Fair Trade and Global Warming

With concerns over global warming finally having reached a critical mass in 2006, this year has seen a deluge of blog posts on the subject. A couple of interesting contributions this week have come from “Lunch Over IP”, such as this piece covering a speech on urban design by Sir Norman Foster, and a follow-up to last week’s announcements by Tescos and Marks and Spencers: the “emission labels” and other carbon footprint news.

In the latter, Bruno Giussani raises one of the most significant questions facing those working on poverty reduction in a climate change challenged world:

reducing food miles poses a big ethical and political dilemma: the case for lowering trade barriers with developing countries so that their products can more easily get into northern developed markets is a strong one. Climate change and the rise in CO2 levels completely re-opens it. As Terry Leahy, the CEO of Tesco, poses it: “should we shun fair trade horticulture from East Africa to save CO2, or champion it as an important contribution to alleviating poverty?”

While the concept of ‘lowering trade barriers’ has far too many connotations to be simply supported or opposed, whatever your take on trade regulations this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Perhaps a good starting point would be for wealthy countries to begin to repair the damage we’ve done by encouraging/forcing developing world farmers to focus on cash crop production over self-sufficiency? If we in affluent communities want to enjoy locally grown food, we need to own up to our own mistakes in using Structural Adjustment and related mechanisms to strip the developing world of that option.

The details will be difficult to work out, but we should look beyond the useful stepping-stone of fair trade, and begin to do more to support farmers and governments who want to return to economic models that feed their people first, and export surplus second.

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