The room in which the high level side event, “Sustainable Solutions for Climate Action: Food Security in Dry Lands under a Changing Climate,” took place was packed with about two hundred people and photographers. The high interest was not a surprise—the presentation was cohosted by the State of Qatar and the UN Secretary-General, meaning that COP18/CMP8 President Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and a handful of other prominent figures spoke during the session.
Due to his busy schedule, Ban Ki-Moon came in several minutes after the side event began. He entered with a swarm of body guards and photographers, and not until well into his speech did the media dissipate. Rather than address specific mechanics of the negotiations he hoped to see during the week, Ki-Moon took a philosophical approach in his speech. He emphasized the importance of optimism, and urged member parties to set aside politics to come to agreement. He pointed out that combating climate change is the global and political responsibility we have towards the next generation. By avoiding skepticism and proving “doubters wrong,” he said that we could leave Doha with “a clear message: a sense of hope that this can be done.”
The Secretary-General was forced to leave the side event early for another appointment, and the mediator handed the floor over to Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC. Figueres addressed the issues of security in dry areas, saying that the need to provide food and water in the Gulf is "acute" but not unique to the region. She expressed her gratitude towards Qatar for spearheading food security programs in dry areas.
Fahad bin Mohammad Al-Attiya, the Chairman of the Qatar National Food Security Program, spoke next. He outlined Qatar’s challenges as a desert country, explaining that Qatar relied heavily on imported goods. He discussed the domestic and international programs that his country has launched to address the food security issues facing both Qatar and the other 60 dry land nations. Qatar has established the Qatar National Food Security Program, and is scheduled to launch an international program in several months.
Izabella Teixeira, the Brazilian Environment Minister, gave a fiery speech addressing the feasibility of improving populations’ standard of living while preserving the environment. She explained how her government has increased food production and pulled 40 million people out of poverty, all while working to protect the environment and restore Brazil’s forests. She emphasized “green growth,” and pointed out the importance of education in climate change mitigation.
The session then switched focus to dry areas in developing countries when Edna Molewa, the South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, presented a speech. She discussed the unique needs of Africa in which many countries have water but do not have food, the need for technological innovation, and at the same time predicted setbacks from disaster or upheaval in vulnerable countries. She ended on a heartfelt note, saying that we cannot live in a world where some countries excel while vulnerable countries are left to suffer.
Rachel Kyte, Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, then discussed the economics of green development in vulnerable countries. She stated that the key to this progress is establishing “a reliable financial safety net” for every country while “aggressively” tackling climate change. She emphasized the need to research and develop understanding about agricultural risk. She commended the current development of hardier genetically modified seeds.
Benedito Braga, President of the World Water Council, then addressed water availability issues. He believed that impacts of climate change manifest in water availability, and African countries are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. He suggested that countries must focus on efficient water processing and “more resilient hydrologic infrastructure”. He also noted that more water conservation measures must be put into place, and hydropower should be implemented more. He asked that negotiators focus on water issues during the conference.
Then next speaker also addressed water issues. Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Association, discussed how water stress will increase with climate change, and regions will receive too much or too little water. He stated that climate change increases volatility and vulnerability in countries. He suggested that our scientific understanding of climate change has improved, but this newfound knowledge has not translated into improved negotiations. He emphasized the importance of adaptation and mitigation.
Kieren Keke, Nauru’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke on behalf of small island states. As an island state, Nauru is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Keke explained that his country no longer has predictable wet and dry seasons, and the island now endures long seasons of either too little or too much rain. With coral bleaching and tuna migration, many fish populations no longer exist as a reliable resource for the people. Nauru must work within its range of influence—no matter how small that may be—to combat environmental issues. He suggested that other countries must do the same. Larger issues that lie outside of individual countries' ranges of influence then require collaborative efforts between governments and organizations.
Several other speakers followed, as prominent leaders continued to address the issue of food security through a wide range of lenses.
The side event on food security exemplified of the kind of governmental collaboration that marks the high level segment of COP18. The secretary-generals, ministers, and organization presidents that spoke on Tuesday clearly expressed their approach to tackling climate change. Hopefully we will soon hear of ambitious pledges that bring us closer to climate change mitigation.