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World must be careful on food-miles issue

Ending imports of fresh food from Africa under the pretext of combating climate change risks destroying entire communities that have become dependent on the trade, Ghana’s High Commissioner to Britain said on Wednesday.

So-called food miles — the distance food travels from producer to consumer — have become a highly divisive issue as environmentalists try to persuade people to reduce the amount of climate warming carbon gases their lifestyle emits.

”We do understand, of course, that our friends here are anxious to make a difference. However, the figures simply do not add up,” said Annan Cato, noting that less than 0,1% of Britain’s carbon emissions relate to air-freighted food.

”At what cost to global justice do we shut the door on the economic prospects of small farmers in Africa by refusing to buy their produce,” he told a meeting of artists, musicians and scientists to discuss global warming’s impact on Africa.

Environmentalists recommend that as much food as possible should be produced and consumed locally, ending airfreighted imports of fruit and vegetables from around the world.

But development specialists note that much of the produce comes from the poorer parts of Africa and that whole communities have become dependent on the lucrative lifeline.

”There are many other ways for the British shopper to reduce their carbon footprint without damaging the livelihoods of thousands of poor African farming families,” said Cato.

Scientists say global average temperatures will rise by between 1,8° and 4°C this century due to carbon gas emissions from burning fossil fuels for power and transport.

This will bring floods, famines and extreme weather putting millions of lives at risk, with Africa expected to bear the brunt despite the fact that per capita carbon emissions on the continent are among the lowest in the world.

”Reducing greenhouse gas emissions must be done in a fair, scientific and rational way — making cuts at the expense of the world’s poorest is not only unjust, it is a bad basis for building the international consensus needed for a global deal on climate change,” Cato said.

United Nations environment ministers meet next month on the Indonesian island of Bali amid growing international pressure for them to agree to open urgent talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on cutting carbon emissions that expires in 2012.

Europe is pushing for a deal by the end of 2009 at the latest — a very tight deadline given the time it took to negotiate Kyoto in the first place let alone ratify it.

But the world’s biggest polluter, the United States, which rejected Kyoto and is still dragging its heels despite a sharp change of public mood, and China which is building a coal-fired power station each week say they are not the cause of the crisis.

”It is imperative that the post-Kyoto agreement must advance cogent proposals to promote adaptation to climate change with an acceptable regime for implementation,” said Cato. ”This is an issue not only of global justice but of survival.”

”The damage has been done by some of the world’s most powerful countries but the worst affects are felt by many of the world’s most vulnerable countries,” he added. – Reuters

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