- The 1 in 8 households that are food insecure are especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change
- Indigenous and Black communities are especially vulnerable
- Racially segregated communities and communities with high income disparities are especially vulnerable
- Pollution related human rights issues are associated with climate justice for vulnerable communities, e.g., leachate leaks, waste incinerator ash, oil spill contaminants, risky pipelines, and pulp and paper mills toxins
Decision makers must recognize that climate change impacts are frequently man-made and not equitably distributed. Human health and human rights implications are integral to resolve given the right to food access particularly given those prejudiced by poverty or race vulnerabilities; proper access to clean air, water, soil and housing more so now inflicted by temperature extremes, severe weather events and natural disasters; and the disparities of disease driven by an increasing influence of new bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. The magnification of these inequalities intersecting necessitates a transition need for strong climate change response.
Statistics Canada found 1 in 8 households across Canada (2018) were food insecure (4.4 million adults and children). The highest rates identified are from Indigenous or Black communities. Research is showing many live in disinvested neighborhoods with high levels of racial segregation and income inequality with limited grocery stores and community garden options. Indigenous families in the North harvesting from the land by hunting, fishing and gathering plants are also compromised as climate change depletes their traditional food sources, forcing them to buy expensive imported food from southern Canada. Some studies have found nearly one in two households in First Nations are food insecure. Climate change is disrupting food systems, and increasing costs with competing land-use pressures.
Canada has a Nutrition North program that subsidizes the transportation of costly foods. Most importantly Canada must stabilize emissions nationally contributing to climate-exacerbated food insecurity, and support human rights impacts with evidence-based adaptation policies. Canada’s updated climate plan expected in March 2022 will tell more. In 2019, the Department of Agriculture began development of a National Food Policy (through an Advisory Council), with $134 million over 5 years for special initiatives. An additional $140 million in 2021 is helping emergency hunger relief organizations strengthen food security, and identify data gaps. Farmers are asking for support to develop more diversification in their food production systems (such as regenerative agriculture, circular approaches, and organic crop varieties suited to future climates) given climate change impacts on farm systems, and food supply chains.
Clean Air, Water, Soil and Housing
More commonly known pollution human rights issues across Canada are landfill leachate leaks, waste incinerator ash, oil spill contaminants, risky pipelines, and pulp and paper mills toxins disproportionately hurting Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities living near them. The UN reports lower-income communities having to cope with climate devastation from rising sea levels, disappearing shorelines, raging storms, floods, fires, and intense heat waves and droughts. Affordable, reinforced housing away from health risks, i.e., conversion of empty central malls to housing may be an option. Also, Canadians unknowingly buying homes and other infrastructure in areas at high risk of flooding, wildfires, and other impacts need to know these perils may exist.
The 2021 federal budget for emergency management was about $273.8 million ($7 per person). Federal disaster preparation support is primarily for flooding to cost-share with the provinces and territories. Many emergencies are managed through community or provincial and territorial level legislation depending on capacity response and scope of the emergency. Experts state the federal government needs a better understanding of climate risks and poor risk-disclosure practices across the country, for example, floods, wildfire or permafrost thaw risks data, and to factor in future climate changes to make more informed decisions. Meanwhile, other researchers have found the provinces haven’t been moving fast enough either on flood mapping, emergency plans and critical infrastructure protection to adapt to climate change.
Climate adaptation is about reducing vulnerability, adjusting to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, and coping better with its unavoidable consequences. For example, in 2001, the spread of the West Nile virus by mosquitoes and birds demonstrated how quickly an organism moves into a suitable climate variable environment. The current COVID-19 exposure has resulted in lockdowns, premature deaths, struggling businesses, and long-term disability for those surviving COVID-19. Communities with poorer food options, housing conditions, and air quality leave residents more susceptible to chronic diseases. COVID-19 studies have also found inequities that connect racial, gender, and class marginalization as key determinants of vulnerabilities disproportionately higher in Black and immigrant communities.
When COVID first struck, Canada immediately provided $500 million to bolster health-care as the global economy faced unprecedented uncertainty. Billions then went into keeping families and businesses afloat, health care systems recovery, safe return to school, provincial and territorial subsidies, immunization, and long-term care such that spending between March 2020 and April 2021 amounted to $512.6 billion (federal) and $111.6 billion from other governments. In the long term, this figure may reach into the trillions. And yet more could be done given calls for data, particular from communities hit hardest by the pandemic, and emergency management systems changes are needed to prepare for even more severe events in the future.
Organizations Working to address the above issues
The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices
Contact: Catharine Tunnacliffe, Director of Communications
Phone: (226) 212-9883
Human Rights Watch Canada
Contact: Farida Deif, Canada Director
Phone: (416) 322-8448
Food Secure Canada
Contact: Gisèle Yasmeen, Executive Director
Phone: (514) 271-7352
This post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Canada Country Manager Diane Szoller