‘Climate change cannot be tackled without addressing trade injustice’

Fairtrade organisations have called for the inclusion of smallholder farmers and workers in climate solutions ahead of COP26

The Fair Trade movement is asking the international community to confront trade injustice as part of the efforts to tackle climate change.

In a position paper released ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26 (1-12 November 2021), several Fair Trade organisations have outlined a series of steps they deem necessary for achieving “comprehensive climate justice”. These include urging the private sector to increase transparency and accountability over sustainability in supply chains; demanding strengthened environmental regulations and trade rules; and calling for facilitated access to appropriate funding mechanisms for smallholder farmers and producers.

The position paper was signed by Fairtrade, the World Fair Trade Organization, the Fair Trade Advocacy Office and 14 additional signatories from the global Fair Trade movement. They argue that without these measures, not only will the international community’s climate ambitions continue to fail, but the planet’s most vulnerable communities will be increasingly affected by the consequences of climate change.

The paper points out that producers and workers all over the world continue to be impacted by changing weather, which puts pressure on the low earnings of small-scale farmers who are already struggling with low and volatile prices for their produce.

“We cannot expect – and it is not fair to expect – producers and workers to absorb, alone, all the costs of adapting to climate change,” it reads.

At the same time, producers face increasing demands to transition towards sustainable production patterns but lack support and incentives to do so. Fair Trade organisations call for a “Fair Adaptation”, urging all partners in trade to “own their responsibility and to partner together to overcome the costs of this needed transformation”.

The Fair Trade movement also argues that the social dimension is indispensable in meaningfully working towards a net-zero future. The position paper warns that “most unsustainable practices are a result of powerful buyers and retailers squeezing their producers and suppliers and pushing agroindustry in the pursuit of increasing profits” and calls for more alternative business models that integrate sustainability and climate action into their core business, such as co-operatives.

“At Fairtrade, we have farmers and workers at the core of our work, so for us, prototyping alternative business models means co-creating with them from the bottom up. Co-ops are a great form of producer association; the codes of the co-operative movement are a great example of governance. The codes and governance adopted by co-ops enable the conditions for innovation,” explained Juan Pablo Solís, Fairtrade’s senior advisor on Climate and Environment.

“It’s not a matter of whether there should be climate justice or trade justice. These two elements are inextricably linked. Both of these are indispensable for making truly sustainable models work, and for making necessary transitions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement,” adds the paper.

Dr Nyagoy Nyong’o, global CEO of Fairtrade International said: “Our planet’s farmers and agricultural workers are on the frontline of the global climate crisis. But far from being victims, they are integral in developing those key climate solutions that can reverse environmental degradation and pave the way towards a more sustainable tomorrow. That’s why the Fair Trade movement is raising its voice in this bold position paper – to ensure farmers and agricultural workers are included in the COP26 outcomes; to guarantee fair incomes for our planet’s agricultural producers; and to build back better and greener in a post-Covid world.”

The position paper calls on global leaders to immediately deliver on climate targets by:

  • Imposing transparency and accountability measures for private sector supply chains while working to ensure sustainable livelihoods for smallholder agricultural and non-agricultural producers and workers;
  • Demanding facilitated access to climate finance that empowers smallholder farmers, producers, artisans, and workers to adapt and become more resilient to climate change while shifting to net-zero production on-farm;
  • Calling on the private sector to pay “fair value, fair prices, and adhere to fair trading practices to ensure producers have the resources to make the investment needed for climate adaptation and mitigation”;
  • Lobbying for binding legal framework conditions that embed the highest environmental standards into a new, sustainable global trade policy.

“An economic system that thrives on the exploitation of our planet’s resources and our planet’s people is a broken economic system. And climate measures that exclude fairness and climate justice from the core of their targets are measures that will once again fail to achieve real climate action. In Glasgow [which is hosting COP26], global leaders will need to think inclusively if they want to have a meaningful impact in creating a sustainable tomorrow for all,” added Mr Solís.

According to 2020 data from the Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), less than 2% of climate finance makes its way to small scale farmers. The position paper highlights that awarding criteria and procedures of financial mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund must be aligned to small producers and their organisations to enable them to access funding and manage it “in a non-bureaucratic way”.

Roopa Mehta, president of WFTO, said: “Marginalised communities across the world are suffering the severest impact of climate change. Their production practices and personal choices have contributed the least to the current climate crisis but they are the most affected by it.

“The call for climate justice requires that these communities have a seat at the negotiating table – their voices heard and their concerns addressed. Fair Trade business models contribute to the prosperity and well-being of the most marginalised, ensuring trade justice. We urge big businesses, policymakers and other stakeholders to collectively work towards trade and climate justice for building a fairer and sustainable future.”

Sergi Corbalán, executive director of the Brussels-based Fair Trade Advocacy Office, added: “The world is at a crossroads and business-as-usual is simply not an option. Governments must take action to set the right policy framework for fair and sustainable global trade. This includes not shying away from legislating since relying exclusively on voluntary commitments and market forces will not bring us any closer to achieving the Agenda 2030 objectives and the Paris Agreement.”