Climate change threatens food production in countries that need it most: study

For some countries, average farm production could increase while fisheries decline

About 90 per cent of humanity — including most of the world’s poorest people — faces poorer harvests and smaller catches if efforts to fight climate change don’t drastically ramp up, says research published Wednesday.

And while Canada may be one of the only countries where production of grain and fish could increase, Canadians shouldn’t feel smug, says study co-author William Cheung from the University of British Columbia.

“We are living in the same world. Everything is connected. Any country that thinks they would be able to isolate themselves from any problems or impacts in other countries is unrealistic,” Cheung said in an interview.

Cheung’s research has long focused on the impact of climate change on marine resources. He co-authored a recent paper concluding the amount of life in the oceans will decrease 17 per cent by 2100 under current greenhouse gas rules.

This paper, published in the journal Science Advances, is broader yet.

It starts by estimating the average productivity of agriculture and fisheries in about 200 countries by 2100.

For some countries, average farm production could increase while fisheries decline, the paper says. For others, it’s likely to be the reverse.

It also says that in Canada — almost uniquely in the world — both are expected to increase. But there are plenty of lose-lose countries, mostly in the heavily populated nations around the equator.

It predicts that heat is expected to make much of their land unfarmable. Many tropical fisheries are likely to disappear as fish head north to cooler waters.

Cheung compared that data to how dependent local people are on their own agriculture and fisheries. He also considered how resilient their communities are to climate change. He came to a disturbing conclusion.

Not only are 7.2 billion people likely to see declining food production, they are also the most dependent on it, the least resilient and the poorest.

ALSO READ: Cowichan Valley teen leads effort to fight climate change

“The countries that have the highest exposure to hazards are also those that are most sensitive and least adaptive,” Cheung said.

The study was released the day after the United Nations warned that governments are not doing enough to keep global temperature increases to between 1.5 and two degrees Celsius.

Cheung won’t call his paper pessimistic. He points out it also says there’s still time to avert disaster.

Cutting greenhouse gases to keep within Paris targets would reduce average crop losses for lose-lose countries to five per cent from 25 per cent. Their average fisheries losses would improve to 15 per cent from 60 per cent.

“That’s a big opportunity to reduce the impacts on the most vulnerable regions.”

And if rich countries need an economic incentive, Cheung’s paper provides that as well.

Most of the 15 countries that produce about 80 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases would enter the win-win category for agricultural and fishery production under stringent climate rules. That list includes the United States and China.

“We are lagging behind in terms of our moral obligation to take action.”

Cheung remains optimistic, despite work that constantly confronts him with the realities of climate change.

“It reminds me of how big a challenge we have. It reminds me of the opportunities we have to avoid the biggest problems.”

But he’s not kidding himself about the size of the problem.

“We need drastic action. We need all hands on deck.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Photo submitted/ Millet In Bloom
Town of Millet declared Best Blooming Community

The Town of Millet is being recognized for their efforts to meet the challenges of 2020.

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Paved path to the accessible dock at Agur Lake Camp. Photo submitted/ Debbie Schneider.
B.C. Camp extremely grateful for a Calmar Business’ generous donation

B.C.’s only fully accessible campground floored by a Calmar Business’ generosity.

Executive Director of Agape Kate Halas (left) receives $1000 from Sgt. Eric Christensen (right) on behalf of Agape. Photo/ Shaela Dansereau.
Former Wetaskiwin Peace Officer wins provincial award; gives back to Wetaskiwin community

Eric Christensen has won the Alberta Association of Community Peace Officers Award of Excellence.

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ Western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Employee Sophia Lovink shows off a bag of merchandise in Toronto on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Canada gets C-average grade on 2nd year of cannabis legalization

Cannabis Council of Canada releases report card on federal government and legalization

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States are being extended until at least Nov. 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Non-essential travel restrictions at Canada-U.S. border extended to at least Nov. 21

The restrictions do not apply to those providing essential services in either country

(The Canadian Perss)
Banff wolves have lower survival rate due to hunting, trapping outside park boundary

Researchers looked at 72 radio-collared wolves in the national park from 1987 to August 2019

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is still hopeful about the Keystone pipeline if there’s a change in government in the U.S. next month, saying Alberta has been engaging with American officials from both sides of the aisle. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Carolyn Kaster
Alberta premier says he’s still hopeful about Keystone, even if Biden elected

The Alberta government has agreed to invest about US$1.1 billion as equity in the project

Most Read