From coast to coast, Canada is bracing for another record year of climate chaos.

Zombie wildfires” are still burning from last year’s record fire season and governments are still accounting for the billions of dollars in payouts to farmers for losses due to last year’s flooding and droughts.

Evidence suggests Canada will continue to experience fluctuating and extreme weather events in 2024 and beyond. Flooding, the most common natural hazard in Canada, is expected to increase significantly. Flood damage to buildings alone is expected to quintuple by 2050 from $60 million to $300 million a year, according to the Canadian Climate Institute.

At the other extreme, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada noted that more than two-thirds of the country was classified as abnormally dry or in moderate to exceptional drought at the end of March this year, including most of Canada’s agricultural landscape.

In nearly every region of the country, farmers are on the front lines of the climate crisis, and they can play a key role in mitigating its impacts. Farmers can plant trees that absorb carbon and convert marginal lands to wetlands or tallgrass prairies. These ecosystems act like a sponge, absorbing water to reduce flooding and retaining water to reduce drought and wildfires. These agri-environmental projects are nature-based solutions to climate change, and they benefit the entire watershed, including downstream towns and cities.

Nature-based solutions are increasingly recognized as among the most cost-effective solutions for preventing flood damage. They should be the “default choice,” states an April 2023 report by the Canadian Standards Association Group and the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, while built (or “grey”) water infrastructure solutions “should only be applied when it is demonstrated that they are superior in providing benefits to people and nature over the long term.”

The need for nature-based solutions is urgent. Insured losses due to catastrophic weather events in 2023 reached over $3 billion according to Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ). Crop insurance payouts in Saskatchewan are expected to reach $1.8 billion after a drought-riddled 2023 growing season. Further east, Québec farmers rallied for financial assistance to manage extreme flooding late last summer. Devastated vegetable and berry crops contributed to high food prices in eastern Canada.

Even these startling insurance losses and payouts don’t account for the many other accumulated psychological and human health impacts, including disruption to livelihoods and business operations, impact on food prices and long-term threats to food and water security. But there are actions the federal government can take now that would support farmers taking action to mitigate the costs of climate change.

Canada should re-direct and ramp up its climate funding to farmers and ranchers, focusing on the creation and management of natural solutions, such as tree planting, wetland and grassland restoration and shoreline enhancement. Each of these are proven and effective risk mitigation solutions that deliver additional co-benefits, such as habitat for native plants and wildlife and improved air and water quality.

In nearly every region of the country, farmers are on the front lines of the climate crisis, and can play a key role in mitigating its impacts, writes Bryan Gilvesy @ALUS_Solutions #OntAg #FarmToTable #SupportLocal #cdnpoli #sustainablefoodproduction

Watershed and community organizations like ALUS are best suited to design and deliver solutions to region-specific challenges. These organizations have the wide-reaching networks and decades of experience necessary to get shovels in the ground. They represent farmers and ranchers who are experiencing the effects of climate change in deeply personal and professional ways. Canada can help them get these projects started by earmarking new funding or redirecting existing funding toward the implementation of community-led, nature-based projects.

These projects will cost less than built infrastructure and far less than failing to act. But they can only happen if farmers are recognized as key players in Canada’s strategy for solving the climate crisis.

Bryan Gilvesy is the CEO of ALUS, a charitable organization that supports communities in engaging farmers and ranchers to create nature-based solutions on their land that build climate resilience and enhance biodiversity for the benefit of communities and future generations.

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