Climate crisis threatens Canadian agriculture, we need an agricultural adaptation plan, now

All around the world, governments are mobilizing resources to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the climate crisis. Everywhere around the world that is except Canada.

Canada’s agricultural production is under threat as never before, but the Harper government is deaf, dumb, and blind to the threat. The threat is the climate crisis. Even if global emissions of greenhouse gases were to be stabilized tomorrow, we would face decades of destabilized climate conditions. However, there is no sign of current levels stabilizing, and as carbon emissions ramp up, so too does the threat of increasingly-severe droughts and flooding disrupting agriculture across Canada.

Last summer saw a record-breaking heat wave with widespread severe drought conditions right through the breadbasket of North America. Budgets, year after year, include hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to help farmers who have suffered crop loss due to droughts and floods. And the climate models project this worsening year after year.

Globally, crop failures due to climate change have already created food prices to spike. The 2010 heat wave that hit Russia, as fires ringed Moscow, caused Putin to end wheat exports. The international programs to meet the threat of famine were unable to meet the demand as higher food prices meant their budgets could not extend to buy the needed emergency food. Repeatedly and with increasing frequency, the world has faced food emergencies in the last few decades due to climate change.

All around the world, governments are mobilizing resources to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the climate crisis. Everywhere around the world that is except Canada. In the last few months, the Harper administration has cut programs to confront the threat to agriculture around the world and right here in Canada.

The inexplicable decision to legally withdraw from the UN Convention to Combat Drought and Desertification (UNCDD) makes Canada the only nation on the planet not to be part of the multilateral effort to help farmers deal with drought. The only explanation giventhat the treaty costs Canada too muchis laughable. At roughly $300,000 per year, the convention cost less than half the cost of one G8 gazebo, 109 days worth of care and feeding of one rented panda, one-third of the cost of shipping an armoured car to India, three per cent of the cost of the new Office of Religious Freedom, four per cent of the Prime Minister’s Office budget, or less than two days worth of the government-paid advertising of its own partisan agenda. The idea that Canada cannot afford $300,000 per year to participate in global efforts to confront the threat of drought and expanding deserts is a non-starter. That dog (as they say) won’t hunt. The more plausible explanation is that since drought is connected to climate change, and since the Harperized climate policies will not meet any targets, Canada wants out.

Domestically, the Harper administration has just killed activities to help make our Prairies more drought-resistantsome of which have been in place for over 100 years. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration was created following the Great Depression and the devastating Dust Bowl in the Prairies. The 1935 Act of Parliament to create the PFRA explained its role was to “… secure the rehabilitation of the drought and soil drifting areas in the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, and to develop and promote within those areas, systems of farm practice, tree culture, water supply, land utilization and land settlement that will afford greater economic security…”

The PFRA took over the Prairie Shelterbelt program, which had been in existence since 1901, to help reduce wind, and thus erosion, through tree planting along the borders of productive fields. Now all of that is being cancelled.

One can search in vain, as I did to research this article, for any federal program to pursue adaptation to climate change for Canadian farmers. I found old references, but then realized the programs described were discontinued and their websites cached. There was a lot of activity on adaptation in the last years of the 1990s and early part of the 2000sbut no more. Even a program described as Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (sic) does not reference climate change. A $163-million, five-year program running from 2009-2014 has the following objectives: “Facilitate the agriculture, agri-food, and agri-based products sector’s ability to seize opportunities, respond to new and emerging issues and pilot solutions to new and ongoing issues in order to adapt and remain competitive.”

Is “new and ongoing issues” code for the climate crisis? Is this government so hobbled by ideology that its minions are too afraid to even mention the threat of climate change when discussing adaptation? Of course, if the program was focused on adapting to climate change, we would be helping farmers shift to more drought-resistant crops and practices, including those just cancelled in killing the PFRA.

The biggest threat to Canadian agriculture is the climate crisis. Stephen Harper’s personal unwillingness to confront the threat, or to admit its severity, must not be allowed to undermine our agricultural sector.

Originally printed in the Hill Times.