Committee on World Food Security: High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition draft report: Biofuels and Food Security

The 2011 Report on Price volatility and food security by the HLPE on Food Security and Nutrition provided well-researched and high-quality evidence about the role of biofuels in recent food price rises and price volatility. We had therefore anticipated that the draft report “Biofuels and Food Security” by the HLPE on Food Security and Nutrition would build on and further develop the evidence collated for the 2011 report.

The CaMV 35S Promoter

The CaMV 35S promoter is being used in almost all GM crops currently grown or tested, especially GM maize. It is the promoter of choice for plant genetic engineering, as it is a strong and constitutive promoter. Failure to recognise or to take into account its capacity to be universally active in almost any organism is irresponsible and careless and shows a serious lack of scientific rigour and commitment to safety.

Business and Biodiversity: A Licence to Operate

Business wants access to resources, capital and markets, and a seat at the global policy development table in order ensure it has a licence to operate. At a time of growing concern about pressure on natural resources and the need for sustainability, business also has to talk about biodiversity and sustainable development as a means to secure its business targets. But its motives, influence and outcomes in terms of biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and equitable benefits need to be assessed. Before COP12, steps should be taken to reduce the direct and indirect influence of business on biodiversity decisions in order to assert the primacy of biodiversity as part of our global commons, to be governed by the CBD, not the corporate sector. At COP 11, business was omnipresent. There were more than 70 events described as ‘business-related’ around COP11 in Hyderabad. It is worth looking a little more closely at the groupings involved. For example, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), originally commissioned by the G8 +5 was linked to several of them. The TEEB for Business Coalition has powerful founder members including a UK accountancy institute, large conservation organisations and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which was involved in 3 side events. This is a very large group whose emergence dates back to the Earth Summit of 1992. Top business clusters within WBCSD include 23 utilities and power companies, 17 oil and gas, 17 engineering, 17 chemical companies, 13 consumer goods, 13 cement, 12 mining and 11 tyre companies.

Canada in violation of international obligations to the CBD…

While Parties at COP11 were considering Climate-Related Geoengineering (Agenda item 11.2), evidence was provided that Canada had broken the geoengineering moratorium. It had failed to prevent a geoengineering scheme from being carried out in the Pacific ocean, close to the Canadian west coast. The scheme involved dumping around one hundred tonnes of iron sulphate into the ocean in July 2012. This created a plankton bloom that spread across some 10,000 square km of ocean. It was so large that it attracted the attention of ocean researchers. The scheme has also created a media bloom that is spreading around the planet, initiated by the UK Guardian on Monday 15th October 2012. The one place where it does not seem so far to have penetrated is COP11 - and the CBD is where the geoengineering and ocean fertilisation moratoria were born. There are many facets to this story. It turns out that one of the people behind the scheme is the former chief executive of Planktos Inc. This company formerly sought to carry out commercial dumping projects near the Galapagos and Canary Islands, and got into trouble with the Spanish and Ecuadorean governments, which honoured the moratorium and banned the experiments. The initiator of the Canadian scheme apparently intended that it should yield lucrative carbon credits, something expressly prohibited under the moratorium (Decision IX/16, Section C, para 4). Indigenous People of the islands of Haida Gwaii were persuaded to set up the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation and to channel their own funds into a 'salmon enhancement project', which they were persuaded would revive their salmon catch and enhance the local ocean ecosystem.

Biotech Companies COMPACTing their responsibilties

In May 2008, on the eve of MOP4 in Bonn, six major biotech companies suddenly presented their "Compact" in an effort to undermine the then still ongoing negotiations about Liability and Redress. The Parties decided against it, continued negotiating and finally - at MOP5 in Nagoya - adopted the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress. Unfortunately that doesn't mean that we have seen the end of the Compact. Four years later and the same six companies (Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer, Dow Agro Sciences, Syngenta, BASF and Bayer CropScience) together with the Global Industry Coalition (GCI) are still lobbying for it - but now they claim that they never wanted to stand in the way of the Supplementary Protocol, that they just want to provide countries with different options. The text of the Compact has been amended since its first version, but the basic issues are still the same as they were at their presentations four and two years ago.

Narrow definition of damage

The Compact does not in any way address traditional damage, i.e. damage to property, health and life, other than damage to biological diversity as defined in the Compact. From this, it follows that a major portion of potential damage, such as damage to farmers and their livelihoods and health, will not be covered. (see D. Currie 2010, ECO 34(2)) Only significant damage to biodiversity going to be covered. What does this mean? The Compact does not cover contamination, nor damages of which the Compact Tribunal assumes that they will heal by themselves; nor possible adverse effects addressed in the official risk assessment of the Competent Authority; nor on species for which solid baseline with all its natural variations has not been established (Compact, Art. 8).

Rio+20: Where's the debate about corporate power?

In the face of the multiple crises of biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and climate change plus economic turbulence and injustice, it is strange that there is so little discussion about controlling corporate power and exploitation in the run-up to Rio+20. There are proposals for increasing the participation of women, youth and communities in decision-making. There are calls to reduce land degradation and deforestation, promote sustainable production and consumption, increase energy and resource-use efficiency, and protect ecosystems.

GE Wheat trial by Rothamsted Research

In Conclusion: I have wanted to highlight and list a few points that elucidate the shortcomings of the data provided and the risk assessment carried out and provided. These, in my view, give evidence to the necessity to do further indoor trials, reassess the hypothesis and test for health consequences before any open environmental release should or could take place. It should further be deliberated whether the approach taken to address the aphid problem does not in itself cause new problems.

Biofuels: how many are invasive alien species?

It was interesting to hear from Brazil this evening that the biofuels text was unbalanced and too negative about biofuels and that Jatropha, for example, is good for climate mitigation. It was also instructive to learn that there are no invasive alien species issues around biofuels. Considering that there a lot of scientific evidence points to some biofuels also being invasive species, it really made one wonder if some delegates realise that SBSTTA is actually a scientific body. Just some of the invasive alien species considered for biofuel include perennial grasses such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea), miscanthus (Miscanthus spp.), and giant reed (Arundo donax). Then there are trees such from the poplar family (Populus spp.), willows (Salix spp.) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp). In addition we have Jatropha (Jatropha curcas), African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), and moringa (Moringa oleifera). This is only a very short extract from a long list. A number of these species have already demonstrated their invasiveness in different regions. Some readily create an invasive monoculture that wipes out biodiversity. Others combine to create alien landscapes that superficially resemble simplified ecosystems. We also heard from NGO Searice of the Philippines that algae ‘without a name’, destined for biofuel production, were going to be introduced in a marine sanctuary – an area of one million hectares close to the shore, a region regularly visited by dolphins and whales. The fact that these algae were apparently nameless caused Searice to wonder if they were actually a product of synthetic biology. Local communities successfully resisted the project, using the precautionary principle. However, these algae were also destined for release in other areas and we do not know what happened there.

Biodiversity should not be expected to earn its living in the market

On May 2nd 2012 a paper appeared in Nature entitled: A global synthesis reveals biodiversity loss as a major driver of ecosystem change. It analyses existing data to show that biodiversity loss and extinctions are altering processes fundamental to ecosystem functioning and resilience, with major implications for us all. This is not a new message, but one that has constantly been ignored.

Engineered to fail?

Geoengineering refers to a range of proposed technologies designed to deliberately intervene in and alter earth systems on a large-scale – particularly proposals to technologically manage the climate system as a ‘technofix’ to climate change. In Oct 2010 the CBD adopted a de facto moratorium on testing and deployment of geoengineering technologies and initiated reports into the governance of geoengineering and potential impacts on biodiversity (decision x/33 paragraphs 8w and 9 l and m). At SBSTTA 16, Parties will review those studies and make further recommendations for governance of geoengineering. Given the clear conclusions of those studies – that most geoengineering is not governed by other international instruments and also that numerous risks to biodiversity and livelihoods have been identified – this is the moment to reaffirm and strengthen that moratorium and to initiate a geoengineering test ban.

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