High-level Meeting Discusses Strategies to Address Asia-Pacific Region’s Food, Energy and Financial Crises and Climate Change

A high-level meeting kicked off today in Denpasar, Indonesia, with the aim of finding strategies to address the impact of the food, energy and financial crises on Asia and the Pacific, in the context of climate change – and prevent the triple crises from becoming a development emergency.

The High-level Regional Policy Dialogue on “The Food-Fuel Crisis and Climate Change – Reshaping the Development Agenda,” jointly organized by the Government of Indonesia and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has attracted a wide-ranging group, including policy-makers, finance experts, civil society leaders, climate change specialists, private sector entrepreneurs and agriculture innovators. The two-day event is the first time that the issues of the food, energy and financial crises, and climate change, have been addressed in a comprehensive and integrated manner in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the meeting’s opening, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Dr. N. Hassan Wirajuda, spoke of the need for Asia and the Pacific to exercise leadership in finding solutions to the crises.

We must “develop a regional framework that will reconcile our drive for food and fuel security with the need to forestall the adverse and potentially devastating impacts of climate change,” Dr. Wirajuda said, noting that the regional framework should help developing countries formulate sustainable policies that include strategies to enhance food and energy diversity. “With that framework, we will be able to manage the interlinked issues of food security, energy security, climate change and even the financial crisis,” he added.

In her remarks at the meeting’s opening, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, said that the crises threatened to unravel much of the progress achieved by the Asia-Pacific region in so many areas, including economic growth, unemployment, food and energy insecurity, as well as many other development gains.

“The food-fuel-financial crises and climate change have exposed our region to enormous human, environmental and economic costs,” said Dr. Heyzer. “But the convergence of these crises has also brought an opportunity to take a fresh look at our policies and reshape our development agenda – for that, we must act together and act now.”

“The situation is indeed worrisome: as we move towards the year 2015, the finish line in our drive to achieve our Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it has become even more difficult for us to overcome the problems of social and economic development that have always burdened the developing world,” said Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister of People’s Welfare, Mr. Aburizal Bakri, in his keynote address to the meeting. “With every day that we have to grapple with the crises, the MDG targets seem to become les attainable.”

The eight MDGs – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.

Mr. Bakri added that in trying to understand the food crisis, consideration must be given to its strong linkage to the fuel crisis and the high-demand for bio-fuels – and that the food crisis’ magnitude is bound to be amplified by financial crisis and challenge of climate change. “Nevertheless, I am confident that a regional response can be devised so that we countries of the Asia-Pacific region can cope with these crises and eventually overcome them,” he said.

Following the meeting’s opening, in a round table discussion entitled “Threats to Development: Addressing financial and food-fuel crises and climate change in volatile times,” participants heard from Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister, Mr. Anton Apriyantono, who spoke of his country’s response to the crises and other associated problems.

“Responding to the issues of food security, food safety, global warming as well as the food-fuel and financial crisis, the Government of Indonesia has reiterated calls for ‘The Second Green Revolution,’” Mr. Apriyantono said. “It is basically a greener way of increasing production.”

He said the approach is directed, amongst others aims, towards: the use of less-favourable environments, such as dry or swamp land; rice-based farming diversification through the use of indigenous resources and technologies; and, the use of environment-friendly technologies.

Addressing the round table discussion, the Deputy Minister from Malaysia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Ms. Rohani Abdul Karim, said the thrust of her country’s food security policy was split into immediate measures, such as increasing rice supplies and ensuring a reasonable price for consumers, and, in the trade sector, facilitating imports through the reduction of tariffs; as well as long-term measures addressing food availability, accessibility and nutrition. She added that a comprehensive and holistic approach was required for the current situation – one that balanced social responsibility and economic considerations. Also looking ahead, the Under-Secretary of State from Cambodia’s Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, Mr. Heng Sokkung, said that future steps should include the promotion of research activities and human capacity-building in the field of food, fuel and climate change, and that trade policies that keep global food and fuel markets open need to be encouraged. He also cited the need for greater public awareness and education on climate change.

In another presentation to the round table discussion, Mr. Yilmaz Akyuz, an ESCAP consultant and former director at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, spoke on the financial crisis’ links to the food and energy crises, as well as the commodity bubble created at the time of the global credit crunch. He noted that as long as global economic activity was weak, oil and food prices were likely to remain depressed. But with signs of a global recovery, he added, massive liquidity created for bailouts may find its way into commodity futures once again, causing sharp increases in prices.

“Increased financialization of commodity markets now threatens stability and energy and food security; hence the need to roll back deregulatory steps taken in the US – such as limits on speculative positions – and to curb commodity speculation,” Mr. Akyuz said. He added that this should be a key agenda item in reforming the world’s international financial architecture; and, that there was a need for non-G20 commodity exporters, such as Malaysia and Thailand, to take part in such deliberations.

The High-level Regional Policy Dialogue on “The Food-Fuel Crisis and Climate Change – Reshaping the Development Agenda” is expected to result in an outcome document which will include regional recommendations and actionable initiatives for addressing food, energy and financial security in the context of climate change. The outcome document is also expected to inform various inter-governmental regional processes, including the ASEAN-UN Summit in March, 2009, and the ministerial discussions scheduled to be held during ESCAP’s 65th Commission Session in April, 2009.

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ESCAP’s Dr. Heyzer will take part in a joint press conference with a representative of the Indonesian Government, at the end of the High-level Regional Policy Dialogue, at 5:00 p.m. (Denpasar time) on Wednesday. The press conference will be held at:
The Keraton Ballroom Nusa Dui Hotel and Spa Denpasar, Bali Indonesia.