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

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

100 Women Who Care make a donation to Sylvan Lake Food Bank and Bethany Care Centre. Photo By Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
100 Women Who Care donate to four Sylvan Lake groups

The Food Bank, Bethany Sylvan Lake, Community Partners and the Library all received a donation

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read