by Joseph Siegel

Dec. 1, 2010 – [Sorry for the delay in posting. The internet service in my hotel is spotty at best and we had some Greenlaw posting problems.] Today we skipped the official meetings of the COP and, instead, attended several official side events. There are approximately twenty to thirty official side events per day on a very broad range of climate change topics. The official side events add an important dimension to the COP meeting, in particular, for NGO observers like myself, who have more limited access to the official COP meetings as the week proceeds. In addition to the official side events and official COP meetings, there are unofficial side events, which are held outside the COP venue (more on that after I participate in one a few days from now), and exhibitors, located at roughly 200 booths in the building where the official side events are held.

The most interesting official side event we attended today was titled “Food Security and Human Rights in Small Island Developing States and the Arctic.” It was sponsored by an NGO called Many Strong Voices, , a coalition of small island states and arctic nations, two groups of nations literally half a world apart from one another. What do these two groups have in common? One of the speakers, Ronny Jumeau, the Ambassador to Seychelles, a nation of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, put it best when he explained that once the arctic nations are destroyed by melting ice and snow, the equatorial low lying island nations will be obliterated by sea level rise. Many Strong Voices attempts to mobilize both groups because they share a deeply rooted connection of the people to their environment. They also share the challenges of limited markets, lack of local economic control, and overdependence on imports, in addition to fragile natural resources on land and sea. These challenges increase the vulnerability to food insecurity.

The Ambassador to Seychelles focused not on sea level rise, the problem we most commonly associate with island nations, but on the unprecedented periods of drought his country has been facing in recent years. This year, Seychelles has received only 10% of its normal rainfall for the current season and its water supply will last only another twenty days. Eighty-five to ninety percent of the food consumed in Seychelles is imported and, due to water scarcity, the country may now be forced to build a dam that will flood some of their very important agricultural land. This will create more dependence on food imports and, as a result, more food insecurity.

Another speaker at this side event was Margreet Wewerinke, a lawyer with the Human Rights Climate Change Working Group. The Group has proposed revisions to the negotiating text on Long Term Cooperative Action under the UNFCCC that would enhance human rights protections. Her group views food security as a human rights issue. Wewerinke pointed out that the right to food security has been recognized as an international human right since the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food security is a pre-condition to the full enjoyment of the right to food.

Food insecurity is, of course, not unique to the arctic and developing island nations. According to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Task Force on Climate Change, over one billion people on the planet are undernourished. The Task Force ranks undernourishment as the single largest contributor to the global burden of disease, killing 3.5 million people every year. As world population rises from the current 6.7 billion to 9 billion by the year 2050, stress on food production systems will increase. Climate change impacts will exacerbate the stress and, as a result, we can expect to see more disease, death, and displacement. The Many Strong Voices side event highlighted the importance of addressing the complex relationship between food security and climate change impacts in adaptation planning, and the need for swift action to address a basic human need that many of us take for granted.