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Remarks at Eat Stockholm Food Forum

Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein's remarks at Eat Stockholm Food Forum.

Allow me to start with a quote: ‘Climate change is moving faster than we are.’ These are the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

What does the Secretary-General mean by that?

  • Perhaps he is thinking about the 26 million people who are displaced every year by natural disasters,
  • or that global economic losses from extreme weather events have increased 250 % over the last 20 years,
  • or that by 2030 more than 100 million people may have been driven into extreme poverty by climate change,
  • or that as much as half of the food production in parts of Africa and Asia could be lost in the foreseeable future,
  • or that hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row.

Climate change not only seriously undermines our joint efforts to reach the SDGs; it also destabilises economies, nurtures political extremism and, in some cases, threatens the very existence of countries – in particular small island developing states.

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This image was taken during my recent visit to the Pacific island of Tonga. To the people of Tonga, climate change is not just weather statistics. It is a daily struggle against forces that are undermining their livelihoods. Slowly, their island is disappearing. Rising sea levels, combined with increasingly extreme weather and drought are turning their fields into fallow land. Their crops and the soil are being destroyed.

Farmers all over the developing world tell me similar stories. Climate change is being felt and in very concrete ways. It is damaging crops and thus undermining whole societies that are dependent on local food production.

Again: ‘Climate change is moving faster than we are.’ So how can we catch up?

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As can be seen in Tonga and many other places, we are clearly off track for achieving the targets set by the 2030 Agenda. This does not mean that the SDGs cannot be achieved. But we have to transform the way we work and the pace of action!

We must intensify our efforts. We must do more of what works. We must stop doing what doesn’t work. We need to find smarter and more efficient ways of mobilising the necessary resources. And we need to use these resources more effectively. We have to be more creative and innovative! And science and knowledge must be at the heart of everything we do.

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Over the last few years, a lot of work has been done on food systems. The Eat-Lancet report is one of the science-based documents that politicians are reviewing these days.

Over the last year, Norway has been working to develop an action plan for promoting sustainable food systems in our development policy. We know that we need to break down the siloes between the various areas we are engaged in, if we are to improve food security more effectively.

The SDGs inspire an interconnected approach. Achieving any one of the 17 goals depends on progress on others. And vice versa, If you make progress on one of the goals you are likely to support the achievement of several other. This understanding forms the basis for our work on the new action plan on food systems.

The action plan will be launched in Oslo next week, so I will just touch on the overall objective.

Norway will work to increase food security through sustainable food systems. To you, participants at the Eat Stockholm Food Forum, a food system approach might seem the obvious answer. But it is not so obvious in the realm of international development policy.

Now that we have a plan, the hard work begins. Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the other collaborating ministries in Norway will have to deliver. Our Embassies will have to consider food and food security issues when assessing what projects and partners to support. And partners will have to show what impact their projects will have on food security.

For us this represents a new, but logical, step forward in Norway’s engagement in food security and sustainable agriculture.

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During my travels, I have repeatedly seen the devastating impacts of climate change. But I have also been encouraged by the positive developments that arise from effective climate adaption and disaster risk reduction.

To me, adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction are crucial for building resilient, sustainable societies. If we want to secure a future for poor and vulnerable people and communities, this is where we need to step up our efforts.

People not fleeing their homes, children not going hungry, people not losing their jobs and livelihoods, and crops, homes and boats not being swept away by hurricanes do not make for spectacular newa images.

How can we present the importance of the disasters and tragedies that did not happen? The UN says that 1 dollar spent on preparedness is 7 dollars saved in humanitarian aid. That should make headlines and inspire responsible action before, not after, disaster strikes.

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For many years, Norway has championed emission reductions in developing countries through our forest initiatives and our substantial investments in renewable energy.

But reducing future emissions is of little immediate help to pacific islanders or subsistence farmers in the Sahel who already find the struggle to secure their livelihoods becoming harder by the day.

Therefore we must work simultaneously along two tracks. The first is to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. The Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September this year should focus on enhancing ambitions.

The second track is to assist vulnerable countries in building resilience to natural disasters and adapting to the impacts of climate change. We are determined to substantially step up our efforts along this track. I have therefore decided that Norway will develop a strategy for adaptation, preparedness and fighting hunger.

Yet again: ‘Climate change is moving faster than we are.’ This new strategy will help us to speed up. It will be our main contribution to the efforts to catch up with climate change. It will also be my most important priority as Minister of International Development.

Policies and strategies provide useful frameworks. But in order to see change on the ground, we need to implement them. That takes money and knowhow. And it takes political will, leadership and courage.

I hope to have a chance to tell you how our work is progressing at the Eat Stockholm Food Forum next year.

Thank you.

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