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Achim Steiner's Speech at International Livestock Research Institute's John Vercoe Conference

Speech by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director to the International Livestock Research Institute's John Vercoe Conference

8 November, 2007 - Carlos Sere, Director General of ILRI; Minster; distinguished delegates; members of the Nairobi scientific and research community, ladies and gentlemen,

On hearing that I would be delivering the key note address here at ILRI today, I must admit that some of my staff wondered about the linkages between our respective areas of work.

"Livestock breeding really isn't part of UNEP's mandate, why are you going?" they queried.

And of course on a simplistic level that may be true.

But such an observation misses some essential facts-facts that bind both our organizations and others in common cause.

Facts that all too often when organizations view each others activities, tend to be lost because of historical and out dated notions of each others work and a tendency to put each other into tight little boxes.

This narrow view of the world is of course rapidly becoming history.

Shortly we will also see the publication of the three year-long International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, in which a wide range of actors including UNEP and this research centre have been involved.

Only a few weeks ago, the World Bank launched its latest World Development Report entitled "Agriculture for Development".

Well UNEP's slogan is "Environment for Development"-I think I need say no more to any remaining skeptics!

Nairobi - A Developing World Center of Excellence

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like in this speech to touch on our mutual areas of interest and our mutual areas of perhaps common and future work.

At the local level we are both members of the international research community here in Nairobi.

As such we represent an enormous contribution to the vibrancy of East Africa's scientific and policy life- and the Continent's as a whole.

By being here, we are also privileged to have access to an experience and a knowledge base that many other international agencies-often located in developed countries-are in a way denied.

Knowledge not least in the sense of indigenous knowledge passed down over generations and intimately linked with the land; the biodiversity, seasons and cultural traditions.

Knowledge that, either on its own or combined with so called 'western science' may hold clues and solutions to many of the current and future challenges humanity faces.

On another level we are facing similar challenges and the need for cooperative responses to a raft of existing and emerging challenges.

Climate Change

Climate change is perhaps the most obvious and in a sense inescapable challenge of this generation.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-established by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organisation-has in 2007 put a full stop behind the science of climate change-it is happening, it is "unequivocal".

It has also mapped out the likely global and regional impacts with ever greater clarity and certainty-impacts, from the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, South America and North America to droughts and floods in Africa and sea level rise in Asia that will happen within the life time of people in this room, not in some far off future.

It is a veritable Pandora's Box.

But the IPCC has also offered a key to another box-it may cost only perhaps 0.1 per cent of global GDP a year for 30 years to overcome the worst.

In Bali, Indonesia, this December at the climate convention conference, governments need to begin forging that key-in other words they must set the negotiation parameters and the timetable for negotiations that will lead to a new international agreement of emission reductions kicking in 2012.

UNEP's evolving strategy and slogan in Bali and Beyond is transition to a low carbon society-for it is in everyone's interests, developed and developing, to have the best and the lowest polluting economies possible.

This, however, does not remotely suggest that adaptation to climate change is also not urgently needed.

Even if greenhouse gas emissions can be stabilized in the atmosphere, some level of climate change is now inevitable.

The developing world, including Africa, is likely to be hit hardest. UNEP is working in partnership with others-such as UNDP and the World Bank-to climate proof economies.

To what extent can UNEP and ILRI-and the agricultural community as a whole, including the FAO-work together more effectively on the climate change challenge?

There are to my mind many natural partnerships here and many areas where your work impacts and echoes to UNEP's and visa versa.

Let me touch on some.

It will be no news to this distinguished gathering that climate change threatens agricultural systems on a scale and a pace that may overwhelm traditional and modern coping strategies.

The likely impacts are long and interconnected from the re-emergence and spread of old, familiar diseases often into new areas, up to the emergence of new ones and new strains.

More intensive droughts and floods are also likely.

Developing countries-the least responsible for the climate change underway-are clearly central to our concerns.

But to imagine that developed countries are immune would also be wrong. Indeed, UNEP is responsible for the global environment as ILRI is responsible for livestock research across the globe.

Few can have failed to watch the crisis in Australia unfold over recent months if not years.

Kathleen Plowman of the Feedgrain Partnership in Australia is quoted as saying last week that that country's drought is set to trigger a shortfall in wheat, canola and barley of significant and costly proportions.

For example, she said that producers there were as a result of soaring feed prices losing $50 on each pig and 'the industry was bleeding something like three to five million dollar a week".

If a developed economy like Australia is on its knees as a result of drought-droughts in line with the assessments of the IPCC, will Africa fare, Asia, Latin America and small islands?

How will agricultural systems including livestock survive in countries surrounding the Himalayas if, as the IPCC suggests, river flows become seasonal as a result of loss of glaciers?

Developed country consumers can, in many cases, switch to an alternative source of protein.

Many poorer nation consumers cannot and there is ample evidence that when livestock crashes occur-and fish stocks fall too-communities in Africa may be forced to consume ever greater quantities and varieties of bushmeat.

This has implications for endangered species and for the transfer of diseases from the wild into the human population-all this must be of mutual concern for UNEP and for ILRI.

Adaptation-Creative Market Mechanisms

UNEP's latest state of the world's environment report-the Global Environment Outlook-4-was released on 25 October.

It was launched 20 years after the Brundtland Commission report that put the phrase sustainable development on the global map.

One striking fact is that, on average, per capita incomes have climbed by something like a third to around $8,000 per person-albeit unevenly shared.

So we live in a fabulously wealthy world-one where markets have developed and evolved ever more sophisticated financial instruments from stock and bond options to hedge funds.

The environmental and development arena has been a bit slower but we are now starting to see similar creativity emerging.

This is partly as a result of the rise of green economics where natural or nature-based resources are finally starting to be ascribed a wider and more meaningful economic value.

Nature for debt swaps are one example as are so called payments for ecosystem services. One specific example was discussed at the last climate change convention meeting held here in Nairobi last year.

The World Food Programme has teamed up with the insurance industry-some of whom are members of UNEP's Finance Initiative-to pilot weather derivatives.

In Ethiopia, one country where these have been tested, these financial instruments pay out to local farmers when weather forecasts indicate that drought is on its way.

The payments kick in before families and communities are on their knees, have sold or slaughtered their last cow, and have become dependent on food aid.

Donors, says WFP, estimate it is cheaper to invest in weather derivatives than in aid assistance.

Importantly such projects hinge on the availability of good and historical weather data and weather and climate stations. Ethiopia has all this but other countries in Africa and elsewhere are not so fortunate with a great deal of their weather networks 'silent' or non-existent.

The addition of ILRI's voice to the global call for action on weather data gaps might be very welcome-it again falls in our mutual area of interest.

Certainly, and in common with so many aspects o climate change, the costs of adapting now are likely to be far cheaper than later.

The out break of Rift Valley Fever in Kenya in 2005, linked by some experts to climate change, killed over a hundred people and devastated the livestock industry.

Yet according to some experts here the costs could have been far lower if the government had acted on an early warning predicting an outbreak following the start of the last El Nino.

Indeed, instead of spending 450 million Kenyan shillings on dealing with the disease, the government could have spent just over 100 million Kenyan shillings on vaccination of livestock.

So we need early warning systems, but need to also build the capacity and awareness of governments to use them effectively alongside investment in the early response.

Investing in Ecosystems

It is also in our mutual interests to conserve and to rehabilitate degraded ecosystems from forests to wetlands-again as an insurance policy against climate change but also for wider reasons.

Healthy forests play a critical role in supplying water but are also good sources of food during hard times.

And what about wetlands-far too many of which have been drained over the past century for crop production.

I will not enumerate the exhaustive list of benefits wetlands provide to humanity (or to pastoralists and agriculturalists) save two.

One is their role as natural reservoirs and water purification systems-able to buffer farmers during times of drought.

Another, perhaps overlooked role is in the area of avian flu and the spread of avian-related diseases from wild birds to domestic poultry and fowl and visa versa.

A recent meeting of the Avian Influenza Task Force, held in Nairobi, made the case. The scientists argued that the loss of wetlands meant wild migratory birds are being forced onto paddy fields and farm ponds to rest and to feed.

This brings them into ever closer contact with domestic chickens, ducks and the like. Restore wetlands, ladies and gentlemen, and one may restore some balance and a check in the agricultural disease transmission system.

Again, an area perhaps of mutual interest.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting may be another area of mutual interest in a climatically constrained world.

UNEP, in conjunction with one of your sister agencies-the World Agroforestry Centre-launched a report at the climate convention meeting last year on the potential.

It emerges that Africa has enough rain falling on it to provide sufficient water for 13 billion people-twice the current world population.

Most of this is however never collected. We are working with a local NGO called EarthCare on some pilot projects with the Massai in places like Kijado.

This low cost and simple technology is, to use a cliché, transforming that community's live especially for women.

In 17 provinces in China, an estimated six million rainwater harvesting tanks supplying an estimated 15 million people with drinking water, have been installed-these systems also provide back-up irrigation used for food and feed production covering over a million hectares.

Perhaps scaling up rainwater harvesting as one simple response to a changing climate is like so many other areas, in our mutual interest.

Climate Change and Genetics

I, like so many others, was surprised to read of the decline of genetic diversity in livestock outlined by ILRI and the Food and Agricultural Organization in September at the First International technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources

The increasing over-reliance on a handful of breeds such as Holstein-Friesian cows; White Leghorn chickens and fast-growing Large White pigs, mirrors the trend in agricultural crops.

Mono-cultures, whether it be in agriculture or in the narrowing of human ingenuity and ideas, will not serve humanity well in a world of over six billion shortly moving to perhaps 10 billion.

Will not enhance stability and adaptation in a climatically challenged world.

So I wholeheartedly support you Carlos (Sere) in your calls for the rapid establishment of gene banks in Africa-indeed this would seem the minimum response.

I would be keen to explore how such banks might work in the mutual interests of those keen on conserving livestock breeds and those equally keen to conserve the genetic diversity of wild flora and fauna.

Perhaps markets can be made to work in favour of greater genetic diversity in cattle and livestock.

Consumers in developed countries are increasingly looking for healthier foods and novel eating experiences-improved marketing of native Africa breeds might be a key to their survival.

Tourism may also have a role. In some parts of Europe, farmers make important incomes from attracting to visitors to view rare, domesticated breeds as part of an overall rural experience.

Kenya, for example, currently makes over $800 million from tourists coming to enjoy its abundant wildlife and landscapes.

There is an increasing enthusiasm for cultural and other experiences in developing countries. Indeed the city council here in Nairobi is now looking urgently at how to beautify and restore the city as an attractive tourist spot as well as a more attractive place to live and work.

Why not a working museum for rare Africa livestock breeds, established in this very city that might also act as a gene bank?

It may seem far fetched. But if you just look at the number of people who each year visit the Potato Museum in Washington DC or the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, then I rest my case!!

Climate Change Emissions from Agriculture

Ladies and gentlemen, I have outlined some areas of what I believe are of wide and mutual interest to out two organizations-not least in the area of climate change and adaptation.

But there is another area-mitigation and emission reductions.

According to the latest estimates by the IPCC, agriculture accounted for around 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions-with livestock methane emissions around a third of these.

A recent report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN-Livestock's Long Shadow-put the figure even higher at 18 per cent: bigger than all the world's transport emissions put together.

Manure management methods, including handling storage and treatment of livestock waste, causes seven per cent of agricultural emissions.

Fertilizers, used for food and feed production, may account for close to 40 per cent of agricultural emissions.

Agriculture, including livestock rearing and feed production, is also a big driver of land-use change in some parts of the developed and developing world-deforestation accounts of perhaps around 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The FAO report estimated that livestock plus land used for feed crops is equal to 70 per cent of all agricultural land and 30 per cent of the world's terrestrial surface.

We need to be careful in interpreting all this data. Some forms of livestock production, for example that practiced by nomadic pastoralists, may indeed on balance have positive environmental benefits in, for example savannas.

if the mobility of pastoralists is curtailed in a climate-constrained world, by for example the division of rangelands, then this could undermine the positive environmental benefits when compared with intensive livestock systems.

It is worth nothing that some European countries, such as Spain, are already devising policies to allow greater mobility of livestock in their extensive systems.

So, the management of livestock is a part of the transition to a low carbon world-a transition that is both and threat and an opportunity and an issue ILRI is well placed to address.

The IPCC says: "Compared to other sectors, relatively little work has been done on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector".

It estimates that the C02 equivalent of one Giggatonne of emissions could be saved, although it may be more or less.

Nevertheless, the IPCC lists several areas of interesting research avenues including using nutritional supplements, preventing over grazing and different feeding patterns that may reduce methane emissions.

The IPCC also calls for research into the emissions profiles of different breeds-another perhaps incentive that can support conservation of genetic diversity in livestock.

Capturing methane emissions to generate energy or fuel for a variety of domestic and industrial uses is also a possibility.

Indeed there are many examples of using agricultural wastes such as a chicken-litter-into power station operating in the eastern part of the UK.

Under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol-the UN emission reduction treaty-developed countries can offset a proportion of their greenhouse gas emissions via cleaner and renewable energy projects in developing countries.

The CDM is set to deliver $100 billion worth of funds flowing from North to South for such projects.

UNEP, in partnership with UNDP, is building the capacity of smaller developing countries with small projects to access the CDM.

I would be keen to discuss with ILRI the opportunities in terms of animal wastes and methane power production.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In some ways I wish I had double if not treble the time to talk to this important gathering. Areas of mutual interest are clearly broad and wide and rapidly evolving.

We could have discussed biofuels-I know ILRI is looking closely at crops like sorghum as food for humans; feed for livestock and an energy crop-an potentially intelligent management options that satisfies the triple challenges of hunger; agricultural development and climate change as well as improving farmers' incomes.

UNEP too is actively involved in this field under a G8 initiative to develop norms and standards so that biofuels assist in curbing greenhouse gases but not at the expense of sensitive ecosystems like tropical forests.

We could also have discussed biotechnology-the risks and opportunities.

But time today is not on our side-but we have tomorrow and I look forward to ever closer ties between ILRI and other members of the scientific research community here in Nairobi.

Ladies and gentlemen, livestock has a vital role to play in feeding people and in lifting millions out of poverty.

It also represents challenges to the environment-indeed as incomes rise in Asia and other parts of the developing world, the numbers of domesticated cows to fowl continues to climb with wide ranging direct and indirect impacts on water supplies, biodiversity and climate change to issues such as nitrogen discharges into coastal waters and the emergence of marine 'dead zones'.

Together, through intelligent management and creative science, I am sure we can minimize the environmental impacts of this livestock revolution and maximize the benefits and the opportunities.

As part of UN reform, agencies are increasingly "Delivering as One"-this reform should not be confined to just the UN but broaden so that the UN and networks like the members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research also pull together-also 'Deliver as One'.

Thank you

For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755 or E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

 
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director


 

 

Further Resources

International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

UNEP Resources on Climate Change

 

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