That comment came from Seychelles UN Ambassador Ronny Jumeau at today’s Many Strong Voices side event in Cancun.
There are negotiations and there are side events. The former is where the official business is done. Side events are where ideas beget conversations that lead to meetings which in turn can produce language for negotiators, project ideas or new alliances.
Many Strong Voices held a side event on Food Security and Human Rights in the Arctic and Small Island Developing States. Ambassador Jumeau pointed out the common interests of the two regions that might on the surface seem remote and as different from each other as sand and snow. He succinctly summed up the matter: “When ice melts at the poles people in the tropics use their homes. We have as much at stake in saving the ice as in the Arctic as people there have.”
Jumeau was one of four speakers at the event, organized by GRID-Arendal and the Centre for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo (CICERO), the two organizations coordinating MSV.
Patricia Cochran is an Inupiat from Alaska and is head of the Alaska Native Science Commission. She is also co-Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Network on Climate Change and Sustainable Development, which includes Indigenous Peoples from around the world. She and her colleagues are working to ensure that the new climate change convention recognizes the rights defined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Patricia talked about the combined threats to food security from contaminants, oil and gas and mineral development. She pointed to National Tribal Subsistence Workshops in Alaska that focussed on questions of whether food is safe to eat, what effects on culture are there from contaminants in food sources, and there needs to be recognition of tribal rights and jurisdiction.
Kirt Ejesiak is the recently elected vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council – Canada and travelled from Iqaluit, the capital of Arctic territory of Nunavut, to Cancun to get the message out about the urgent need for action given the rapid rate of climate change in the Arctic.
“The impact of climate change on food security is a vital challenge and a particularly critical one for vulnerable regions such as the Arctic,” said Ejesaik. “The impact on food security is not only on food quality and quantity but also on health, culture, transportation, infrastructure, and trade.”
Ejesiak identified four accepted dimensions to food security:
- Availability or adequacy of supply
- Accessibility and affordability -- traditionally harvested or store bought
- Use, quality and safety of food
- Stability or sustainability of supply
“How the Arctic responds to this crisis may well provide valuable directions to others and by participating in programs such as Many Strong Voices, the Arctic can work together with other vulnerable and remote communities to find solutions to the food security challenge.”
Margreet Wewerinke talked about the need for recognition of the connection between human rights and climate change. “There is an obligation to respect and protect,” said Wewerinke, who is part of the Human Rights and Climate Change Working Group, an alliance of NGOs trying to get human rights language in the text being discussed in Cancun.
Wewerinke said that respect for the human rights of people in the Arctic and SIDS is integral to a future climate change treaty. “Human rights adds the human dimension to climate change. Each human life is valuable.”
All the side event participants talked about the fact that climate change and food security is a complex issue, and one that needs to be approached from a number of angles and perspectives. Jumeau pointed to water, and its scarcity in his home country, as underpinning people’s ability to access food.
Seychelles is “down to 20 days of drinking water” due to a severe drought that has seen rainfall reduced to approximately 10% of normal levels. Reservoirs are drying up. Desalination is replacing natural water sources, an expensive option in a country heavily reliant on imported food and where tourism is the main source of income. “Tourists take a shower every time they come in from the beach,” the ambassador said. Keeping the water flowing is an expensive proposition because hotels are required to operate desalination plants and the fuel and infrastructure costs get passed on to tourists, raising the price of an already expensive trip to the Seychelles.
Water shortages also affect the second largest industry, the tuna cannery. If it closes, 3000 people out of a population of 85000 will be out of work, a huge portion of the workforce.
“No matter what you do, the costs of food will go up all because other people have messed up the atmosphere,” Jumeau said.
Click here to access presentations and speeches from the side event
In the Seychelles the fishermen are being forced to change their fishing methods as a result of climate change. Rising surface temperatures mean that they must fish deeper, where the cooler water and fish are. They must also fish for longer periods of time and they report that the fish they catch are changing shape as a result of the warmer sea temperatures (Photo credit: Lawrence Hislop)