High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy

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Bioenergy > Events/Timeline > 2008 > High-Level Conference on World Food Security

The "High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy" (known as the "Food Summit") was a United Nations summit addressing food security and biofuels, held 3-5 June 2008 in Rome, Italy. The conference was held during a time of great media, governmental and public concern over rising prices of food and fuel, as well as the role of biofuels in contributing to these problems and their potential solution.


  • Several preparatory consultations involving experts and stakeholders were held ahead of the conference. These included:
    • The Second FAO Technical Consultation on Bioenergy and Food Security, held 5-6 February 2008 in Rome.
      • According to IISD Reporting Services, "Participants underlined the need for bioenergy development to be tailored to country-specific conditions, agricultural systems, cropping traditions, local knowledge and rural livelihoods."[1]
  • The High-Level Conference included statements from various leaders, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who "called for a greater level of international consensus on biofuels," according to IISD Reporting Services.[2]
    • IISD Reporting Services concisely summarized discussions of biofuels at the High-Level Summit:
"There was considerable divergence in the opinions expressed on biofuels. Many developing countries cautioned against use of agricultural land for fuel production until hunger has been eradicated. Belize and Iceland opposed biofuels and promoted the development of other forms of renewable energy. Germany, the League of Arab States and the US argued that 'balanced' biofuel production is possible, important to employment and welfare, and necessary in the face of global energy scarcity. Numerous speakers, including Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Australia and Luxembourg supported the sustainable production of biofuels. The EC, Italy and Denmark supported the use of genetically modified organisms for biofuels production, with the necessary precautions. Second-generation biofuels were highlighted by many as the solution to the crisis. Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates urged research into this type of biofuel. The Common Fund for Commodities and Kenya said the production of non-food items for biofuels on arid land would contribute to sustainable development. China and Malta identified the need to further study the impacts of biofuel production on food prices. The International Federation of Agricultural Producers emphasized that biofuels should not be the preserve of wealthy developed countries. The Indigenous Environmental Network recommended against corporate production of biofuels for export. Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, Algeria and BP Biofuels supported the development of international guidelines on acceptable biofuels. Mexico and Saudi Arabia called for the elimination of subsidies for bioenergy, and with Malaysia, Oman and Uruguay, highlighted the linkages between biofuels production and the food crisis."
"WE, the Heads of State and Government, Ministers and Representatives of 180 countries and the European Community, have met in Rome at this High-Level Conference...to seek ways of achieving world food security and, in this context, to address challenges of higher food prices, climate change and bioenergy."
"It is essential to address the fundamental question of how to increase the resilience of present food production systems to challenges posed by climate change. In this context, maintaining biodiversity is key to sustaining future production performance...."
"We urge the international community, including the private sector, to decisively step up investment in science and technology for food and agriculture...."
"We encourage the international community to continue its efforts in liberalizing international trade in agriculture by reducing trade barriers and market distorting policies...."
"It is essential to address the challenges and opportunities posed by biofuels, in view of the world’s food security, energy and sustainable development needs. We are convinced that in-depth studies are necessary to ensure that production and use of biofuels is sustainable in accordance with the three pillars of sustainable development and takes into account the need to achieve and maintain global food security. We are further convinced of the desirability of exchanging experiences on biofuels technologies, norms and regulations. We call upon relevant intergovernmental organizations, including FAO, within their mandates and areas of expertise, with the involvement of national governments, partnerships, the private sector, and civil society, to foster a coherent, effective and results-oriented international dialogue on biofuels in the context of food security and sustainable development needs."

News/Reactions and Commentary

  • Feuding over food and fuel, 9 June 2008 editorial in The Hindu (India): "The Food and Agriculture Organisation summit in Rome was deadlocked on the policy measures needed to alleviate the crisis over the rise in food prices....[T]here is a worrisome prospect of the cynical play of national interest and one-upmanship delaying any meaningful dialogue on the challenges ahead."
    • "According to the FAO, of the nearly 40 million tonne additional utilisation of maize in 2007, ethanol plants, mostly in the U.S. (the largest producer and exporter of maize), absorbed 75 per cent. Similarly, the European Union’s biodiesel sector is said to have consumed about 60 per cent of the rapeseed oil output from member states. Besides the diversion of production to more lucrative crops, this drive for alternative energy, with no substantial gains to the environment, entails change of use of cultivating land from food grains to feedstock for biofuels. Given the target of 50 per cent increase in food production by 2030, the only biofuels that can justifiably be advocated are the second-generation varieties such as algae that do not entail appropriation of land meant for the cultivation of grains."[3]
  • Put nature at centre of food crisis debate, says IUCN, 6 June 2008. According to IUCN, the Declaration on World Food Security "expressed no commitment to stop the causes of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation that are affecting food production systems."
  • Biofuels win at summit but UN food envoy fights on, 5 June 2008 by Reuters: "The rapidly growing global bio-energy industry escaped unscathed from a food summit on Thursday, but its wings must be clipped to stop fuel-from-food stoking world hunger, the U.N. envoy on the right to food said."
    • "Under pressure from Washington, a draft summit declaration avoided negative language on biofuels, instead saying they present 'challenges and opportunities' and calling for an 'international dialogue' on the issue."
    • "Olivier De Schutter, an independent U.N. expert on the right to food, said countries opposed to biofuels had given in, rather than hold out against the pro-biofuel countries and risk sinking the broad declaration vowing to fight hunger.[4]
  • US$30 Billion a Year Would Eradicate World Hunger, 3 June 2008 from the Environment News Service. From the opening session: "In an impassioned speech, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf appealed to world leaders for US$30 billion a year to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflicts over food. In 2006, Dr. Diouf said, the world spent US$1,200 billion on arms while food wasted in a single country could be valued at US$100 billion."


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