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.

Just Posted

Soup kitchen proposed to help people in Houston

On-site harm reduction services would be available

Snowfall warning continues for parts of B.C.’s Interior

First significant snowfall of the season prompts Environment Canada warning

Petition calls for appeal of Luke Strimbold’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says the former Burns Lake mayor’s case is under review

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

Former Burns Lake mayor gets two years for sexual assaults against minors

Banned from taking work involving young people for five years

VIDEO: SNL skewers Trudeau’s mockery of Trump in high school cafeteria sketch

The three world leaders won’t let Trump sit at the cool kids’ table

B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

Students call for spending as international enrolment produces huge surpluses at many universities

Conservatives urge Morneau to deliver ‘urgent’ fall economic update

Morneau says the first thing the Liberals plan to do is bring in their promised tax cut for the middle class

INFOGRAPHIC: How much money did your local university or college make last year?

B.C. university and colleges posted a combined $340 million surplus in 2018/19

B.C. creates $8.5M organization to improve safety for health care workers

Group will bring together unions, province, health care organizations

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Brain injury from domestic abuse a ‘public health crisis,’ says B.C. researcher

Nearly 80% of the domestic violence victims who reported to police last year were women

Most Read