record heat wave that caused forest fires in Russia earlier this year.

« Climate change is beginning to make us pay for the fatal errors we as humanity have committed against the environment, » said president Calderón.

« It’s crucial for the international community to prove that Cancun can deliver progress, » EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard of Denmark, said in Brussels before departing for Mexico. « If not, I fear that some parties would lose patience in the UN process, » she warned.

Helping developing countries to handle the financial impacts of climate change remains a hot-button issue for negotiators.

International representatives see the two-week talks in Cancun as a fresh start and hope concrete steps forward will push away the crisis of confidence facing the latest round of negotiations.

Environmental lobbying

Environmental organizations are also putting more pressure on world governments to work through the deadlock.

The environmental group Greenpeace floated a hot air balloon past the nearby Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, in a symbolic gesture aimed at reminding delegates of the collapse of earlier advanced civilizations.

« For all their sophistication, the Mayans did not see their destruction coming. But we can see ours, » the group said in a press release (A message from the heart of the Mayan ruins).

Development agency Oxfam also warned of the risks of inaction at this year’s talks.

« The human impacts of climate change in 2010 send a powerful reminder why progress in Cancun is more urgent than ever, » said Tim Gore Climate Change advisor for Oxfam.

The issue of emissions cuts is also getting more targeted attention at the political level. The European Union has encouraged those countries with high greenhouse gas output to reduce emissions.

Despite political opposition in Congress, US President Barack Obama has said he will push toward his country’s promise to cut back emissions over the next decade. The United States is the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China.

But China is not enthusiastic with the panorama of binding emissions reduction targets – despite US calls that Beijing commit to cuts.

More than 70 cities sign pact in Mexico to fight against global warming

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Over a thousand local and regional representatives from 114 countries get together, from November 17 to 20, in Mexico, during the third World Congress of Cities and Governments (UCLG) that will go on Sunday 21 with the first World Summit of Mayors on climate in which will be signed the first International Register of sustainable initiatives in cities. The document will be presented to the UN Conference on climate, from November 29 to December 10 in Cancun, Mexico.

The mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, said that the “Pact of Mexico” would be signed November 21, during the first World Summit of Mayors on climate, by which cities around the world undertake to adopt figured and tangible targets on reduction of their CO2 emissions to fight against global warming. Hence, Los Angeles, Dakar, Mexico, Amsterdam, Jakarta, Sao Paulo, Paris want to commit to carry out ambitious climate policies – hoping that many other cities will join them.

The Mexico agreement will be presented at the 16th UN Conference on climate Nov. 29 in Cancun (Mexico). “This agreement is a way of pressuring governments that have not listened to the cities at the Copenhagen conference, ended in total failure”, said M. Delanoë, the mayor of Paris.

The claim of the presence of cities in climate negotiations is more than justified: more than half the world population lives in urban areas, which generate between 60% and 80% of CO2 emissions. Moreover, many cities have already committed more ambitious approaches than their countries’: “It is in the cities that the battle to curb global warming will be won. Yet we have not even been invited to Cancun”, Ebrard said.

Beyond this symbolic recognition, direct access from the cities to financial instruments to fight against climate change is at stake – future “green fund” and clean development mechanisms. At the end of the deal: billions of dollars that local officials hope to capture in a significant split – while in Copenhagen, states had decided to create an aid fund for the South without stating how money will be provided nor who will be granted to get hold of it!

It is with this objective that the Pact of Mexico wants to make local climate policies “measurable, reportable and verifiable”, according to UN criteria. Then the Pact must list them in a climate inventory of cities, called “Carbonn”, located in Bonn, Germany.

To set an example, the mayor of Mexico City has agreed a 14% reduction of greenhouse gases in the city by 2012. The “Green Plan” of the Mexican capital – launched in 2007 – plans to fall CO2 emissions by 7 million tons in 2012. This program has already helped cut greenhouse gas emissions by 4% (2,000,000 tons). Car traffic was limited, water pipes refurbished, bike paths and bus lanes built. Next step: to double the recycling of garbage, replace 45,000 polluting taxis, inaugurate a twelfth subway line and extending to 30,000 m2 area of rooftop gardens.

However, not all the signatory cities to the (not compulsory) pact will lead to similar commitments: most of them lack access to technologies to assess their reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, these cities need adequate training and technology to grow without polluting. The initiative, in short, is complicated because of the heterogeneity of urban areas in terms of size and richness. Its success will depend on transparency and decentralized cooperation between the cities of South and North.