Make the G8 History? Not just yet…

2013 must be the year in which the root causes of hunger and malnutrition are tackled head on, writes Leah Kreitzman.

The other G8 leaders would have been forgiven for thinking that Britain had just had a snap election, when earlier this month they received a letter from the 2013 group president. Among the priorities outlined by David Cameron for the forthcoming G8 summit is the need to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, shine a light on the practices of businesses and governments and ensure transparency in the way investors are acquiring and using land and other natural resources.

To those who follow the international development debate closely, a focus on these issues is not such a surprise. They are strands of what David Cameron calls his ‘golden thread’ of development, and it has a distinctively Conservative texture. By dealing with these challenges, along with opening up trade and stimulating private investment, so the argument goes, we will set the foundations needed for strong economic growth, prosperity and, underpinning that, job creation.

However, in a world where one in eight people live with the daily pain of hunger, the global prosperity and growth the Prime Minister seeks will not be realised until this ultimate development challenge is overcome.

Hunger is not just a symptom of poverty; it also has a major causal role. By 2025 nearly a billion young people could face poverty because of the damage done to them now by hunger and malnutrition. The physical and cognitive impacts of childhood malnutrition can lead to a loss of 20 per cent in earnings over a life time and cost economies more than 3 per cent of their annual GDP. This cycle must be broken if we are to ensure economic growth in low income and emerging economies translates into better human development for the poorest.

This is why over 100 British organisations are launching a campaign today to make 2013 the year in which the root causes of hunger and malnutrition are tackled head on. There are unique opportunities to make this happen, including the first G8 under a British presidency since 2005.

Last time the group of eight of the world’s largest economies met on our shores we asked them to help make poverty history by pledging to increase aid and cancel debt. The world has changed since 2005 and so have the solutions to the global problems we face. In the last eight years we have witnessed riots sparked by record commodity prices and hunger crises spanning the African continent – just the most extreme manifestation of a food system, under strain from climate change, a growing population and changing diets, which is close to breaking point. It is a system which allows more than two million children to die each year from malnutrition; that supports targets which means land is used to grow fuel for cars not food for people; enables a few to make billions speculating on and trading in food markets while millions of small farmers struggle to feed their families and within which the operations of notoriously secretive companies and closed governments cannot be held to account.

The G8 alone cannot fix the problem. It is truer now than ever that other countries, including those suffering a high burden of hunger, need a seat round the table. But the G8, led this year by the only country on track to keep its development commitments and with the credibility that entails, can play an important initiating and convening role.

The campaign Enough Food for Everyone, IF is calling on the Prime Minister to use his international leadership role this year to mobilise the resources needed, from donors and developing country governments, to fill the investment gap in lifesaving nutrition interventions and small-scale agriculture. But it is also demanding the structural changes necessary to secure long term benefits from the effective, targeted aid and investment needed now.

The G8 could be the first signatories of a new tax transparency convention ensuring poorer countries can collect the revenues they are due and invest in hunger reduction for their citizens. It can promote open data and budgets so citizens can see how that money is being spent and it can encourage greater transparency in land deals, so it is clear whether acquisition of this precious resource is being used in the best interests of the many not the few.

David Cameron’s golden thread of development needs to weave through a complex world, one in which the group he presides over this year has waning significance. But Britain’s long established leadership on international development presents our Prime Minister with a unique opportunity to ensure that, with others, it does what it can to fix the broken food system. There is a campaign mobilising to hold their feet to the fire. If this opportunity is missed, it is far more than the relevance of this group of eight that’s at stake.

The G8 pose for a family picture. Photograph: Getty Images

Leah Kreitzman is a senior advocacy adviser for Save the Children. She has previously worked as a Political Adviser to the Labour Party, media manager for the campaigning organisation ONE and for the Overseas Development Institute.

Photo: Getty
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Empty highs: why throwaway plastic goes hand in hand with bankrupt consumerism

We are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff.

A University of California study revealed this week that mankind has produced more than nine billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with almost all of it ending up in landfill or the ocean. With the terrible effects of our decades-long addiction to throwaway packaging becoming increasingly apparent, it’s clear that a fresh approach is needed.

In April 2010, David Cameron set out his vision for Britain in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. Keen to show that the Tories had turned away from the "I’m Alright Jack" individualism of the 1980s, Cameron sought to fashion a softer, more inclusive brand.

The good society, Cameron argued, embraced much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility. There was such a thing as society, and we’d all do well to talk to our neighbours a bit more. The Big Society, however, was roundly derided as a smokescreen for an aggressive tightening of the Government purse strings. And on the advice of his 2015 election fixer Lynton Crosby, Cameron later dropped it in favour of well-worn lines about economic security and jobs.   

While most would argue that the Big Society failed to amount to much, Cameron was at least right about one thing. We are happiest when we are part of something bigger than ourselves. No matter how much the credit card companies try to convince us otherwise, mindless individualism won’t make us nearly as contented as we’re led to believe by big conglomerates.

By any measure, we are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff. As a nation, we have run up unsecured debts of more than £350bn, which works out at £13,000 per household. Fuelled by a toxic mix of readily available credit and interest rates at historic lows, we cripple ourselves financially to feel the empty high derived from acquiring yet more stuff.

Purchasing has become a leisure pursuit, ensuring the rate at which we acquire new stuff exceeds the rate at which we can find somewhere to put it. Burdened with ever increasing amounts of stuff, consumers are forced to outsource their storage. The UK didn’t have a self-storage industry 30 years ago, but now it is the largest in Europe.

With the personal debt mountain soaring, we’d all do well to realise that we will never have enough of something we don’t need.

The growth of rampant consumerism has coincided with an explosion in demand for single-use plastic. Like the superfluous possessions we acquire, throwaway plastic packaging helps satisfy our desire to get exactly what we want without having any thought for the long-term consequences. Plastic packaging is easy and convenient, but ultimately, will do us immense harm.

In 1950, close to 1.5 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally. Today, the figure stands at more than 320 million tonnes. The vast majority of our plastic waste either ends up in landfill or the ocean, and our failure to kick the plastic habit has put is in the ludicrous position where there is set to be more plastic than fish in global seas by 2050.

There is also growing evidence that our penchant for endless throwaway plastic might be storing up serious health problems for our children later down the line. According to a University of Ghent study published earlier this year, British seafood eaters risk ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of plastic each year. The report followed UN warnings last year that cancer-causing chemicals from plastic are becoming increasingly present in the food chain.

Something must give. Unsustainable as our reliance on fast credit to finance ever more stuff, our addiction to plastic packaging is storing up serious problems for future generations. The instant gratification society, high on the dopamine rush that fades so quickly after acquiring yet another material asset, is doomed unless decisive action is forthcoming.

So what is to be done? The 2016 US documentary Minimalism points to a smarter way forward. Minimalism follows the lives of ordinary people who have shunned the rat race in favour of a simpler life with less stuff and less stress. The most poignant bit of the film features ex-broker AJ Leon recounting how he chose to forgo the glamour and riches of Wall Street for a simpler life. After a meteoric rise to the top of his profession, Leon decided to jack it all in for a more fulfilling existence.

While challenging the view that to be a citizen is to be a consumer is easier said than done, there are small changes that we can enact today that will make a huge difference. We simply have no choice but to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic that we can consume. If we don’t, we may soon have to contend with the ocean being home to more plastic than fish.

Like plastic, our bloated consumer culture is a disaster waiting to happen. There must be a better way.

Sian Sutherland is co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet which is campaigning for a plastic free-aisle in supermarkets.

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