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"The countdown to Copenhagen: climate change, agriculture and global food security" - Speech by EU Commissioner Fischer Boel

Summary: 11 May 2009, Salzburg - Speech by Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the European Commission - Responsible for Agriculture and Rural development, "The countdown to Copenhagen: climate change, agriculture and global food security" at a Seminar organised by the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council

[Ladies and gentlemen],

Let me first thank the IPC very warmly for inviting me to today's seminar.

To begin, I have a question.

When it comes to the issues of food production and climate change, in the words of the old proverb, are we "caught between the devil and the deep blue sea"?

In other words, are we forced to make an impossible choice between one kind of disaster and another?

The "devil" in this context is the fear that, a few years from now, we will no longer be able to feed ourselves.

We're told that food production must double by the year 2050 to keep up with expected population trends and changing diet. And over the last two years, we've seen how anxiety about food can seriously disrupt public order.

On the other side of us, the "deep blue sea" in this case is climate change.

While we raise agricultural production, we must bring climate change under control - otherwise, in a very literal sense, the deep blue sea will indeed swallow up parts of the world.

This means cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And unfortunately, as we know, agriculture is an emitter of greenhouse gases. So we have a dilemma.

Of course, our problem is actually more complex and more difficult than this simple dilemma - because farming not only contributes to climate change but will also be very seriously affected by it.

As you know, the European Commission recently published a report on the subject, which I believe will stir up healthy further discussion with European Union Member States and stakeholders.

The picture for Europe is complex, and it varies from region to region. But overall the picture is dark, especially in the long term.

Extra heat waves, droughts, storms, floods and pests will all make life difficult for our farmers. So will the added unpredictability.

And of course, the impact of climate change on agriculture may well be much more severe in some parts of the world other than Europe.

Clearly, we have some policy problems on our hands!

At least our policy responses are not starting from scratch.

My area of responsibility - the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) - has already evolved to better reconcile food security and environmental security, and that evolution is continuing.

If we want an adequate food supply for a growing population, farmers must be free to produce more in response to price increases. Direct payments which are decoupled from production give them this freedom. It has also been helpful to remove obstacles to production like compulsory arable set-aside - as we have done through the CAP Health Check.

On the other hand, both direct payments and our remaining market instruments give farmers a safety net. This means that, during times of real crisis, they are less likely to be driven out of production. This is positive for our food security.

For many years, through rural development policy, the CAP has also offered support for farming practices or projects which help to combat climate change or adapt to it - for example, by preserving carbon stocks in soils, or using fertiliser more efficiently.

And as you know, through the CAP Health Check, more money is coming on-stream explicitly to support our response to climate change, along with certain other challenges.

So in terms of policy - in agriculture, and in other areas - we've jumped over some important hurdles.

But food security and climate change are global challenges that need global solutions. So there's a really big hurdle coming up fast. That's the United Nations Climate Change Conference which will take place in December in Copenhagen.

In the run-up to this key test, we've still got some footwork to get right.

After all, the issues are complex, and we need results in a number of areas:

- We need commitments from developed countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions - and from all but the poorest developing countries, commitments at least to slow down the rate of increase in emissions.

- We need national strategies for adapting to climate change from all developed and developing countries. (And of course, this work will be easier if we're ambitious about mitigating climate change.)

- We need details about how technology will be transferred to help the adaptation efforts of emerging and developing countries.

- And we need money on the table to support both adaptation and mitigation. Independent estimates put the cost for mitigation alone at around €175 billion per year in 2020. Clearly, we'll need to be innovative to make the right funding available from public and private sources. And we'll have to get top value for every euro spent.

So, as I said, a big hurdle is coming up in Copenhagen. We must not fall at this hurdle: we must get a result.

This is not "just another negotiation".

The European Union has taken a strong lead by agreeing to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent - or by 30 per cent in the context of a new international agreement.

But "leading" from the front is only "leading" if others follow. We need to feel other runners right behind us - not just see spectators around us.

This is because greenhouse gas emissions from the European Union account for only 10.5 per cent of the global emissions covered under the UN framework convention.

Thankfully, there are very encouraging signs that the US administration is warming up (if I can use the phrase) to the value of action over climate change. Many of the emerging countries are preparing to follow, according to their capacities. And a clear sense is emerging of what can be done in developing countries - especially if we halt deforestation and foster climate-friendly sustainable growth for agricultural production.

But as the great poet Dante once wrote: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Intentions are a good start. But at this stage, despite the positive and constructive mood, everything remains to be done. We need to make sure - right now - that the road we're on is the road to success!

As I said, success in Copenhagen will have a price tag. And there are already voices calling for us to delay taking on any more bills in relation to climate change policy until the economic outlook is brighter. These voices will get louder in the coming months, as the true cost of climbing out of recession becomes clearer.

We can't afford to listen to these voices. On the contrary, as the last G20 meeting underlined, part of the growth that we need for recovery is "green growth". Pushing ahead with new technologies and building a low-carbon economy will pull us up economically, not push us further down.

In any case, the costs of climate change are already growing fast. The longer we delay, the more the interest will grow, and the larger the total bill will be when we finally pick it up from our front-door mat. We must start managing our payments now!

When we agree in Copenhagen to stabilise and cut greenhouse gas emissions, this will be excellent news for the future of farming, which is under such serious threat from climate change.

On the other hand, the farm sector will have to contribute to those efforts at stabilisation and reduction.

Of course, for European farmers the need to cut emissions won't be a surprise, because certain objectives are already implied by last December's European Union agreement on climate change.

Apart from new targets for emission reductions, it's also relevant to farmers that a deal in Copenhagen will probably include clearer rules on accounting for the climatic effects of land use, land use change and forestry (what experts call LULUCF).

It's true that, when it comes to land use, halting deforestation is the priority. Year by year, global deforestation causes more greenhouse gas emissions than the total for all sources of emissions in the European Union! So by not cutting down trees, we can make deep cuts to emissions.

Obviously, we need to find the right incentives for the countries concerned in Asia, South America and Africa. Doing so would make economic sense, given the tremendous cost of new and alternative ways of capturing and storing carbon.

But let's come back to farming. New accounting rules for LULUCF could create incentives for carbon-conscious soil management in agriculture. That would be positive in two ways.

It would be positive for the climate - because globally, managing carbon in the soil accounts for about 90 per cent of the contribution that agriculture could make to mitigating climate change.

And it could potentially be positive for productivity. Carbon-rich soil holds water and nutrients better than carbon-poor soil. It's more fertile and it resists erosion better.

At this stage, the European Union doesn't yet have a position on whether this accounting should become compulsory in any new international climate change agreement - and I'm certainly not going to take a position today. We first have to see how the technical discussions evolve and how the accounting rules should be formulated.

But in any case, the "win-win" principle which I just outlined applies more generally: a move towards more climate-friendly farming doesn't have to work against the search for higher productivity.

In the European Union, over the years we have raised our output of food per hectare and per head of livestock - at the same time as cutting our greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production.

Despite this progress, even in the European Union there's still room for improvement - and much more in some other parts of the world, with the right investment and technological development.

With all these points in mind, Copenhagen could boost sustainable farming on the global level and work in line with our need for food security - if we take the right approach to supporting farmers' efforts through policy, in the European Union and worldwide.

Of course, "support" is not the same thing as trying to "regulate our way" to solutions at European or national level.

More than once, people have written to me with suggestions of a "cow tax" in Europe, for example. But measures like this would only drive production outside the European Union - so that we would then import the products, creating higher emissions of greenhouse gases (without increasing our food security!).

More positively - and very briefly - what do we need?

- First, within the European Union, the CAP will remain a powerful tool. Beyond 2013, it will probably still need to provide a market-friendly safety net for farmers, to help safeguard food security. It must also make a strong contribution to our efforts to put the brakes on climate change and adapt to it.

- Secondly - on a global level - we must invest in climate-friendly productivity increases. In many cases, these will come through research. But we also need to dismantle unhelpful barriers to production in developing countries, by improving infrastructure, knowledge, and access to inputs and credit. This is one of the aims of the European Union's so-called "Food Facility", which is providing € 1 billion over three years.

- Thirdly, we must set the right multilateral framework for global trade. Trade opportunities stimulate production; excessive trade restrictions discourage it and make food markets nervous.

As a final point, I would say that, if there is a need for changes in the way we produce, we also have to change in the way we consume.

The European Group on Ethics tells us that the food discarded each year in Italy could end hunger in Ethiopia. At the same time, according to the British government's waste agency, the volume of greenhouse gases used to produce and transport the food thrown away in the UK is the equivalent of 20 per cent of the emissions from the British car fleet.

So food security and environmental security are not just about grand policy initiatives - the individual can make a difference!

I end where I began. Are we caught between the devil and the deep blue sea?

Food security and climate change confront us with testing problems to solve. But we're not forced to accept either starvation or ecological disaster. We can both feed ourselves and start to bring climate change under control.

Copenhagen is the next stop on our map for doing this. Let's make sure that we don't get stuck there. Let's meet, take stock, plan - and then accelerate away with real purpose!

Thank you.

Ref: SP09-043EN
EU source: European Commission
UN forum:
Date: 11/5/2009