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Energy & Economics
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins giving speech at World Food Form

Keynote address the Closing Ceremony of the World Food Forum

by Michael D. Higgins

Director-General, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Dear Friends, Young and Old, This week, as we have gathered here at the World Food Forum in the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in Rome to discuss the necessary transformation of our agri-food systems, we must not only be conscious of targets missed or imperfectly achieved, but of the need for courage, and to generate new capacity to move to new models of better connection between economy, social protection, social justice and ecology. We are confronted with a climate and biodiversity emergency that cannot be handled by the tools that produced it or by the architecture of how we made decisions before. We are called upon to, once and for all, tackle with alternatives and sustained effort and innovation, the vicious circle of global poverty and inequality, global hunger, debt and climate change, our interacting crises. That is the context in which sustainable food systems must be achieved. I ask you all gathered today to respond in the most meaningful way within your capacity, within your generation, in a way that includes all generations, to the challenge set out by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in his recent statements: This is how the Secretary-General put it: “The Sustainable Development Goals aren’t just a list of goals. They carry the hopes, dreams, rights and expectations of people everywhere. In our world of plenty, hunger is a shocking stain on humanity and an epic human rights violation. It is an indictment of every one of us that millions of people are starving in this day and age.” It can be put right but we must change and there is work involved in upskilling in such a way that we can not only identify and critique assumptions of failing models but be able to put the alternative models in place. We have had so many broken promises. Only 15 percent of some 140 specific targets to achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are on track to be achieved. Many targets are going in the wrong direction at the present rate, and not a single one is expected to be achieved in the next seven years. However, we have some reasons to be hopeful. When I look around this room today, I see so many engaged and committed people, including young people who have the enthusiasm, energy and creativity needed to tackle the serious structural causes of food insecurity and global hunger. But it is important to acknowledge that young people are not alone in seeking authenticity of words delivered into actions that have an ethical outcome. There are those who have spent their lives seeking a fairer world, one in which hunger would be eliminated – as it can be. We must recognise their efforts. We must work together to harness this collective energy and creativity into strong movements that will deliver, finally, a food-secure world for all. This will require, I suggest, moving to a new culture of sharing information, experiences, insights. As the cuts have taken effect, we must take the opportunity of developing a view, post-silo culture, of sharing insights, and I see FAO as uniquely positioned for this. As Glenn Denning, Peter Timmer and other food experts have stated, achieving food security is not an easy task given how food hunger is “deeply entwined with the organisation of economic activities and their regulation through public policies”, given, too, how governments and markets must work together, how the private, public and third sectors must work together. All of our efforts must have the character of inclusivity. Each of us as global citizens has a responsibility to respond. To ignore it would be a dereliction of our duty of care to our shared planet and its life-forms including our fellow humans and future generations. The Secretary-General’s pleas in relation to the consequences of climate change are given a further terrible reality in the increased and spreading threat of hunger, a food insecurity which is directly affected by the impact of climate change. For example, figures published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations show that 26.2 percent of Africa’s population experienced severe food insecurity in 2021, with 9.8 percent of the total global population suffering from undernourishment the same year. It is time for us all, as leaders and global citizens, to take stock of how words are leading to actions, to increase the urgency of our response to what is a grave existential threat and to achieve change. It is clear, as the Secretary-General’s powerful statement shows, that we need to begin the work of reform in our international institutional architecture, such as UN reform at the highest level, including the Security Council and the Bretton Woods institutions, if we are to achieve what the Secretary-General has suggested is the challenge to “turn a year of burning heat into a year of burning ambition”. Let us commit then to sharing purposes, projects, resources, seeking a new culture for sustenance solutions. Those of us who have spent much of our lives advocating UN reform believe that its best prospects are in the growing acknowledgement of the importance of the vulnerabilities and frustrated capacity of the largest and growing populations of the world being represented, not only nominally but effectively, through a reform that includes reform of the Bretton-Woods Institutions. As Secretary-General Guterres has said on a number of occasions, it is time to reform what are 1945 institutions, including the Security Council and Bretton Woods, in order to align with the “realities of today’s world”. We have to acknowledge too that the development models of the 1950s and 1960s were part of the assumptions that brought us to the crises through which we are living. New models are needed and the good news is that a new epistemology, our way of looking at the world, of sufficiency and sustainability, is emerging. We are seeing good work already occurring. Good development scholarship is available to us. I reference, for example Pádraig Carmody’s recent book, Development Theory and Practice in a Changing World. Such work builds important bridges from the intellectual work that is so badly needed and is welcome at the centre of our discourse on all aspects of interacting crises, including global hunger, and the need to link economy, ecology and a global ethics. What we must launch now is a globalisation from below. Replacing the globalisation from above that has given us a burning planet and threatened democracy itself, with a globalisation from below of the fullest participation, we can establish and indeed extend democracy, offering accountability and transparency of our work together. Writers such as Pádraig Carmody are not alone in suggesting that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals provides the opportunity for moving past the worst contradictions of failed models and dangerous undeclared assumptions. The demise of hegemonic development theory and practice may be a result of several factors, such as the rise of ultra-nationalism around the world, the increasing importance of securitisation where the most powerful insulate their lives from the actions of the excluded, and the existential threat posed by the climate crisis. Such research adds to the growing body of development literature that argues for a pro-active, structural-focused, tailored approach to development. The Hand-in-Hand Initiative of the FAO, details of which were discussed at this week’s parallel session, is a most welcome initiative, one that aims to raise incomes, improve the nutritional status and well-being of poor and vulnerable populations, and strengthen resilience to climate change. It heralds a belated recognition too of the insufficiency of a reactive emergency response to famine and hunger crises. It suggests a move towards one that tackles the underlying structural causes of hunger. Young people will need patience and to dig sufficiently deep to achieve these necessary changes. They are right in seeking to be partners, so much more than being allowed as attendees. Hand-in-Hand recognises the importance of tailor-made interventions to food security, using the best available evidence in the form of spatial data, validated on the ground through local diagnostics and policy processes, to target the most food insecure, the most hungry, the poorest. It recognises that context-specific employment and labour market policies are part of the sustainability challenge. I believe that evidence from below is crucial to achieving globalisation from below and that it can be achieved by a reintroduction of new re-casted anthropology guided by, among others, the new African scholars now available, whose work is empirical and peer-tested, can be invaluable in giving transparency on projects and investments – a strategy for fact-gathering for empowerment of rural people so like the 1955 fact-gathering with rural people of the FAO – first published in 1955 and used by me in 1969! Young people must be about upskilling to be able to critique all of the assumptions guiding the policies on to their lives. A key objective for us now must be to strengthen institutional capacity on the ground, not only at the strategic level, but also fundamentally, so that the public, farmers, and other stakeholders’ institutions are enabled to participate in territories-based agri-food systems. Such a move is fundamental to a successful food security strategy. Our institutional architecture and the multilateral bodies within it, must be made fit for purpose if we are to tackle effectively and meaningfully our contemporary food insecurity crisis which is worsening according to the 2023 Global Report on Food Crises, with 258 million people across 58 countries suffering acute food insecurity. Perhaps most crucially, we must acknowledge, as United Nations Programmes such as the Hand-in-Hand Initiative does, the critical importance of partnership and collaboration in addressing global hunger. We must do everything we can to ensure cross-sectoral co-ordination, foster coherent development actions, under a common, shared vision. We must end all wasteful competitive silo behaviours, create a culture of openness and co-operation. The FAO is well positioned to lead on this with its new invigorated partnerships with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Co-operation in the development and implementation of new models will be key to the achieving of any targets that seek to be sustainable and inclusive. For example, I suggest it will achieve best results if funders, such as the African Development Bank, are enabled and funded to work closely with research institutes, both at the national and international level, but particularly take account of field studies conducted over time at local level in the new anthropology so as to ensure that findings from the latest research feed into the design and implementation of any financial supports and investments. By providing a platform, a shared interactive transparent space for national authorities and producers, national and global businesses, multilateral development banks and donors to discuss and advance ways and means to finance the supported national food programmes, initiatives such as Hand-in-Hand are proving to be an effective flagship programme of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Co-operation must work both ways. For example, the parts of the so-called ‘developed’ world suffering from problems of high levels of obesity and food wastage must learn from the deep knowledge and wisdom existing in the most populated continents, as well as the science, which points to a new ecological revolution, one in which agroecology – the bringing of ecological principles to develop new management approaches in agroecosystems – can play a fundamental role, especially for the poorest of our global citizens. We have seen the destructive impact of colonial models of agronomy promoting an over-reliance on a small number of commodity crops, herders incentivised to become less mobile and store less grain in order to maximise commodity crop production, and increasing imports in conditions of near monopoly of seeds, pesticides and fertilisers. This had the deadly effect of opening up farmers not only to the full force of extended droughts, the ravages of variable climate conditions, and a reliance on non-indigenous inputs, but also to global spaces where they have insufficient influence. We must retreat from these dysfunctional food systems model, with their related dependencies, with urgency and embrace models of sufficiency and effective local markets and see the value of making our way too that includes agro-ecological models that promote food security and development opportunities for the poorest people on our fragile planet. Adaptation and responding to the already changing climate is crucial for all of us, and especially in the most food-insecure nations. We must restore degraded ecosystems, introduce drought-resistant crops, ensure accessible digital services for smallholder farms, while creating new, sustainable green jobs for young people so that we may forge a smart, sustainable, climate-resilient development path for the continent. This week we have to acknowledge the many challenges we face including, inter alia, the energy, climate and biodiversity crises, war and conflict which exacerbate food insecurity, ensuring enabling policy environments, and reaching the long-term goal of sustainable food system transformation. Any agri-food initiative, be it for Africa, the Middle-East, Central or South America, or other food-insecure regions, must place inclusivity at its core. Specifically, more vulnerable, smallholder farmers must be targeted for inclusion as programme beneficiaries, not just large-scale, industrial level farmers and ever-expanding commercial plantations. Research has shown that irresponsible agri-business deals are sometimes falsely legitimated by the promotion of alleged achievement of Sustainable Development Goal Number 2 at any cost, without care as to consequence, ignoring the reality that smallholders need enabling policies to enhance their role in food production; that food insecurity is linked to rights, processes, and unequal access to land resources; and that dispossession disproportionately affects women farmers. On this latter issue of gender, achieving zero hunger requires gender-inclusive land and labour policies. Actions must prioritise the inclusion of women and girls who are more food insecure than men in every region of the world. Women must have a right to land recognised and enshrined. The gender gap in food security has grown exponentially in recent years, and will only deteriorate further in the absence of targeted intervention. Women are obviously the most impacted victims of the food crisis, thus they must be a part of the solution. Women produce up to 80 percent of foodstuffs. Empowering women farmers can thus serve as a transformative tool for food security. However, female farmers have, research tell us, limited access to physical inputs, such as seeds and fertiliser, to markets, to storage facilities and this must be addressed. Climate change, and our response to it, addressing global hunger and global poverty, exposing and breaking dependency is a core theme of my Presidency. It is the most pressing existential crisis that our vulnerable planet and its global citizens face. Throughout the world, young people and the youth sector have been at the vanguard of efforts to tackle climate change. Young people have demonstrated, time and again, how well-informed and acutely aware they are of the threat that climate change poses, as well as its uneven and unequal impacts. May I suggest to all of you that, as young innovators and future leaders in your respective fields, you will be at your best, achieve the greatest fulfilment for yourself and others, when you locate your contribution within a commitment to be concerned and contributing global citizens. Take time to ask how is my energy in the tasks of hand and brain being delivered and for whose benefit. May I suggest, too, that you will be remembered and appreciated all the more if you work to ensure that the results of science, technology are shared and that all human endeavours are allowed to flow across borders for the human benefit of all and with a commitment to ecological responsibility and inclusivity. Offer your efforts where they can have the best effect for all. Locate yourselves in the heart of the populated world, as Nobel Laureate William Campbell did with his research on river blindness. Changing our food systems is, however, let us not forget, an intergenerational challenge that requires an inter-generational approach. We must now empower youth to be in the driver’s seat to build a new, better, transparent model of food security in a variety of different settings. Let us endeavour, together, in our diverse world, to seek to build a co-operative, caring and non-exploitative global civilisation free from hunger, a shared planet, a global family at peace with nature and neighbours, resilient to the climate change that is already occurring, one based on foundations of respect for each nation’s own institutions, traditions, experiences and wisdoms, founded on a recognition of the transcendent solidarity that might bind us together as humans, and reveal a recognition of the responsibility we share for our vulnerable planet and the fundamental dignity of all those who dwell on it. Thank you. Beir beannacht.

Energy & Economics
concept of lithium mine extraction and international commodity prices. Supplier of minerals for production.dice with 'lithium' word,miniature workers digging

Global Lithium Supply and Australia's Role

by Dr. Marina Yue Zhang

Australia plays a pivotal role in global Lithium supply chains. While joining initiatives like the Minerals Security Partnership may in the short term provide strategic security, this must be weighed against the broader interests of global development and climate change mitigation.  Lithium is both a critical element and strategic resource as nations strive to achieve their decarbonisation goals. Amid increasing geopolitical tensions, nationalism, and protectionism, investments in strategic resources are subject to security reviews to assess potential political risks and safeguard national security interests. Such scrutiny reflects the growing importance of protecting critical resources and assets as countries strive to maintain their sovereignty in an uncertain global environment where trust and adherence to a rules-based order are diminishing. China currently dominates the global lithium supply chain with over 60 percent of processing capacity, 65 percent of lithium-ion battery component manufacturing, and 77 percent of battery manufacturing. The concentration of the lithium supply chain in China has raised concerns in the United States (US) and the European Union, resulting in a shared priority of reducing dependence on China in their respective industrial and trade policies. Accounting for 55 percent of global lithium production – with 96 percent of it exported to China in 2022 – Australia holds a significant position in the “de-risking” effort of the US-led Minerals Security Partnership, which aims to strengthen commercial ties between strategically aligned nations. Australian Resources Minister Madeleine King has emphasised the importance that Australia participate in this alliance. Jim Chalmers, Australia’s Treasurer, has called for caution and selectivity in foreign investments in critical minerals. While not explicitly stated, it is evident that Australia intends to impose restrictions on investments from China in critical minerals. At the recent G7 Summit in Japan, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reached an agreement to build an independent supply chain for critical minerals. As part of this agreement, Australian companies will have the opportunity to benefit from US subsidies if they establish value-adding facilities within Australia. Building onshore lithium processing facilities in Australia can provide benefits such as reduced shipping costs and job creation. However, it requires significant investment in building processing technology and waste management facilities. Meanwhile, aligning with the US-led alliance could risk escalating tensions with the potential for retaliation from China. But, accepting China’s investment and technology for onshore lithium processing may raise concerns about aligning with China’s political identity. The definition of “likemindedness” and the alignment of interests in foreign investment have become subject to debate. Tianqi Lithium, a Chinese company, portrayed itself as a “likeminded” foreign investor during its attempt to acquire equity in ASX-listed Essential Metals (ESS), emphasising its potential contribution to Australia’s moving up the value chain. However, this interpretation contradicts the evolving understanding of the term held by Australian politicians and the public, which is more narrowly focused on political identity. Benefits and costs Within this competition, a primary concern is that China will leverage its dominant position as a geopolitical  “chokepoint,” similar to the way Russia did over energy resources during its invasion of Ukraine. However, reciprocity is also true in a chokepoint strategy due to interdependence. Possessing eight percent of known global lithium reserves, China relies on imports for about 65 percent of its lithium production. This dependence exposes China to its own potential chokepoint. In this respect, Australia plays a pivotal role in China’s supply chain security. The fear of being “strangled” in the supply of lithium has led to a growing  security dilemma – nations strive to secure a stable and uninterrupted supply for decarbonisation efforts; however, this pursuit  could trigger a cycle of competition for production and processing capacity, potentially resulting in redundancy in the supply chain and, more importantly, increased pollution. The US, despite being a major consumer of lithium batteries, has limited control over the global lithium supply, with only one percent of known lithium reserves. To ensure energy security during the clean energy transition, the United States is actively pursuing strategies to strengthen its position in the lithium supply chain. This may involve decoupling or de-risking strategies that come with economic, social, and environmental costs but can provide advantages in terms of global influence, political leadership, and technology sovereignty compared to China. While clean energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles offer carbon-neutral benefits during use, their production processes can have a substantial environmental impact – lithium extraction and processing, for example, is energy-intensive and can contribute to carbon emissions. A recent opinion article in Nature highlights the importance of considering the entire life cycle of clean energy technologies, from production to application, to effectively mitigate their environmental impact. Driven by the need for energy security and its commitment to achieving its carbon peak and carbon neutrality goals, China has made remarkable strides in developing clean energy technologies over the past decade. Notably, China has gained a significant advantage across the supply chain. This competitive edge has been achieved through substantial investment in research and development, but also significant environmental costs. In 2022, China’s investment in clean energy technology exceeded – by more than 50 percent – that of all of the G7 nations, plus South Korea, and India, combined. China is strategically investing in future technologies, including the full cycle of lithium production. Chinese lithium giants are constructing solar power stations for clean lithium extraction in South America, and Chinese researchers are working on battery recycling technologies and exploring new materials and innovative processes in battery making. Riding on an established wheel or inventing a new one? When it comes to fighting climate change and the urgent need for action, nations have the choice to build upon established technologies or explore new ones. Countries need to adopt an open-minded approach and avoid repeating past mistakes that have harmed the environment in the search for sustainable solutions. This requires a global effort based on collaboration and cooperation, transcending political divisions. China, as a developing country, has benefited from technology transfer and foreign investment during its industrialisation. In the emerging area of clean energy transition, it has gained first-mover advantages, although it has incurred significant costs, especially environmental damage. Chinese investment is often referred to as “red capital,” indicating the potential for political influence, particularly by its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in foreign investment projects. Though most of Chinese lithium companies are private businesses, they are still collectively categorised as red capital, and not viewed as likeminded investors. It would be short-sighted to reject Chinese technologies and investments solely on the basis of political divisions. Instead, countries should learn from both the successes and challenges of China’s experience to achieve their decarbonisation goals. For Australia, it is important to go beyond simplistic policies and carefully assess the benefits and costs of joining a US-centered geopolitical bloc in the lithium supply chain. Such a decision could have repercussions, including retaliations and disruptions in global supply chains and trade. Moreover, it is crucial to both fully assess the environmental consequences and carefully calculate the necessary investments in technology and infrastructure in order to develop a strategic plan that benefits Australia, contributes to global decarbonisation efforts, and promotes the well-being of humanity.

Energy & Economics
Cargo ship on Pacific Ocean Cost

UK joins Asia-Pacific trade bloc

by Marina Strezhneva

At the end of March, the negotiations that started in June 2021 on the accession of the United Kingdom to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) were successfully concluded, reflecting radical changes in British trade priorities after Brexit. More broadly, this move by London undoubtedly confirms the special importance that the Indo-Pacific region has acquired in the concept of "Global Britain" and in its subsequent relevant updates. The signing ceremony is scheduled for July 2023, for which the trade ministers of the participating countries and the United Kingdom will meet in Auckland (New Zealand). As a result of London's accession, this bloc will surpass the EU in terms of the combined population of its constituent countries. However, unlike the European Union, which the United Kingdom, on the contrary, left, the CPTPP does not have - to the satisfaction of British Eurosceptics - its own court like the EU Court of Justice, or a supranational budget. The union operates as a multinational trade agreement. An important obstacle that hindered reaching an agreement more quickly was London's refusal to weaken national food standards. But in the end, Ottawa (Canada) backed down on calls for London to lift the ban on importing beef with growth hormones. Beijing has also applied for membership in the CPTPP following London (the Chinese application is dated September 16, 2021, but negotiations have not yet begun). However, with London's accession as a full member of the agreement, China's chances of joining the bloc look somewhat weaker, as London is likely to obtain veto power on this issue. It is possible that they will use this veto under the pretext of ensuring higher trade standards within the agreement (including issues related to ecology and food safety). In any case, as It is known, the current British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refers to China as a "systemic challenge", which London intends to respond to with "dynamic pragmatism." Currently, the CPTPP includes 11 states (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam), none of which are European. These countries collectively account for 13% of global GDP. The new partnership replaced the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement of 2016 with 12 participants, after former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2017. In 2020, the 11 countries of the CPTPP accounted for 8.4% of goods and services exported from the United Kingdom. In turn, 6.8% of imports to the United Kingdom came from these countries. The terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership eliminate unnecessary barriers to mutual trade of services by opening financial markets and reducing obstacles to cross-border investment, facilitating data exchange, increasing business mobility, and ensuring regulatory transparency. All of this will support the British government's plans to turn the country into a global technology and service hub, strengthen semiconductor and critical mineral supply chains to produce electric vehicles and wind turbines.London already has trade agreements with most members of this trading bloc, but now these relationships can deepen, and 99% of British goods exported to the bloc countries will be subject to zero import tariffs. Tariffs on imports of Peruvian bananas, Vietnamese rice, crab sticks from Singapore, and Malaysian palm oil into the UK will be reduced (this is a controversial issue that has sparked discussion in the UK, as the production of palm oil, as ecologists point out, leads to deforestation of tropical forests). At the same time, according to assessments by the British government itself, joining the CPTPP is expected to add no more than 0.08% per year to the country's economic growth in the long term (while the slowdown in growth due to Brexit is estimated at 4%). Many politicians and trade experts rightfully point out that participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not capable of compensating for the economic losses that the UK is experiencing due to its departure from the EU. Moreover, due to differences in its rules and standards from European regulations, Britain's accession will prevent it from returning to the European Union in case of a change of priorities. In other words, this agreement is like driving an additional wedge into the relationship between London and Brussels, which are just starting to improve. It is worth remembering in this regard that it was Liz Truss, a former trade minister in Boris Johnson's cabinet and one of the main advocates of independence from the EU, who submitted the British application to join the CPTPP. So far, for London, it is not so much a direct economic, but rather a strategic and symbolic acquisition, firstly due to the rapid growth (according to some estimates, up to 65% by 2030) in the number of middle-class consumers in a dynamically developing region, committed to innovation, and secondly, because of the fact that in the foreseeable future, mid-ranking trading powers such as Thailand and South Korea, which have already submitted applications, are planning to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Membership in the TPP is becoming more important for Britain due to the unattainability of a large trade agreement with the United States and the crisis in the World Trade Organization, which is currently unable to firmly enforce the rules of global trade. The matter is not limited to trade alone as London's foreign policy is clearly shifting towards the Indo-Pacific region. In this sense, Australia and Japan, concerned about economic pressure from China and its military ambitions, see Great Britain as a natural ally in opposing Beijing. It is assumed that stronger economic ties will lead to the strengthening of geostrategic alliances. Due to the high dependence of countries such as Chile on Beijing, which is the largest trading partner and main investor for Chileans, Britain's participation in the CPTPP, according to London's opinion, will contribute to the establishment of necessary connections that are seen by Britain's partners in the region as an attractive alternative to ties with China.