Canadian Agriculture And The Climate Change Agenda

Winter-in-Canada     Today was a very windy day in southwestern Ontario.  In fact, at one point in the day the temperature dropped and it did feel like November.  I finished harvesting my crop last week so I am in that enlightened zone of post harvest, where I can get things done before the snow flies.  Needless to say, Canadian winter can be brutal.  I’ve always said when we have whiteouts and sub zero temperatures in winter, Canadians wouldn’t mind a little bit more global warming.

Of course, I’m kidding a little bit.  Global warming and putting a price on carbon is an issue that is nebulous at best for most people.  For instance, we have a general appreciation for the economy and prices of things like electricity, gasoline, diesel fuel and of course all of our commodities.  They are tangible things that we can see and putting on value on them is very easy.  However, when you try to put a value on something that you really can’t see and it’s difficult to measure, it is so much harder.  That’s what it’s like when it comes to global warming and putting a price on carbon.  Eyes glaze over.  If you can’t see something easily or a concept is hard to understand it’s difficult to put a value on it.

It is very difficult for me to get passionate about climate change, carbon pricing and global warming.  However, it’s quite clear from some of the statements from the new Trudeau government that climate change and ways to mitigate that are getting a new emphasis.  For instance, Prime Minister Trudeau will be meeting with all the Premiers before the Paris climate change conference.  He needs to work with them to reduce Canada’s green house gases.  Clearly, from my perspective whether you like it or not our world is going to be changed in order to foster some of these new climate change goals.  How this will affect Canadian agriculture is suddenly back on the front burner.

I say that because 20 years ago we talked a lot about carbon sequestration in this column.  At the time the idea was to buy and sell carbon credits through some type of marketing system.  Agriculture was supposed to benefit because minimum tillage and no till created large carbon sinks in our fields.  We were supposed to trade those carbon credits with some of the big utility and energy companies in order for them to comply under new government regulations regarding greenhouse gas emissions.  Of course, that all changed through the years.  The Kyoto protocol was never ratified and Canada withdrew.  Now, for whatever reason, the world is going back to that well.

11 countries in Europe have actually been successful in reducing their CO2 emissions between 1991 and 2010.  This includes large countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France.  Five countries have been successful in reducing their CO2 emissions between 1991 in 2010 in Africa.  Only Bermuda and Jamaica were successful in reducing their CO2 emissions during this period in the Western Hemisphere.  Four countries in the Asia-Pacific region were also successful in reducing their CO2 emissions.  So coming up at the Paris conference there will be much emphasis on getting everybody else pointed in the right direction.

It is hard to argue with the scientists with regard to global warming.  However, many global warming models differ in their determination of the degree global warming is affecting climate change.  Even with some of these countries reducing their CO2 emissions between 1991 and 2010, total emissions increased 78%.  I know. This is nebulous stuff.  It is hard for laymen to get their head around.  It will ultimately increase our taxes, change your habits and certainly affect the way we farm.

How it changes the farm is an open question right now.  My assumption is the carbon sequestration from minimum till and no till would still be part of the plan.  That could be a big revenue earner for farmers.  However, there could also be big changes in costs in our transportation system and we all know what that means in agriculture.  Both grains and livestock are transported everywhere and doing that with less of a carbon footprint may surely be a challenge in the future.  Of course, we all hope we can reduce the temperature a couple of degrees.

I think about the Arctic.  I think about my time in Bangladesh in the Sundarban forest with the Royal Bengal Tigers.  Rising sea levels and global warming are impacting both of those places.  I also think about these random extreme weather events that are being attributed to global warming.  Simply put, there seems to be something to this and government regulation is coming to Canada to enforce a plan.  That looks to be some type of cap and trade program in Ontario, who knows what it will be at the federal level? Sometimes what is old comes back again.  The challenge for farmers will be to adapt once again.