A global panel on climate change issued dire warnings last week that the world faces water and food shortages, violent natural disasters and even civil wars if swift action is not taken.
The report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said there was no doubt our climate is changing, and humans are “probably” responsible for it.
Responsibility has long been the crux of the debate around climate change. Naysayers argue that climate change is largely natural and in some cases a positive thing, while the environmental movement claims the human way of life is turning the planet into toxic soup.
Either way, this is not a report that should be ignored. It may seem alarmist and in some cases dwell on the worst case scenario, but do we as humans and as agriculture industry participants want to take the risks outlined in the report?
Prudent action, then, is called for, particularly since the report highlights food security as a significant concern. For example, it indicates that crop yields for corn, rice and wheat will all take hits in the period up to 2050, with some projections showing yield losses of more than 25 percent.
Yet North America, and particularly Canada, will escape some of the worst of climate change as it affects food production, at least until 2050.
A map prepared by World Resources Institute shows that Western Canada, Quebec and a few northern states are largely immune from significant crop yield change for the next 30 or so years, as are parts of northern Europe, Ukraine and Russia.
Meanwhile, most of Africa, Australia, South America, India, Japan, Indonesia, and the southern United States could see up to a 50 percent drop in crop yields if the temperature rises by 3 C.
Furthermore, the report identifies North America as one of few regions where decreased food production and quality are not key risks.
While positive for Western Canada, these are still daunting prospects. If the map and report are correct, our nation’s farmers will be relied upon to feed a much larger part of the global population than once expected. Socioeconomic and human security issues will likely emerge from that expectation, as people from hot climates that become unbearable move north.
That aside, there are more direct and immediate ways to start managing food production and water for the future, here and around the world.
Since weather will become more volatile, which is potentially the factor that will affect Canada the most, we can expect good years and bad, with more extreme storms, rains and droughts. Diverting water in wet times and saving it for dry times will increasingly become crucial, and a national look at this must take place. How will we divert water and where will we store it? Who is responsible for developing and managing such a system?
Equally important will be the global storage of grain, but that starts locally. Huge harvests could be managed better if technology can help solve storage issues.
Eliminate food waste. Much has been written and discussed lately about the incredible amount of food that is being wasted, partly because there is not adequate storage or transportation, but also because too much is thrown away.
Focus on technologies that improve the resiliency of crops, helping them stand up to wet or drought conditions.
Keep up with environmentally friendly farming techniques, and use them whenever possible.
It’s little enough. Clearly more must be done to improve our chances of holding back climate change. In agriculture, however, we can start to improve by planning for a hungry future.
Bruce Dyck, Terry Fries, Barb Glen, D’Arce McMillan and Joanne Paulson collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.