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
Show Hide image

Sheepwrecked: how the Lake District shows up World Heritage's flaws

Here's hoping future statements about farming and the environment aren't quite so sheepish.

“Extremists like George Monbiot would destroy the Lake District,” tweeted Eric Robson, presenter of Radio 4’s Gardener’s Questions. But he’s “just standing up for nature”, others shot back in Monbiot’s defence. The cause of the clash? The park’s new World Heritage status and the continuing debate over the UK’s “sheep-wrecked” countryside.

Tension is such you can almost hear Cumbria’s Vikings chuckling in their hogback graves – for sheep farming still defines the Lakes as much as any poem. Hilltop farmers, like Lizzie Weir and Derek Scrimegeour, have sweated the landscape into shape over generations. And while Wordsworth may have wandered lonely as a cloud, a few hundred pairs of pricked ears were likely ruminating nearby.

UNESCO’s World Heritage committee now officially supports this pro-farm vision: “The most defining feature of the region, which has deeply shaped the cultural landscape, is a long-standing and continuing agro-pastoral tradition,” says the document which recommends the site for approval. 

And there’s much to like about the award: the region’s small, outdoor farms are often embedded in their local community and focused on improving the health and quality of their stock – a welcome reminder of what British farms can do at their best. Plus, with Brexit on the horizon and UK megafarms on the rise, farmers like these need all the spotlight they can get.

But buried in the details of the bid document is a table showing that three-quarters of the area's protected sites are in an “unfavourable condition”. So it is depressing that farming’s impact on biodiversity appears to have been almost entirely overlooked. Whether you agree with the extent of George Monbiot’s vision for Rewilding or not, there are clearly questions about nibbled forests and eroded gullies that need to be addressed – which are not mentioned in the report from UNESCO’s  lead advisory body, ICOMOS, nor the supplementary notes on nature conservation from IUCN.

How could so little scrutiny have been applied? The answer may point to wider problems with the way the World Heritage program presently works – not just in Cumbria but around the world.

In the Lake District’s case, the bid process is set-up to fail nature. When the convention was started back in the 1970s, sites could be nominated under two categories, either “cultural” or “natural”, with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) advising on the first, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the second.

Then in 1992 a new category of “cultural landscape” was introduced to recognise places where the “combined works of nature and man” are exceptional. This means such sites are always evaluated principally by ICOMOS, giving them more resources to research and shape the verdict – and limiting the input IUCN is able to make.

Another weakness is that the evaluation bodies can only follow a state’s choice of category. So if a state nominates a site as a Cultural Landscape, then considerations about issues like biodiversity can easily end up taking a back seat.

According to Tim Badman, director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme, this situation is in need of redress. “The way in which this separation of nature and culture works is increasingly out of tune and counter-productive,” he says. “Every natural site has some kind of relationship with people, and every cultural site has some major conservation interest, even if it might not be globally significant. We should collaborate much more to make that a virtue of the system.”

The more you think about it, the madder the notion of a “Cultural Landscape” sounds. Landscapes are, after all, inherently scoped out by man, and there is little in the natural world that humanity has left untouched. Especially those in Western Europe and especially those, like Cumbria, that have been felled and farmed by a succession of historic invaders.

Relationships between advisory bodies are also not the only failing in UNESCO’s approach; relationships between nations and the convention can be problematic too. At this month’s meeting of the committee in Poland, it was decided that the Great Barrier Reef would, once again – and despite shocking evidence of its decline – not be on UNESCO’s “In Danger” list. It prompts the question, what on earth is the list for?

The reluctance of many nations to have their sites listed as In Danger is a mixed blessing, says Badman. In some cases, the prospect of being listed can motivate reform. But it is also a flawed tool – failing to include costed action plans – and causing some governments to fear attacks from their domestic opposition parties, or a decline in their tourism.

On top of this, there is the more generalised politicking and lobbying that goes on. Professor Lynn Meskell, an Anthropologist at Stanford University, is concerned that, over the years, the institution “has become more and more political”. At the most recent session of the World Heritage Committee earlier this month, she found nominations being used to inflame old conflicts, a continuing regional dominance by Europe, and a failure to open up many “at risk” sites for further discussion. “All Yemen’s sites are in danger, for instance” she says, “yet they couldn’t afford to even send one person."

Perhaps most challenging of all is the body’s response to climate change. At the recent committee gathering, Australia raised the subject by way of suggesting it cannot be held solely be responsible for the decline of the Great Barrier Reef. And Turkey attempted to water down a reference to the Paris Climate Agreement, claiming the language used was overly “technical” and that the delegates present were too inexpert to comment.

According to Tim Badman, climate change is certainly an area that needs further work, not least because World Heritage’s present policy on the subject is now a decade old. Even the most ambitious interpretation of the Paris Climate Agreement would still see very significant damage done to Heritage sites around the world, Badman says.

There is hope of change, however. For the most polite yet sturdy response to Turkey’s objections – or, as the chair ironically puts it “this very small ecological crisis” – I recommend watching these encouraging reactions from Portugal, Phillippines and Finland (2h30) -  a push-back on technical objections that Meskell says is rare to see. IUCN will also be producing the second edition of their World Heritage Outlook this November.

Positions on the Lake District’s farms will also hopefully be given further thought. Flaws within World Heritage’s approach may have helped pull wool over the committee’s eyes, but future debate should avoid being quite so sheepish.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.