Comments on the CSOs Letter on UN World Food Systems Summit

I am sure like many people we sign up for list servers that have some issues that we are interested in and others that we have tangential interest in.
The other day on one of those issues that I had a tangential interest in the 'World Food Systems Summit' there was a request to sign on to a call from ‘Civil Society’ about the 2021 World Food Systems Summit that the Secretary-General is hosting.
At the time I was watching the France v Wales rugby match - well done France an amazing game. In the half time break, I decided to open what has been signed by 330 ‘Civil Society’ organizations to see what the issue was. I have to say it confused me.
The authors of the letter seem to be confusing a Secretary-General event with a UN Summit convened by Member States.
These are two different things.
Let me explain…A Secretary-General initiated event (here the Secretary-General has called it a Summit which may have added to the confusion) is something that he hosts an event to increase the profile of an issue.
A very good example of this – and the model that most are built on – is the Secretary-General's Climate Summit in 2014.
“The purpose of the 2014 Climate Summit was to raise political momentum for a meaningful universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015 and to galvanize transformative action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.
I asked leaders from government, business, finance and civil society to crystallize a global vision for low-carbon economic growth and to advance climate action on five fronts: cutting emissions; mobilizing money and markets; pricing carbon; strengthening resilience, and mobilizing new coalitions.”
The reason he did this was to create momentum in the runup to the Paris UNFCCC COP (2015) a year later. This resulted in a number of stakeholders --- not only 'Civil Society' -- making commitments and increasing pressure on governments as they prepared for the ‘negotiations’ for Paris.
So the analogy in the letter by ‘Civil Society’ to the World Food Summit is wrong because the World Food Summit was an intergovernmental negotiating process.
According to the Secretary General’s Envoy Dr. Kalibata this is just like the Climate Summit in 2014 this Summit was to:
“offer a catalytic moment for global public mobilization and actionable commitments to make food systems inclusive, climate-adapted and resilient, and to support peacebuilding. We look forward to engaging all actors in this process who are ready to help increase our pace of progress,” 
While ‘Civil Society’ is right to raise participation issues particularly within a Secretary-General process which hasn’t had properly defined engagement but seems to be up for discussion each time this is about mobilizing commitments from all ‘stakeholders’ including governments.
Now the actual preparatory process isn’t decided yet and there might be space for trying to get some policy recommendations in a Head of State declaration IF there is one then the focus should be on CONTENT and commitments to be made.
One of the reasons why a stakeholder approach is better than a 'Civil Society' approach is it's about identifying the key stakeholders who can impact on a decision and play a role in implementing those decisions. This enables a targeted approach to WHO you want to take action beyond the government. Again, this is like the Secretary Generals Climate Summit.  (read 'Is Civil Society Arguing Itself out of Political Space?')
Underneath the letter seems to be a view that it's all about government commitments. I’d make two points here.
The first is that on climate change. Because the US government has pulled out of Paris and has no intention of delivering. The work undertaken by the Secretary General with his Climate Summit in 2014 played a role in recognising that we can help deliver those commitments. I believe this helped ‘stakeholders’ to come together as the United States Climate Alliance in the US this includes NGOs, local and sub-national government and industry to name a few to work together to deliver the US target.
In a time of rising right-wing populism, this is perhaps the best way to ensure that we are able to deliver on global agreements.
The second point was just after the climate hustings I took part in in the Mid Derbyshire seat for the UK parliament the local Extinction Rebellion group – very nice people came to see me about their target of 2025 – which I said was unrealistic. But it is a good mobilizing and pressure point. I then asked what they were doing with local government and industry to try and deliver particularly as the likelihood was of a conservative victory in the December 2019 election. They were saying that it wasn’t their responsibility as if climate change was only the responsibility of governments to address.  Again here is the problem with a 'Civil Society' approach tends to be oppositional and in the world of 2020 we can’t afford just to be oppositional we have to take responsibility and band together with others who do the same. Hence a stakeholder approach enables that to happen.
Finally mixing together the issue of the World Food Systems Summit with the Secretary General signing something with WEF is not helpful. I do not see the relevance to the World  Food Systems Summit. It does not deal with food systems. To share the partnership between WEF and UN covers these six issues:
The Strategic Partnership Framework will focus on the following areas:

  1. Financing the 2030 Agenda – Mobilize systems and accelerate finance flows toward the 2030 Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, taking forward solutions to increase long-term SDG investments.
  2. Climate change – Achieve clear, measurable and public commitments from the private sector to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, help create public-private platforms in critical high-emitting sectors, and scale up the services required to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
  3. Health – Support countries achieve good health and well-being for all, within the context of the 2030 Agenda, focusing on key emerging global health threats that require stronger multistakeholder partnership and action.
  4. Digital cooperation – Meet the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution while seeking to advance global analysis, dialogue and standards for digital governance and digital inclusiveness.
  5. Gender equality and the empowerment of women – Foster multistakeholder partnerships and coalitions for full participation and equal opportunities of women at all levels of decision-making and for productive participation of women in the labour force, and promote equal pay for work of equal value across sectors and occupations as well as within them.
  6. Education and skills – Promote public-private partnerships to address global reskilling and lifelong learning for the future requirements for work, and empower youth with competencies for life and decent work.

The letter talks about ‘stakeholder capitalism’ without defining what they mean by that.
If it means that we get commitments by industry to help deliver global agreements like the climate and biodiversity agreements then I think I am in favor.
If its greenwash then it needs to be called out and i will call it our.
Those reading my blog will have seen me do that on a number of occasions and in particular my criticism of UN Global Compact companies that are getting very bad scores on the Corporate Benchmarking on Human Rights. This can’t continue and the Secretary General does need to ensure that companies, when called out, are dealt with appropriately in their relationship with the UN. (see Being a Member of the UN Global Compact should not be without responsibility).


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