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Statement by Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food at the 70th session of the General Assembly, Third Committee Item 72 (b & c): Human Rights

23 OCTOBER 2015
New York

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor to present my second report to the General Assembly in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

During my dialogue with you here last year, I noted the challenges that I would face in further developing the mandate and ensuring that the right to adequate food is placed at the center of discussions on eradicating hunger, enhancing food security and nutrition. Indeed during the last year I have witnessed first-hand some of the many obstacles faced by States and individuals around the world in realizing the basic right to adequate food and nutrition. 

As we end the year on a positive note, with the historic adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals that will guide the world’s development agenda until 2030, the pressure is on for the parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to achieve results at the Paris climate summit in December. Indeed it is hoped that they will come together around a common plan to reduce the harmful effects of climate change and pledge to reduce Green House Gas emissions as a matter of urgency.

With climate change representing one of the most significant challenges threating global food security and its consequences on resource depletion and environmental degradation, it is for this reason that I decided to focus my first thematic report to the General Assembly on climate change and its impact on the effective enjoyment of the right to food. Time is of the essence as the world faces a critical juncture in adapting and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Ladies and gentlemen

Climate Change, sustainable resource management and food security are now widely considered interdependent and among the most urgent global policy challenges.  Climate change is already having a significant detrimental impact on approximately 1 billion of the world’s poor. 

Individuals and communities living in vulnerable situations and at risk of discrimination due to geography, poverty, gender, age, indigenous or minority status and disability are often disproportionately affected. I have visited some of these communities and places, and seen how seriously impacted they are as a result of climate change and extreme weather events.

These impressions arose from personal observation during my official missions.

The relationship between climate change and food systems is complex. On the one hand climate change negatively impacts on agriculture, while current agricultural practices and food systems are responsible for harming the environment, affecting social and environmental determinants of health and accelerating human induced climate change. Moreover, climate change is undermining the right to food, with disproportionate impacts on those who have contributed least to global warming and are most vulnerable to its harmful effects.

Climate change poses unique and distinct threats to all aspects of food security, including availability, accessibility, adequacy and sustainability.

Moreover these threats are poised to affect a huge number of people, with 600 million additional people potentially subject to malnutrition by 2080.

Manifestations of climate change, such as an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, rising temperatures, rise in sea level, a decrease in availability of fresh water, loss of biodiversity, floods and droughts have significant impacts on food security. As a result, crop failures, adverse impacts on livestock, fisheries and aquaculture will have an overall negative effect on people’s livelihoods, with climate induced food price volatility, nutritional deficiencies, diminishing quality of land and soil suitable for agricultural production presenting a daunting reality.

The consequences of failing to enact appropriate policies will pose a threat to global peace and security. As we are all living ever more interconnected lives, climate change should not be considered as only affecting those living in remote places.

I believe that urgent action must be taken to prevent climate change from intensifying, to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and to adapt to its unavoidable effects. In so doing, mitigation and adaptation policies should respect the right to food as well as other fundamental human rights. Shifting to clean energy to reduce GHG emissions should not compete with peoples’ food security.  A policy shift is necessary in order to respond to the challenges posed by climate change to respect peoples’ human rights while sustaining the earth’s renewable resources.

Distinguished delegates

Feeding the world in times of climate change has resulted in a push for large-scale production oriented agricultural models to respond to the food demand of future generations. However, it is proven that more food production does not necessarily result in fewer people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. The world has long produced enough food, not only sufficient to meet the caloric requirements of the existing global population of over seven billion but also to meet the needs of the population expected to reach nine billion in 2050. Hunger and malnutrition are a function of economic and social inaccessibility, not production.

Moreover not all of those calories go to feed humans. A third are used to feed animals, nearly 5 percent are used to produce biofuels, and as much as a third is wasted, all along the food chain.

Partly as a result of the significant adverse effects of agricultural activities responsible for triggering climate change and degrading natural resources, and partly a result of the difficult task of feeding a growing global population in the face of substantial challenges, a strong “agro-pessimism” has emerged, which effectively doubles down on the current unsustainable industrial mode of agriculture. Proponents of this view fear that humankind will not be able to feed itself unless current industrial modes of agriculture are expanded and intensified, which will necessarily result in environmental resources continuing to be devastated in the process.

Agriculture and food systems need to be reformed to ensure that they are more responsive to the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation as evidenced by reduced reliance on fossil fuel intensive production methods. More importantly the reform should ensure that the right to adequate food of people be protected through appropriate levels of production as well as equitable access and just distribution.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Food security and adaptation to climate change are mutually supportive approaches. In many situations, strategies to reduce vulnerability to climate change will also increase food security.

As outlined in the report there is a need to encourage a major shift from current, industrial agriculture to transformative activities such as the promotion of agroecology that supports the local food movement, protects small holder farmers, respects human rights and women rights, respects food democracy and cultural traditions, and at the same time maintains environmental sustainability and facilitates a healthy diet.

Indeed, because the harms caused by climate change are felt predominantly by peoples and regions that are minimally responsible in the first place, climate change policies should be designed to minimize, if not overcome, these fundamental injustices. Some of the climate change policies described in the report undermine human rights while being justified as helping GHG emission reduction. Uneven capabilities and exposures to the dangers makes climate change the biggest human rights and justice problem of our time and solving it should be made obligatory not voluntary and aspirational. Whether there will be sufficient political will to implement this recommended shift in agricultural policy is the haunting uncertainty that casts a long shadow over the future of food security and the realization of the right to food.

There are two dominant conclusions in the report, first the necessity of encouraging agroecology approaches to food security and secondly the need to integrate the commitment to climate justice and human rights to the climate change regime, which cannot be realized without the support of civil society.

Excellency’s, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The negotiations leading up to the COP 21 in Paris in December 2015, (the objective of which is to achieve a legally binding, universal agreement on climate change) are an opportunity to ensure the adoption of a human rights-based approach that identifies and satisfies the most pressing needs of vulnerable persons. A new climate agreement should strengthen the commitment made in Cancun, and should include the following references:“respect, protect, promote and fulfill human rights for all including the rights of indigenous peoples; ensuring gender equality and the full and equal participation of women; intergenerational equity; a just transition of the work force that creates decent work and quality jobs; ensuring food security; and the integrity and resilience of natural ecosystems.

Human rights defenders and civil society organizations, should make every effort to ensure that a human rights based approach to climate change is adopted, and that there is clear commitment from all relevant parties to ensuring climate justice and food security for all.

Thank you.