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Canada’s Climate Ambitions Must Include a Resilient Agricultural Sector

Announcements from the Canadian government to fund climate solutions in agriculture are encouraging, but Canada is falling behind its global peers when it comes to tackling emissions in this sector.
By Vanessa Corkal on December 18, 2020

It’s been an exciting few weeks for climate policy in Canada. Fresh off the introduction of net-zero emissions accountability legislation, the government released its new climate plan, which will help guide Canada toward meeting its emissions reduction targets for 2030 and beyond. And for the first time, the federal government has explicitly highlighted how the agriculture sector—along with food producers across the country—can help us get there.

The announcements on agriculture are encouraging: funding for nature-based climate solutions in agriculture and cleantech; a national target to reduce fertilizer-related emissions by 30% compared to 2020 levels; and a promise to support climate-smart agriculture through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. These are important steps, but Canada is falling behind its global peers when it comes to tackling emissions in agriculture, which matters because over 10% of our emissions come from this sector.

France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Portugal all have specific targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. Ireland and New Zealand have entrenched their agriculture-related climate targets in law. While Canada’s new fertilizer emissions target is a good step, we can do better. A clearer target for the sector will help guide producers and industry toward a net-zero pathway.

Canada is falling behind its global peers when it comes to tackling emissions in agriculture, which matters because over 10% of our emissions come from this sector.

Many countries are making progress, thanks to comprehensive strategies to adopt more sustainable agricultural practices. The European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy will tackle sustainability issues across the food chain, and 40% of the revamped Common Agricultural Policy budget has been proposed for climate action. France has explicit plans to have 50% of farms under agro-ecological practices by 2025, and the United Kingdom has just announced the biggest shakeup to its farm policy in the past 50 years, with a plan to eliminate harmful subsidies and foreground a climate-friendly, fair farming system.

As governments roll out stimulus packages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many sustainable agriculture plans are going even further. Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands are just a few of the countries that have announced significant stimulus spending to kickstart climate action with producers. Joe Biden’s Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice calls for investment in climate-friendly farming and agricultural innovation.

To meet our Paris Agreement commitments, Canada needs strong climate action across all economic sectors. But we can’t leave behind our agricultural producers, who need help to manage the risks that climate change will present. Luckily, many of the same actions and policies to reduce emissions in agriculture can also help build resilience.

Many of the same actions and policies to reduce emissions in agriculture can also help build resilience.

With Budget 2021 right around the corner, Canada has a window of opportunity to get started on longer-term climate action in agriculture while supporting producers. We can take inspiration from best practices that other countries are already announcing and implementing. Here at home, the Farmers for Climate Solutions Task Force, of which IISD is a member, will be making concrete recommendations to the federal government on how to do so.

Canada is set to roll out further economic stimulus plans with unprecedented levels of spending on climate change. These investments should be celebrated—but we must keep our agricultural sector in the picture. Our climate ambitions will only be realized if we invest what it takes to build a fair, sustainable, and resilient agricultural sector for the benefit of all Canadians.