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COPENHAGEN COMMENTARY: Bad times for NGOs

More than 25,000 NGO delegates had registered before COP15, yet many remained barred from entering the overfilled conference centre. In the meantime, representatives of the organic farming movement used two press conferences to urge that demonstrably sustainable farming practices gain a higher profile in climate negotiations. FiBL director Urs Niggli is on site in Copenhagen and sent in this commentary.

Seven hours in a queue on a bitterly cold day to pick up your accreditation badge – that was the new record on Tuesday, the ninth day of the COP15 Climate Conference, as experienced by one of the tireless IFOAM delegates. Coming up to the evening the organizers decided to no longer admit any new NGO delegates to the Bella conference centre.

How did this happen? Apparently in the run-up to the conference, the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) Secretariat in Bonn had accepted more than 25,000 delegates registered by the NGOs, knowing full well that for security reasons no more than 15,000 delegates could be admitted to the Bella Centre. This chaos was a source of huge frustration amongst both participants and those who were barred, all of whom have been working so hard to make their concerns heard. Many of them have travelled halfway around the globe and are now marooned in Copenhagen. Many of the events, discussions, and debates which should have taken place in the Bella Centre are now being hastily shifted to other venues in the city. It is likely that on Thursday all but 1,000 NGO delegates will be barred and on Friday the halls are to be closed entirely as the many heads of state and government arrive for high-level talks. IFOAM is currently still fighting to get passes for their speakers at the event scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

On Tuesday the organic farming movement was represented at two press conferences. At the first, Jim Harkness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (U.S.) and Dale Wen of the International Forum on Globalization together with IFOAM’s Urs Niggli called for the strengthening of the position of demonstrably sustainable farming practices in the climate negotiations. They argued that the high potential for carbon sequestration of fertile agricultural soils should be exploited to the full, in conjunction with stringent support for biodiversity, landscape quality, and very strong environmental conditions. They called for the resolute implementation of the recommendations of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), as published in 2008. The experts rebuffed purely technocratic solutions. For more information go to: http://www.iatp.org/climate/.

In a second press conference, the farmer and IFOAM Vice President Andre Leu, Urs Niggli, and IFOAM’s Climate Coordinator Robert Jordan elaborated in detail on the potential of organic farming to sequester CO2 and to adapt to serious changes in weather and environmental conditions such as droughts, flooding, new pests due to temperature increases etc. They presented scientific research data as well as numerous examples of organic farms in many parts of the world.

Right at the start of the Climate Conference, New Zealand’s government presented the idea of a global research alliance on climate change and agriculture. Meanwhile, this proposal, entitled Joint Ministerial Statement on the Establishment of a Global Research Alliance on Agriculture Greenhouse Gases, is being supported by the governments of Austria, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well as the United Nations. Brazil and India have not yet made firm commitments.

The research alliance was presented to the media on Wednesday. While the proposal is very laudable, there is also a concern that the announcement of increased research cooperation might be used to embellish the modest outcomes of the summit.

Looking at the objectives of international support for research one can assume that the initiators plan to take a very technocratic approach. The vital aspects of sustainability, holistic systems approaches, strong involvement of farmers in the knowledge system, and a clear focus on the needs and problems of small farmers who will most strongly be affected by climate change, are still lacking. A great need remains for improvements on these fronts.

Urs Niggli, December 16th 2009

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