NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 15, 2008

Numerous United Nations policies and programs inhibit the development and use of important tools that could help both to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to conserve water, especially in poorer regions of the world, says Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution.

A prime example is the U.N.'s unscientific, anti-innovative approach to regulating genetically modified (GM) plants, which could lessen agriculture's carbon footprint:

  • Many of the currently cultivated recombinant DNA-modified crops use herbicide resistance instead of tilling the soil to control weeds.
  • This offers dual benefits, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the sequestration of carbon.
  • Tilling not only requires the combustion of tractor fuel, which creates greenhouse gases, but also exposes the carbon in the soil to oxygen, thereby returning carbon to the atmosphere as CO2.

In addition, modified crops could help farmers adapt to droughts and water shortages:

  • Irrigation for agriculture accounts for approximately 70 percent of the world's fresh water consumption -- even more in areas of intensive farming and arid or semi-arid conditions -- so the introduction of plants that grow with less water would allow vast amounts to be freed up for other uses.
  • Especially during drought conditions -- which currently plague much of Europe, Africa, Australia, and the United States -- even a small percentage reduction in the use of water for irrigation could result in huge benefits, both economic and humanitarian.
  • Recombinant DNA-modified crop varieties can accomplish this, and are widely recognized by agricultural scientists and policy makers as critical to meeting future water shortages.

However, like much of what transpires within UN agencies and programs, its regulation of biotechnology defies scientific consensus and common sense, says Miller.  The result is vastly inflated research and development costs, less innovation, and diminished exploitation of superior techniques and products that could promote adaptation to environmental and public health challenges.

Source: Henry I. Miller, "How the UN's anti-biotech policies worsen global warming," Journal of Commercial Biotechnology, January 2008.

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