ASEAN in the midst of climate change and food security

Thursday, February 5, 2009

By: Fika Fawzia
This article is the unedited version that was published in the Jakarta Globe, Saturday, 31 January 2009

On 15th of December 2008, ASEAN has taken a new chapter in its long years of regional cooperation as the ASEAN Charter has entered into force. Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the Secretary-General of ASEAN, mentioned that "the ASEAN Charter is a historic milestone for the organization, repositioning ASEAN to better meet the challenges of the 21st century."

The Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reiterated in the ASEAN Charter entry-into-force ceremony that one of the main challenges of ASEAN will be climate change and the volatility of food prices in the region.

ASEAN acknowledges this challenge and this is why the ASEAN Secretariat has conducted the Brown Bag Series (BBS) on the topic of climate change and food security last year in December, in joint collaboration with GTZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) together with Australia's Development Assistance Agency (AusAID).

Food security, which covers the four dimensions of food availability, stability of food supplies, food access and food utilization (FAO, 2003) is not a new issue for ASEAN. Arrangements on food security in ASEAN dates way back in 1979, when ASEAN had the agreement on the ASEAN Food Security Reserve, focusing on an emergency rice reserve. It was soon followed by a series of programmes and strategic plans of action regarding cooperation and policy coordination on food security under the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF).

On the other hand, climate change is not entirely a new issue but it is only recently that people are fully aware that it poses an additional threat to the already rising food prices in the region.

Droughts and floods are the most common natural cause of severe food shortages in developing countries. Based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the unpredictability and variability of water supplies due to the warming of the global mean and extreme weather events are likely to increase the number of people at risk of hunger, especially those who are among the poorest; some of them who are ASEAN people, small-scale farmers, fishermen and people living in rural areas who might not even know what ASEAN stands for.

According to the data by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), in Asia alone, the projected climate change impact on agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2080 is minus 4.3 percent, while the impact on the cereal production is minus 8.6 percent. Globally, there would be a rise in world market crops prices by 10.5 percent and 19.5 percent in cereal prices.

In dealing with this issue, there are several points that need to be put into more sensitivity.

First, ASEAN should focus more on climate change adaptation, mainly in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector. Although climate change mitigation is just as important, developing countries such as some ASEAN Member States need to prioritize on adaptation because even without the projected impacts of climate change, we are suffering from those impacts already.

Mobilizing adaptation funds for activities such as sustainable agricultural water management in river basins like the Mekong River Basin are needed to be integrated with the national development plans. Furthermore, ASEAN could share its common knowledge and good practices among countries to foster sustainable agriculture and rural development.

Second, it's a question whether we provide food for people or food for automobiles. Demand for bioenergy, mainly from western countries as a way of mitigating climate change, have raised the price of cereals and might provide a risk for food security.

Palm oil plantations like in Indonesia and Malaysia might be seeing this bioenergy boom as an opportunity to expand their profits, but at the same time it also provides a huge risk if the same land and water resources used for those plantation would be better used for food production.

A balancing act between the opportunities of bioenergy while also ensuring that people can continue to grow or buy adequate supplies of food might be tricky.

In addition, if forests and peatlands are cleared for either bioenergy or food production, then there is a great chance for such practices to contribute to more greenhouse gas emissions.

This leads to the third point, which is the climate change mitigation scheme that was highly debated in Poznan, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) scheme.

In the REDD scheme, land use must be planned carefully to avoid emissions from converting forests to non-forest areas to be used as agriculture and food production activities, for example. If land use is not planned carefully, ASEAN Member States who are eager to participate in the REDD scheme might experience "leakages" in the scheme.

The opportunity costs of REDD for not converting the forests for other usage are high. Thus, those who think that REDD credits are cheap might have to think again. Protecting the forests to help the world combat climate change is important, but it is more important for the developed countries to curb their appetite on fossil fuels.

Quite often ASEAN is deemed as the government's club. It will gradually change with the hope of the new ASEAN Charter in force and the ASEAN Community Blueprints. However, the rules-based and people-oriented organization will face the challenge of climate change and food security as one of its daunting tasks. On this occasion there are underlying causes and interrelated issues which need not only strategic planning and policy coordination but also real implementation for real progress for the ASEAN people to see.

The author is the Programme Officer for REDD in the ASEAN-German Regional Forest Programme. The views expressed in this article are exclusively of the author's personal view.

Posted by Fiat Justitia at 8:38 AM


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