November 16, 2009 / 11:31 AM / 8 years ago

Climate deal key to fight "devastating" hunger: U.N.

ROME (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Monday that agreeing a climate change deal in Copenhagen next month is crucial to fighting global hunger, which Brazil’s president described as “the most devastating weapon of mass destruction.”

Government leaders and officials met in Rome for a three-day U.N. summit on how to help developing countries feed themselves, but anti-poverty campaigners and even some participants were already writing off the event as a missed opportunity.

The sense of skepticism deepened at the weekend, when U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders supported delaying a legally binding climate pact until 2010 or even later, though European negotiators said the move did not imply weaker action.

“There can be no food security without climate security,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the summit.

“Next month in Copenhagen, we need a comprehensive agreement that will provide a firm foundation for a legally binding treaty on climate change,” he said.

Africa, Asia and Latin America could see a decline of between 20 and 40 percent in agricultural productivity if temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius, the U.N. says.

Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be the hardest hit from global warming as its agriculture is almost entirely rain-fed.

The number of hungry people in the world topped 1 billion for the first time this year due to the combined impact of the global recession and high food prices in poor countries. A child dies of malnutrition every six seconds.

“Hunger is the most devastating weapon of mass destruction on our planet, it doesn’t kill soldiers, it kills innocent children who are not even one-year old,” said Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization called the summit in the hope leaders would commit to raising the share of official aid spent on agriculture to 17 percent of the total -- its 1980 level -- from 5 percent now.

That would amount to $44 billion a year against $7.9 billion now. Farmers in rich countries receive $365 billion of support every year.

WHERE‘S THE MONEY?

But the summit declaration adopted on Monday included only a general promise to pour more money into agricultural aid, with no target or timeframe for action.

Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a U.N. Millennium Development Goal to halve the number of hungry people by 2015 -- a deadline which most experts say is certain to be missed. They vowed to eradicate hunger “at the earliest possible date.”

Last year’s spike in the price of food staples such as rice and wheat sparked riots in as many as 60 countries.

Rich food importers have since rushed to buy foreign farmland, pushing food shortages up the political agenda -- but also raising fears of a new colonialism in poor countries.

“We should fight against this new feudalism, we should put an end to this land grab in African countries,” Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said at the summit.

Food prices have fallen back since their 2008 record highs but remain well above pre-crisis levels in poor countries. The FAO says sudden price rises are still very likely.

Group of Eight leading powers in July pledged $20 billion over three years in farm aid, in a big policy shift toward long-term strategies and away from emergency food assistance.

But FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said those were “still promises that need to materialize.”

Apart from Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, G8 leaders skipped the summit, which looked more like a gathering of Latin American and African heads of state.

“At each summit we leave with our bellies full of promises,” was the downbeat comment by President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries.

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