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Climate Change Issues (Cancun); Trade; and Food Issues

Climate Change Issues (Cancun)

Reuters news reported yesterday that, “Nearly 200 nations were to meet in Mexico on Monday to try to agree on modest steps to slow climate change, a United Nations gathering overshadowed by global economic problems and strains between the top two emitters, the United States and China.

The 12-day meeting, in a heavily guarded resort, will seek to revive negotiations stalled after last year’s Copenhagen summit meeting fell short of a binding United Nations treaty to slow global warming.”

The article stated that, “The ultimate goal is to extend the present Kyoto Protocol, which controls the greenhouse gas emissions of all industrialized countries except the United States, which did not ratify the pact. The United States and major emerging economies now have to make emissions pledges if the protocol is to survive, the European Union said Sunday.”

William Booth reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Mexico is battling billionaire drug mafias armed with bazookas, but when President Felipe Calderon ranks the threats his country faces, he worries more about methane gas, dwindling forests and dirty refineries.”

The Post article explained that, “Calderon hopes to play a leading role as host of the United Nations climate conference starting this week in Cancun, where he will advocate a ‘third way’ for developing countries such as Mexico: making commitments to serious, verifiable reductions in greenhouse gases in exchange for billions in aid and technology transfers from big polluters such as the United States and European Union.

“‘The president is extremely engaged and very committed. He has instructed us to move, and move now, and not wait for anybody else,’ said Fernando Tudela, the deputy secretary of planning and environmental policy.”

“Calderon’s energy minister, Georgina Kessel, calls climate change ‘the greatest challenge of the 21st century,’” today’s article said.

And Bridges (International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development) reported today that, “Nearly a year ago, when the 193 members of the UN Climate Convention pasted the politically charged Copenhagen Accord into the final decisions of their annual conference, many said the agreement would never hold. Others, however, held that the political will building up to the Copenhagen meeting could carry through 2010 and yield greater results in Cancun. Yet on the eve of the 2010 Conference of the Parties, expectations are low. Many key countries as well as the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, have clearly stated that a comprehensive deal including emissions reductions is out of the question at this year’s meeting. Instead, the best case scenario is a small package agreement that would cover climate governance and agriculture and that would include early planning on new institutional mechanisms, as well as partial delivery of promised funds. Such an accord, observers say, could keep spirits, relatively, high.

The global landscape has changed much over the past 12 months. As the financial crisis continues to undermine economic stability and employment rates around the world, voters – particularly in rich countries – have other priorities for how politicians should be engaging on the international stage. Addressing climate change is no longer a critical concern; in some cases, it is increasingly considered a threat to national interests. The most obvious example of this is in the United States, where Republican gains in November’s mid-term elections essentially hamstrung the Obama administration on climate policy. The once palpable expectations that the US would tackle climate change at home and take on a highly demanded leadership at the UNFCCC talks have given way to disappointment.”

A report last week on NPR’s Morning Edition Program (“Climate Change Bill Languishes On Capitol Hill,” by Elizabeth Shogren) indicated that, “The new Congress has many ambitious priorities. Global warming is not among them. There weren’t many takers on the issue, even before the election swept Republicans into the House. And now the issue appears to be off the table entirely. NPR’s Elizabeth Shogren explains.

“ELIZABETH SHOGREN: During their campaigns, many of the newly-elected members of Congress flat out denied that people are causing global warming. Others called the cap and trade bill a job killer.

“Representative CORY GARDNER (Republican, Colorado): And I believe one of the biggest impediments to creating jobs in this nation is a government that is now bent on working cap and trade policies, not just through the legislature, but through the administrative and through the regulatory process.”

The NPR piece added that, “SHOGREN: That’s what Republican Cory Gardner had to say in a debate just before he won his election in Colorado.

“The cap and trade bill was designed to cut greenhouse gas pollution. It passed the House but got stuck in the Senate. And so, even long-time supporters of action on global warming like Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, agree: legislation is off the table.

“Ms. EILEEN CLAUSSEN (Pew Center on Global Climate Change): I think there is almost no chance of getting a major climate bill through Congress for the next two years, at least.”

Meanwhile, Darren Samuelsohn reported on Saturday at Politico that, “For eight years, the world waited for a U.S. president to help stop global warming and save the planet.

“So far, Barack Obama hasn’t lived up to the expectations.

Cap-and-trade legislation Obama promised two years ago on the campaign trail is dead and buried, and his administration is attempting to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and cover billions of dollars in pledges without majority support in Congress.”

The article added that, “Internationally, heading into the United Nations-led climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, next week, prospects for a multitrillion-dollar transoceanic carbon market are in tatters and a new binding treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol remains years away.

“Obama won’t be going to Mexico for the conference that starts Nov. 29, and neither will Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or many of the other members of Congress who went to ice-cold Copenhagen for last year’s U.N. climate negotiations.

“The State Department’s Todd Stern will be the face of the Obama administration during the two-week meeting. His job is to sell Plan B: a suite of Environmental Protection Agency climate regulations and billions of dollars in renewable energy stimulus bill spending that the White House says would curb domestic emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.”

The Politico article pointed out that, “Much of Washington seems oblivious to Cancun. Several top Democrats who normally are in the middle of the international climate debate were unprepared last week for questions about the next stage of the U.N. process, including Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman.

Republicans, meanwhile, are gloating at the current state of the international process and relishing the opportunity to undo even more of Obama’s domestic climate agenda next year.”

And Neela Banerjee reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “For decades, California has set the pace for the country on air pollution and climate change, adopting ever-higher standards for controlling auto emissions and, more recently, greenhouse gases that scientists say have led to global warming.

“Now, California’s dominance is being challenged by another mega-state, which wants to freeze the status quo instead of move toward tighter controls.

“In effect, Texas is staking out a role as the anti-California.”

The article explained that, “With Republicans about to control of the House, powerful Texans such as Rep. Joe L. Barton of the Energy and Commerce Committee have vowed to check the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to use its authority to curtail greenhouse gases.

“An even more ambitious challenge is coming directly from the Texas state government and leading Texas politicians. State Attorney General Greg Abbott, with the support of Republican Gov. Rick Perry, has filed seven lawsuits against the EPA in the past nine months.”

And more specifically with respect to agriculture and the climate change issues, Ross Tieman reported on Friday at the Financial Times Online that, “The figures are stark. Livestock produce 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the aeroplanes, trains and automobiles combined. They chomp what grows on 80 per cent of the world’s agricultural land and swallow up, directly or indirectly, 8 per cent of our water.

“To feed 6.8bn people, we nourish 1.3bn cattle, 1bn sheep and 16bn chickens. Ruminants such as cows digest grass, a useful ability since we cannot. But in the process they burp vast quantities of methane, which is 23 percent more warming to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

The world’s appetite for animal produce grows apace, as populations in emerging countries become richer. In 1980, the average Chinese citizen consumed 12.8kg of meat a year, 2.3kg of dairy products and 2.5kg of eggs. By 2005, meat consumption per person had risen fourfold to 59.5kg, dairy consumption rose 10-fold to 23.2kg and egg-eating had reached 20.2kg, an eightfold increase.”


Reuters writer Jonathan Lynn reported on Friday that, “Ambassadors at the World Trade Organization, heeding a call from leaders at the G20 and APEC summits, have agreed to push for an outline deal in the long-stalled Doha trade round by next summer.

“They face the challenge of translating their upbeat rhetoric into negotiating reality if the new target is not simply to join a long list of missed deadlines in the Doha talks.”

The article added that, “An outline agreement, known in trade jargon as ‘modalities,’ by summer would leave the rest of the year for the details to be filled in, so that an overall deal could be signed at the WTO’s next ministerial conference in December 2011.”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady opined in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “In an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box from the Americas Competitiveness Forum in Atlanta two weeks ago, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was asked if he found it awkward to face the attending Colombians, who have been waiting since 2008 for ratification of their free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States.

“‘Actually,’ Mr. Locke declared, ‘there are a lot of intense negotiations going on as we speak, and I’ve been meeting with some of the ministers and representatives of the government of Colombia here.’ That was news to my Colombian sources familiar with what happened. They told me that there were no such ‘intense negotiations.’

“Why should there have been? This deal is already signed by both parties. It is even likely that it would be ratified if President Obama would only send it to Congress for an up-or-down vote under ‘fast-track negotiating authority.’ Instead, the administration has been letting it languish in a drawer, and its explanations for doing so grow more convoluted every day.”

The opinion column noted that, “Next year, Ottawa’s Colombia free trade agreement will enter into force, and Canadian producers will join the list of competitors who have an advantage over Americans in the Colombian market. The European Union and South Korea have also signed FTAs with Colombia and will have advantages on the industrial production front.”

Food Issues

The AP reported yesterday that, “When the Enosburg Food Shelf [Vermont] opened three years ago in this farm country town, organizers expected to serve 60 families a month, at most. Now, an average of 160 take advantage of it.

“Food shelf treasurer Suzanne Hull-Parent says the resources of lower middle-class familes are drying up as the economy continues to wobble.

“A new federal report on hunger issued Nov. 15 found that Vermont and Alabama have had the highest increase in ‘food insecurity’ during the last 10 years.”

The article added that, “In the last three years, the Vermont FoodBank – a statewide anti-hunger organization – has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of people seeking help from its network of food shelves, meal sites, homeless shelters and senior centers around the state.”

Yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog, Chris Clayton pointed to three interesting articles that recently appeared in the Kansas City Star that highlighted the issue of “food deserts.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “On Thursday, the Kansas City Star’s Jill Wendholt Silva likely brought joy to hearts of USDA officials by writing a special package on both rural and urban ‘food deserts.’ In her rural article, Wendholt Silva pointed out that grocery stores in small towns are hard to find.

“‘Kansas may be known as an agricultural state, but these days large swaths can be considered food deserts, without easy access to affordable and nutritious food. The Center for Engagement and Community Development at Kansas State University found 82 out of 212 rural grocery stores in communities with fewer than 2,500 residents have closed since 2007.’”

Yesterday’s DTN update added that, “In the urban piece, the article described the difficulties of a single mom with no working car who has an easier time going to a fast-food location than trying to bring home groceries with her kids.

“(Jamie) ‘Svejda is shopping for light food — not to be confused with ‘lite’ food. The family can only buy what they can carry since they walk three-quarters of a mile from their home in the Budd Park neighborhood of Kansas City to reach the Cosentino’s Price Chopper at the intersection of bustling Independence Boulevard and Wilson Road’”

A third article on food deserts from The Kansas City Star is available here.

Meanwhile, Josh Verges reported yesterday at the Argus Leader Online (SD) that, “From blood oranges to snow peas, blueberries and starfruit, Karen Lukens’ second-graders have tried them all. And for the most part, they’ve liked them.”

“This year, 2,790 students at seven Sioux Falls public elementary schools and the Children’s Home Society are getting daily snacks from the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

“The program began in five pilot states in 2002 and went nationwide in 2008, becoming a permanent part of the federal budget through the Farm Bill. The goal is to introduce students at high-poverty schools to fruits and vegetables as healthful snack options, improving their eating habits over time.”

And Melanie Grayce West reported today at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Decades after most small dairies were forced out of business in New York, a new crop of boutique dairies is springing up in the state to produce fancy cheese, milk and yogurt.

“Much of it is being devoured by ‘locavores,’ people who try to eat locally produced food and are willing to pay up to get it. There’s also growing demand for ‘heritage cheese’ produced by breeds of cows, goats and sheep not found in normal dairies.

There was an approximate doubling of small dairy plants in New York over the last two years, to around 80 statewide. Thirty-four plant permits have been issued this year.”

The Journal article noted that, “‘In 1977 I saw all of these small plants that were making products go out of business. Then, we only inspected large, corporate operations for a number of years,’ said Dennis Moore, a dairy products specialist for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. ‘There is a huge resurgence of these small, artisanal cheese makers.’”

Lastly today, Brent Cunningham and Jane Black penned an opinion item in Saturday’s Washington Post stating that: “If you shelled out $10 a pound for a ‘heritage turkey’ this Thanksgiving, tea-brined it and stuffed it with rosemary bread (that you made), speck (from the local charcuterie guy), fennel (from the farmers market) and lemon (okay, there are limits to this), you might assume that everyone, if given the opportunity, would support such a makeover of a meal that not long ago was dominated by frozen Butterballs and jellied cranberry sauce.

“In fact, not everyone would. And that is an important thing to understand about the effort to remake America’s food culture. Advocates of fresh, local and sustainably raised food say it is healthier, better-tasting and morally sound. If everyone could afford that heritage turkey and had a local charcuterie guy, the argument goes, then all Thanksgiving meals would be elevated to ethereal heights.

But many in this country who have access to good food and can afford it simply don’t think it’s important. To them, food has become a front in America’s culture wars, and the crusade against fast and processed food is an obsession of ‘elites,’ not ‘real Americans.’”

The entire opinion item is available here, “Next up in the culture wars: Food fights.”

Keith Good