Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research/Manager of Board and Committee Services
As we continue to experience a warmer than average December in Ontario, changing weather patterns are on many people’s minds. Shifts in weather create new challenges for farmers, sometimes creating windows of opportunity, sometimes causing devastating loss. Resiliency in the face of changing and more severe weather will be important for farmers, and needs to be part of the larger climate change conversations. Protecting farmland is also important for climate change strategies.
The highly anticipated Conference of the Parties (COP21) climate conference in Paris has now come to a close. 195 countries approved an agreement that calls for “deep reductions in global emissions” in order to address what it terms an urgent threat. The recent smog days in China illustrate that in the immediate term greenhouse gases are a risk to human health, especially when the pollution becomes severe. Reducing greenhouse gases continues to be a global challenge, requiring global cooperation.
Here at home our provincial and national governments are making renewed efforts to address climate change. Ontario is developing its cap and trade program as part of a larger Climate Change Strategy for the province. Ontario worked with seven American states and three other Canadian provinces on the Western Climate Initiative. From this, Quebec and California established their cap and trade program. Ontario plans to link to this larger program. The government will focus on capping fossil fuels used for transportation, electricity generation, heating etc. as well as industrial and institutional emissions. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 15% below 1990 levels by 2020, working to a longer-term goal of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
Ontario’s strategy recognizes that “agriculture has a complex relationship with emissions,” since the agricultural sector both generates emissions and absorbs carbon dioxide through the normal processes of farming and food processing. The strategy recognizes that protecting farmland ensures our ability to produce food. Protecting farmland is important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other ways as well.
Transportation and housing are both significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Long-term planning needs to focus on building communities with appropriate population densities which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in two ways. This creates opportunities to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, and it protects the food producing and carbon sequestering capability of farmland. First, appropriate population densities are foundational to efficient public transportation and for infrastructure designed for low-emission personal transportation methods such as walking, bicycles and hybrid or electric vehicles. Secondly, population density guidelines protect against urban sprawl onto productive farmland. This ensures efficient food production because high quality farmland is protected. It also protects the carbon sequestration capability of farmland, and associated forests and wetlands.
Agriculture will be an important player in the climate change strategies ahead. Protecting farmland is vital to a successful climate change strategy for the province.