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Policy brief, Public policy, Economy & prosperity, Government & politics, Ontario 360, Munk School

ON360 Transition Briefings 2022 – Protecting Canada’s Plate: Building Resilience to Climate Change in the Agricultural Sector

Introduction

Agriculture is important. First, and most obviously, it provides food for Canadians. Expenditures on food account for the second largest share of household spending in Canada, second only to shelter costs (AAFC 2021f). Second, agriculture is a significant contributor to Canada’s economy. In 2020, agriculture employed 2.1 million people, provided roughly one in nine jobs across the country, and generated just over 7% of Canada’s GDP (AAFC 2021f). Third, agriculture plays an important role in Canadian foreign policy. Agriculture is one of Canada’s strongest foreign policy tools and an industry through which Canada makes its largest global impact. Canada was the fifth-largest exporter of agri-food in 2020, exporting to over 200 countries. Agriculture is therefore deeply linked to Canada’s international trade and geopolitical relationships with trading partners such as the U.S. and China (AAFC 2020b). Agriculture is particularly central to Canada-China relations; exports from Canada to China have increased by 72% since 2012 and continue to grow rapidly (AAFC 2021f).

Climate change is impacting how Canada grows food. Climate change will introduce high levels of uncertainty in agriculture and impact the production of food through an increase in temperatures, fluctuation in precipitation levels, and an increased risk of extreme weather events (Mbow, Rosenzweig, et al. 2019). Canadians are already witnessing these impacts; in 2021, farmers across the country sustained millions of dollars of damage due to unprecedented droughts across the Prairies, flooding in British Columbia, and wildfires on the West Coast and across Northern Ontario (Gomez 2021; AP 2021; Lipski 2021). Government action is needed to prepare for this inevitable threat; this capstone project seeks to recommend just that. The three proposals outlined in this policy agenda – ADAPT, LEARN, and INNOVATE – present ways to tackle this challenge and build resilience to climate change in agriculture.