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There's a finite amount of land on this fast-warming planet that a rapidly growing population will need to use wisely to produce enough food and fuel for every single person.
The world is not doing that right now, a new 1,400-page special report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds, urging countries to rethink the way they use and manage their land.
Federal and provincial agriculture ministers say they understand the seriousness of the conclusions in the latest major UN climate report and that they have a plan to tackle the crisis, but few are able to articulate just how they will do so.
National Observer asked all 13 provincial agriculture ministers, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, the prime minister and all three federal party leaders what their plan was to tackle the recommendations listed by the report. Only seven leaders responded.
"Agriculture in the Northwest Territories is a small but emerging economic sector and as such, the IPCC report does not have a direct impact on our territory," Wally Schumann, minister of industry, tourism and investment and infrastructure, said in an email. He noted that the territorial council had made "a commitment to a government-wide approach that takes into account northern energy demands and the cost of living, while reflecting international and national commitments to lower greenhouse-gas emissions."
Matthew Glover, a spokesperson for Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit, was unable to confirm if he had reviewed the report, but provided a substantive answer on how the agriculture-centred province is helping shift Canada's diet to more sustainable options, including:
The Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) has invested more than $13 million in more than 90 climate-change mitigation research projects from 2000 to 2016.
The ministry hosted a Livestock GHG Forum in December 2016 to identify research priorities to reduce emissions in the livestock sector.
The ministry funds numerous beneficial management practices through the Farm Stewardship Program and the Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure Program that help to reduce emissions or adapt to climate change through, for example, better water management.
"Saskatchewan has a climate-change strategy that focuses on emissions reduction from industry and electricity, as well as commitments and measures to build resilience and sustainable land use, rather than targeting any specific products, diets or lifestyles," Glover wrote. He added that sustainable land-management actions in Saskatchewan include crop diversification, improved cropland management such as zero-tillage, sequestration of soil organic matter and grazing rotations, and co-products such as using damaged canola crop to produce biofuels — all solutions listed in the IPCC report.
The government of Yukon, where agriculture is a modest but growing operation, has "been conducting research into certain topics the IPCC has recommended," Matthew Cameron, a spokesperson for Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai, wrote in an email. These research topics include:
Different land-clearing practices, to understand how Yukon can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from agricultural land clearing and also use that carbon "to build and armour Yukon’s fragile soils."
How to increase the maintenance and use of trees in northern agriculture through concepts such as agroforestry and silvopasture.
The effects of transporting food from outside Yukon.
Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman said in an email that his ministry is reviewing the recommendations, and understands the importance of building "a productive, sustainable agriculture sector and a healthy environment."
Hardeman repeated the Doug Ford government's message that "you don't need a carbon tax to fight climate change" in his response. He noted that the government has invested to help improve land-management practices and environmental stewardship activities through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and other programs that enhance water quality and soil health — all solutions listed in the IPCC report.
The province is also investing in research, including work with the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance (a collaboration between the ministry and the University of Guelph), Hardeman said, to "help inform decision-making on the farm to reduce emissions, improve information and understanding about the dynamics of carbon and land use."
Agriculture ministers in Alberta and Yukon said they are still reviewing the report.
What has the federal government done?
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Agriculture Minister Bibeau have been "fully briefed" about the report, according to their respective offices. In a statement, Eleanore Catenaro, Trudeau's press secretary, listed a series of actions the Liberal government has taken "to reduce emissions and protect the environment," but none were specific to land use.
Katie Hawkins, Bibeau's spokesperson, took shots at how Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer "is working for conservative premiers and fringe oil lobbyists," while noting that the Liberal government had provided almost $700 million to "enhance the competitiveness of the (agriculture) sector through research, science and innovation, with an emphasis on sustainable and clean growth."
Hawkins also listed the following examples as work the government was doing to strengthen Canada's farms, while also mitigating the effects of climate change.
Since 2016, Canada has invested over $175 million to support agricultural science research and innovation and hired 75 new scientists at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, with a focus on addressing climate change and soil and water conservation.
The creation of the $27-million federal Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program, a partnership with universities and conservation groups across Canada, supports 20 research projects on greenhouse-gas mitigation practices and technologies that can be adopted on the farm.
A $26.3-million investment to reduce food waste in Canada, starting with leadership by the federal government to cut its own food waste, and a $20-million challenge to fund the most innovative food waste reduction proposals in food processing, grocery retail and food services.
Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green party Leader Elizabeth May did not respond at the time of publication.
For every degree of global warming, the world's yield of wheat will fall six per cent
Together, the agricultural, forestry and land-use sectors contributed almost one-quarter of the greenhouse-gas emissions produced by human activity between 2007 and 2016. At the same time, land helps reduce emissions. Between 2007 and 2016, land removed a net six gigatonnes of carbon dioxide annually (or the annual greenhouse-gas emissions of the United States).
Countries signed on to the Paris climate-change agreement are struggling to keep global warming below 2 C and as close to 1.5 C as possible, and the Aug. 8 IPCC report is the third in 10 months to starkly highlight the consequences of inaction.
For every degree of global warming, the world's yield of wheat will fall six per cent, corn by 7.4 per cent, and rice and soybeans both by a little more than three per cent each, the report says. These four crops account for two-thirds of the calories consumed by the human population, which is growing by 80 million people each year on average.
The world needs to produce more food, not less, but worsening and irresponsible human consumption habits and land management could lead to an escalation in the climate-change-related floods and forest fires that could lead to a global famine, the report finds.
Along with setting out the potentially dire consequences of inaction, the Aug. 8 report offers several solutions to reduce emissions through land use, including producing less meat and more plants — which require less room to grow and produce fewer emissions.