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In Bangkok this week, diplomats from around the world are negotiating the text for the Paris Rulebook - the implementation guidelines for the 2015 agreement on tackling global warming.
Many issues dominate their minds: from climate finance, to cutting emissions, to resolving geo-political differences.
But there is growing concern among those of us who work with communities on the ground. As we observe these negotiations, our fear is that the “rights-based approach” to climate negotiations risks being overlooked, or worse, sacrificed, in the rush to agree text in time for December’s COP24 climate talks in Poland.
How short-sighted and ultimately, counter-productive, that would be. Why so?
In every part of the world, harvests are being disrupted, and almost every month a new disaster brings a new crop failure. Droughts are decimating crop yields. Changing water currents are disrupting fisheries. Typhoons are tearing up orchards.
It’s clear that food security is vulnerable to climate impacts; and for those who produce our food, the future is uncertain.
When it comes to climate change, our food systems are the canary in the coal mine.
Every crop loss is yet another warning that we need climate action urgently, and that things are going to get worse.
The threat from climate change to our food systems, and our hopes to be able to eat in the future, are one of the principal reasons for this international climate convention.
The Paris Agreement therefore came up with a goal to try to limit global warming to 1.5°C. We are not on track to meet that goal. In fact, we’re currently on track for an average 3°C of warming globally.
None of us should sleep well at night when we think about what that is likely to mean for our food supplies in the future.
WOMEN FEED THE WORLD
So, when it comes to food, the first challenge for the Paris Agreement and the world’s polluting countries, is to dramatically scale up climate action and cut emissions.
As humanity we rely on nearly a billion farmers and fisherfolk to feed us. In parts of the world, up to 80 percent of farmers are women. Women farmers face particular vulnerabilities, challenges and burdens because of their gender.
Women farmers may not have secure access to the land they cultivate. When drought strikes they may be expected to walk long distances to get water for their family. They may not be able to get credit to be able to invest in making their farming more resilient.
But adaptation efforts can often be gender-blind. If governments investing in adaptation in agriculture still fail to understand and address the specific challenges and barriers women face, then climate change will still hit those women hard. Food systems that rely in large part on women will still be vulnerable.
In fact the preamble text of the Paris Agreement is clear that climate action must promote gender equality. Our reliance on women farmers to feed the world is just one reason why gender equality is not just a luxury but a necessity if we are to effectively weather the climate change challenges ahead.
Likewise, the Paris Agreement preamble also recognises the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security, the rights of indigenous peoples and other key human rights.
But there is a risk that in the rush to climate action, countries not only forget the reasons and required approach for climate action, but that, if done in the wrong way, climate actions could actually undermine these important values and goals.
For example, if polluting countries continue to delay making the emission cuts that are necessary now, the world may end up stampeding in a panicked rush to rely on large-scale geo-engineering technologies that require massive amounts of land, or which could disrupt weather systems further.
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage – or ‘BECCS’ – is one of these new technologies on the horizon. It is being seriously promoted by some advocates – including the fossil fuel industry. But studies show that this would likely create huge conflicts for land and food security.
As we have seen with the promotion of biofuels in the last decade, poor and rural communities in the global South, including smallholder farmers, women and indigenous peoples are the first to lose their lands, livelihoods and food. They have been pushed aside to make space for energy crops or trees, in an effort to solve the climate problem that they had no hand in creating.
If adopted as a climate solution, BECCS would drive land grabs on a much vaster scale than we have seen before. Some advocates call for hundreds of millions, or even billions of hectares of land to be used for this purpose.
We cannot have climate solutions that threaten the very people and food security that the 1.5°C goal was meant to protect.
We cannot have climate action that undermines the rights of women, farmers and indigenous peoples.
So, here in Bangkok, as nations are meeting to agree the rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement, it’s crucial that negotiators remember that package of issues in the Paris preamble - specifically food security, gender equality, the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, biodiversity, just transition, intergenerational equity and the need for public participation - and make these operational.
Otherwise they will fail to deliver the spirit and overarching purpose of Paris, or in the worst-case scenario, the agreement could end up being counter-productive. We need the rulebook to require climate actions to show how they are respecting human rights.
We not only need more climate action, we need the right climate action. We need quantity and quality.
The negotiators in Bangkok must remember the needs of vulnerable communities in every word and paragraph they write this week. Considerations of food and land must be at the core of the rulebook’s guidance for climate action.
It’s time for climate rules to go in the rights direction.
Teresa Anderson is a policy officer on climate change and resilience at ActionAid International.