Food Chain Reaction put the fate of the world’s food supply on the shoulders of 65 private and public sector leaders. The players were transported to the year 2020 and a burgeoning global food security crisis. Over the course of two days, they collaborated, negotiated, and played out how the world would respond over the next ten years. The biggest takeaway was how their individual decisions could set off a chain reaction of effects in halls of government, boardrooms and communities around the globe.
But in reality, food security is no game. The players were passionate about how they will carry forward the lessons they learned through the game to real life. That call to action was echoed in a keynote address by John D. Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress, one of the partners responsible for Food Chain Reaction. His remarks energized players, reminded them of the urgency to find solutions, and encouraged them to continue to find innovative ways to solve this critical global issue.
Remarks by John D. Podesta
November 10, 2015 | Washington, DC
It is really a pleasure to be here.
First, I want to thank you all for joining the Food Chain Reaction and giving us two full days of your time, your attention, and your expertise. We know how busy you all are – you’ve come from all parts of the world to do this – and the fact that you’ve all come here demonstrates the importance of the issues you’ve grappled with over the course of the game.
I’d like to thank the people who worked so hard to make this event happen. This exercise was the product of a remarkable collaboration by experts across a really diverse coalition of organizations – including the WWF, CNA, Cargill, Mars, of course the Center for American Progress, and many others who came together to put this on. CAP’s first effort at gaming the effects of climate change started in 2008 when we brought together again a similar collaboration to think about the direct effects of climate change and what policy needed to change, both here in the United States and globally. I think it had a direct impact, I can say that as someone who ran President Obama’s transition, and many of the people who participated in that game have had a role in participating in the Obama Administration. I think the teachings, the learnings, the experience gave them the ability to really contemplate these global scenarios – a really important step in being able to plan and move policy forward. Indeed, I think the accomplished and diverse group of people gathered here tonight is a testament to the growing importance of the food security as a challenge for policymakers worldwide.
You spent your time grappling over the last couple of days with crises that the world is already confronting, and that are likely to be more frequent, and potentially more devastating, as I’m sure you experienced. The cascading crisis in our global food supply chain: water shortages, food scarcity, price disruptions, all combined with population growth and political instability— these are the ruptures that can truly shake societies and governments.
So let me be clear, social disruptions can be traced directly to at least the acceleration that comes from climate change. Globally, 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred this century. July was the hottest month in what has so far been Earth’s hottest year on record. I don’t need to explain to the people in this room how the added stress of climate change will come to bear on our global agricultural system, on our stressed out oceans, and on the billions of people they support.
Here in the United States, we lost 9 million acres to wildfires this year alone. In the past 3 decades, ocean acidification has cut in half the number of corals covering the Great Barrier Reef. I could go on and on. The scientific news just keeps pouring in.
This week, the World Meteorological Organization reported that average levels of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million in early 2015. That’s an increase of 43 percent over pre-industrial levels. Again, in the spring as the Northern forest began to take some of that carbon, it dipped below 400 parts per million, but they are fully expecting that coming into the new year we will see the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere exceed 400 parts per million and stay there.
In a separate report just hours later, the Met Office and Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia reported that the Earth’s average temperature has crossed the symbolically important 1-degree Celsius warming mark, with temperatures over the first nine months of 2015 surpassing historic norms by exactly 1.02 degrees Celsius. I think these reports only compound the evidence that 2015 is almost certain to surpass 2014 as the hottest year in recorded history.
Dramatic changes in weather patterns are often associated with immediate consequences, particularly when extreme weather events are compounded by poor governance and poor policy choices. Political instability, social unrest, and in extreme cases armed conflict, as you grappled with, these secondary and tertiary impacts are really devastating.
Extreme weather events force farmers large and small to adapt their techniques and their crops. Declining fisheries exacerbate already-increasing tensions in maritime trade. Washed-out roads prevent movement of people and goods. Armed conflict destroys critical infrastructure. These changes lead to food scarcity or sudden and unsustainable price increases. And that’s why we call it the Food Chain Reaction.
In 2010 and 2011, we saw what could be just the future that is coming for us. We saw the impacts of climate change, of environmental degradation, and political instability converge. As many of you will remember, a series of cataclysmic weather events drove the price of wheat from $4 to $9 a bushel in less than a year. Record rainfall in Canada, the world’s second-largest wheat exporter, cut the country’s harvest by nearly a quarter.
Drought and brushfires in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan cut those countries’ wheat production by a third. The U.S., Australian, Argentinean and Chinese crops were also damaged by drought and storms.
But when the Arab Spring Awakening began, few people asked the question—isn’t it strange that these social uprisings are happening just at the moment that the world food prices hit record highs?
But, in hindsight we can appreciate that the Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic factors, but by environmental, migratory and climate stressors as well. If we continue to focus only on the former, that is the political factors, and not the latter, the environmental factors, that lead to mass migration, that lead to environmental degradation, that lead to food insecurity, we will never be able to effectively stabilize societies in crisis.
So I hope that this game has underlined those core points and perhaps clarified some new issues for further study. That is why we are here. There is a simple reason: We have to begin to prepare for the inevitable next crisis. When disaster strikes the people gathered in this room tonight will have critical roles to play as leaders and decision-makers.
I believe that in most crises there is opportunity. Hopefully this simulation has shown that, too. That cooperation can overcome conflict.
Now, the past decade has been a tough one for multilateralism. From the wars in Iraq and Syria to the slow pace of climate negotiations, multilateralism and global cooperation can sometimes seem out of reach.
But over the past two days, in this exercise, we saw the risks we face when nations go it alone, and the effort to secure resources becomes competitive rather than cooperative. We also saw the benefits we all accrue when we come together to build a more effective response and more cooperation.
So as we approach the new climate negotiations in Paris, I have hope that our leaders finally recognize that cooperation is indeed imperative. We have achieved success in the past – 15 years ago the world’s nations came together to create the millennium development goals, which had a set a hugely ambitious targets to improve humanity the world over.
We didn’t achieve all of these goals and we didn’t achieve them in all places, but we made a big difference by working together. The rate of people living in extreme poverty was cut in half 5 years ahead of the 2015 deadline, mainly thanks to efforts of China, India, and Brazil. The world is also on track to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger this year.
The debate about the Millennium Development Goals proved that multilateralism can reshape our world for the better. I had the privilege to help shape the “first draft” of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. As Marcia noted, I served on the Secretary General’s high-level panel that spent over a year in an intensely consultative process listening to people from around the globe, particularly very poor people, young people, and learning about their aspirations for a new set of global goals. And I can tell you with absolute conviction that the opportunity for real progress on these issues is still there, and the multilateral ideal is alive and well.
I had the privilege of working with Paula Caballero who worked in that enterprise, and I think she would agree with my assessment from what we saw in the high level panel. But more importantly, what we saw in September when Pope Francis kicked off the SDG special meeting of the UN General Assembly and the new SDG’s were approved by a unanimous vote of the United National General Assembly.
At their core, the new SDG’s call for a new global partnership with a commitment to ending poverty, within a framework of sustainability. The goals established global commitments, leaving no one behind, particularly women and girls – thank you Kathleen for raising that.
I think that everyone can see themselves and their efforts in these universal goals, from a young child, to a subsistence farmer, to a street vendor, to a business owner, to the President of the United States. That ideal, building a new global partnership, will again be put to the test in just a few weeks when the world gathers in Paris to negotiate a new global climate deal. The deal that must help address many of the challenges you have faced in this simulation over these past two days. I think these enterprises at the international level are really linked.
In order to build the kind of resilience that we are going to need, that you discussed over the past two days, we need to focus on the goals that are embedded in the SDG’s and build new models of sustainable economies, but we also need to tackle the climate challenge. Paris is obviously the moment when the world could come together to do that, to negotiate that new global climate deal, a deal that must help address these challenges.
We have not yet crossed the finish line on a global climate agreement. But there have been some big diplomatic breakthroughs that make me optimistic about the prospects for success in Paris, the foremost being the U.S.-China joint announcement of mutual action and emission reduction, which galvanized the commitment to put forward ambitious INDC’s. China committed to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar, and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030. That’s a lot of clean energy – equivalent to nearly the total current electricity generation capacity in the United States. The U.S. pledged to double the pace of its GHG reductions and keep on a path to deep de-carbonization by midcentury, which as I understand it, what the group agreed to at the end of the fourth turn of this game.
But as we know, reducing emissions won’t be enough. We need to ensure that resilience and adaptation are also key pillars of the agreement in Paris. Without focusing on how climate change and environmental degradation will impact the livelihoods of the most vulnerable, we’re completely ignoring the full scope of the challenge. So as world leaders gather in Paris, they must build an agreement that reflects both of those 21st century realities.
First, all of the world’s major polluters must act to cut their baseline greenhouse gas emissions, and at the same time they must stay focused on helping the most vulnerable. We must not only help them weather the impacts of climate change, but we must help them martial resources to build, as I noted, sustainable, resilient economies for the future that are inclusive. That bring in the extreme poor, that connect them to the societies, to the politics, and to the economies of their countries.
Such an agreement is achievable, but we cannot fall back on old habits that pit region against region, North against South, or rich against poor.
There will invariably be moments of frustration, brinkmanship, and even crisis. That is how such talks always seem to go when there is a great deal at stake. I would only urge that in those moments, negotiators of the countries that will attend the meeting in Paris remember that billions of people around the globe are looking to them to work in a spirit of collaboration, cooperation, and partnership to shape the world we all want—for our children, our economies, and our societies.
Put simply: we can’t afford to wait, we can’t afford finger pointing, and we can’t afford half measures.
You’ve seen over the past few days the potential for decisions by big players to interact in unanticipated ways. And you’ve seen how the negative impacts often fall upon the most vulnerable. The Africa team has seen the importance of increasing its influence in the global policy arena. The United States, Europe and India have proven that they can successfully cooperate when it comes to increasing research and establishing funding streams to address pressing issues, and put a price on carbon.
The last two days have also shown that although traditional security challenges that we face today will not disappear, the Cold War-era thinking will not provide the solutions that we so desperately need. By broadening the discourse over what constitutes “security,” we will diminish distrust between countries and mobilize powerful civic and corporate partnerships.
Perhaps this seems Pollyannaish in today’s context, but I hope you will all take away the belief that serious cooperation on issues like food security, climate change, climate security, and environmental preservation serves all of our interests across the globe. Providing safe, affordable food supplies to a growing population is of course not a new problem, but it’s never been more challenging than it is today. Population growth, rapid urbanization, eroding infrastructure, climate change, extreme weather, ocean degradation, ocean acidification, new strains of crop disease, political instability and conflict are only making it more difficult for us to feed the world, in particular our most vulnerable.
If we focus on the challenges of human security, livelihood protection, and sustainable development, I believe we all stand to benefit greatly. If we can revise our traditional conceptions of security to more reflect the world we live in today, we can hope to mobilize greater resources in times of crisis. And if we work together to address the root causes of conflict and instability, we just might be able to insulate the most vulnerable states and societies against these threats.
As I spoke with some of you after the game, I heard a lot of great ideas. Molly already went through some of them. I particularly like that “blue sky science” model – that’s a particular passion of mine. Some were focused on improving or better-resourcing our existing multilateral framework for addressing these issues. Some put forward ideas for entirely new institutions meant to fill existing gaps. Some put forward ideas about how we resource challenges in front of us. That is, produce the funds necessary to make the right investments and produce those sustainable economies.
Here is what I’m going to ask all of you: Take them home with you. Keep working on those ideas and expanding them. Talk about this exercise and the lessons you learned from it. And keep talking to each other – I hope this is the beginning of a great global food security network. All of our work is strengthened by maintaining these ties and continuing to work outside and across our areas of expertise.
So with that: thank you all for gaming with us. Thank you all very much for your time, your expertise, and your contributions. Most of all, thank you for your commitment to solving what will be the future generations’ most important security challenge. Thank you for taking these two days and taking time to do something I couldn’t think of as more important than the enterprise of ideas and the solutions that you hopefully have been able to map out in your two days. Thank you very much.
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