How ships could help feed the world…

At the age of 17, I met a woman who was to become one of my best friends.  A Kenyan, from Western Province, she was running an educational NGO in the slums surrounding Nairobi.  Her name is Catherine, and she’s still running this educational NGO over a decade later, though it’s now based in Western Province.  Why am I telling you this?  I’ve found myself thinking of Catherine as I attend a UN food summit in Rome this week [in the photo I’m the out of focus white woman in black!].  When Catherine left Western Province 15 years ago her family – like many others – grew food for the household on their small plot of land.

FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

When Catherine returned to Western Province in 2008 she planned to grow food once more.  But as we chatted she said “Hey!  You know the rains are really not working anymore.  They’re not enough, or they’re at the wrong time – we can’t grow anything!”.  Poor harvests meant that later that year, Catherine and many of the children supported by the NGO found themselves eating only one meal a day, primarily of ‘porridge’.  That was the point when the reality of climate change hit me like a brick in the face.

Here in Rome, governments, businesses and civil society, speaking up for people like Catherine, will discuss the links between climate change and people’s ability to eat, amongst other topics.  We heard last week that 1 in 8 people in the world go hungry.  It’s not something we like to think about in the UK, but the reality is that my friends in Kenya – and many others around the world – are finding it harder and harder to grow enough food and climate change is to blame.

My Kenyan friends are currently adapting.  They’re trying out new crops, they’re trying different ways of using the soil and rearing a variety of animals.  But all of this costs money – for Catherine, and for everyone else who needs help to adapt to a changing climate.  In Britain, we dislike talking about money perhaps more than we dislike thinking about climate change!  But we’re not asking for extra money from governments, or individuals.  We think the money to help farmers adapt to climate change could come from shipping.

Lost?  Bear with me.  Every time you fly on a plane, your ticket price includes a small climate change ‘levy’ in recognition of the carbon emissions it produces.  Ships also produce carbon emissions.  So wouldn’t it make sense for them to pay a levy too? We could raise at least $10 billion if they did.  $10 billion which could then be used to help Catherine, and others like her, adapt to a changing climate.

We’ve got a video animation that explains this idea a lot better than I can here:

And if you’re really keen, you can read my colleague’s briefing paper ‘Hope on the horizon’

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