A UN representative says many steps, big and small, must be taken toward sustainable development in the face of climate change.
On the occasion of the 64th UN Day and in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December, Jesper Morch, UN Resident Coordinator a.i. in Vietnam talks with Thanh Nien Weekly about what developing countries need to do about climate change.
Lifestyle changes are needed to make headway on climate change. Yet development policies promote a lifestyle that worsens climate change, e.g. policies that encourage the production and consumption of cars. What does the UN advise to address this?
Jesper Morch: It is critical to protect living standards in the developed world and to enable the developing world to attain the same living standards, but yes, there is a need for lifestyle changes everywhere and especially amongst affluent people in both rich and poorer countries. Lifestyle changes may be small changes in behavior such as switching of lights when you don't need them, or bigger things, such as drastically limiting air travel. Such lifestyle changes can be achieved with campaigns to raise awareness, with taxes and financial incentives, or with regulation and good enforcement of the rules.
But every global citizen has the right to decent living standards and it is very reasonable to assume that poor people in developing countries have the ambition to enjoy the same living standards as people in developed countries, including driving cars and using other polluting goods. Developing countries and their citizens have the right to development, and even though they are not the cause of the historic build up of green house gasses that cause climate change, they are being asked to be part of the solution. This can only be achieved if two critical things happen.
First, developed countries must drastically reduce green house gas emissions by taking all sorts of measures, including rapid increase in production of renewable energy, measures that ensure that the car industry produces for example electricity driven engines, and for example measures that ensure that supermarkets reduce their very high and wasteful energy consumption (for light and cooling). Even with existing technologies a lot is possible and some basic regulation could lead to financial savings, but some measures will cost money; and incentives are needed for inventing new technologies.
Secondly, the developing countries must take "nationally appropriate mitigation actions", or NAMAs, which are actions that help limit the production of green house gasses but without diverting funds and capacities away from the primary tasks of poverty eradication and wealth creation. Examples of this are the production and use of biogas, as is already happening in many places in Vietnam, or improving the energy efficiency of public buildings, which is possible with small investments and could have major financial returns. Developing countries can also invest in, for example, costlier but cleaner energy production technology, but developed countries must commit to large scale support of such actions in developing countries.
One of the biggest dangers the world's food supply is facing is the dominance of international agribusiness on agriculture, undermining sustainable alternatives like organic farming. What does the UN think of this danger?
The UN supports the development of sustainable agriculture including organic farming, because it has multiple benefits for farmers, consumers and the environment. Resource poor farmers must have access to affordable and high quality seeds and beneficial principles of traditional and also organic farming must be enabled, including seed saving and various techniques to repel pests.
World food demand is increasing because of the growing world population and because of growing affluence in many countries. But world food supply is threatened by many factors, including conversion of land for industry and housing, pollution, and land degradation. Climate change effects are already adding significantly to the stresses on agriculture, with sea level rise and further saline water intrusion in "granaries" such as the Mekong Delta, more frequent and severe typhoons, floods, and droughts, especially in tropical developing countries. Many predict repeated global food shortages and price hikes in staple foods such as the sharp price increase in 2008, with major effects on the poorest people all over the world. This price-pressure is also enhanced by conversion from food production to the production of biofuels, especially in some developed countries. The threat of food shortages and high food prices means that production areas must be protected and that productivity of agriculture must increase "" despite climate change. Vietnam must somehow keep helping to feed the world with rice exports, despite the potentially major impacts of climate change on domestic agriculture.
International agribusinesses have very substantial research and development capacities that are needed to boost seed productivity and also resistance for pests, diseases and extreme climatic events. Their capacities are important for feeding the world. In the past their business interests have not always led them to focus on the needs of small farmers, and since they may also produce agrochemicals they are not usually supporting organic farming. But governments can regulate and make sure that crop varieties are developed and marketed that require few or no agro-chemicals and that maximize both the security and productivity of small farmers in the more marginal production areas. It is also possible to develop collaborative programs between national organizations and international agribusinesses for nationally appropriate research and development of crop varieties.
Vietnam's pursuit of international integration and export-oriented growth has seen rising numbers of landless farmers, as the World Bank has pointed out in a study last year. What is the UN suggesting on this issue?
The UN and national and international partners are of course concerned about the phenomenon of landlessness, and yes, that is an effect of the process of transition from small scale farming for self sufficiency and local markets to increasing investments and productivity, and producing for urban markets as well as export. In fact, climate change effects such as further saline water intrusion also contribute to the problems and is causing that some land can no longer be used for rice cultivation. We are initiating research with Vietnamese partners to understand better how to address the problem and meanwhile are already making recommendations based on international lessons.
We feel that the main responses should be to protect small holders as well as to create alternative employment opportunities, for which a few strategies stand out. The first is to support the small holders in protecting their agricultural and aquaculture production from floods, droughts, diseases and pests, and increasing productivity. This can be achieved through investments in better water management systems and with targeted extension support, including training of especially women farmers because they have often not been reached in the past and yet are increasingly responsible for small scale production. Also important is supply of inputs such as improved, drought, salt and/or flood resistant crop varieties. The second is to ensure good primary and secondary education for all and enhanced vocational training, which enables young people to get jobs and start enterprises. This is all the more important in the Mekong Delta where statistics show that educational achievements in several localities are lagging behind the national average.