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Assessing the Impacts of Climate Change on Food Security in the Canadian Arctic

Canada is internationally recognized as an economically wealthy and progressive country. Hunger is not an image that many associate with a G8 country that so often ranks at the very highest levels of the United Nations Human Development Index. However, hunger continues to be a regular occurrence for many Canadians, especially those who face poverty, and for those who live in very isolated communities where access and the high cost of living is a daily reality.

If there are two global issues that have come into favour in the last decade it would have to be climate change and food security. Food security, like climate change, is a multi-faceted issue. It is affected not only by obvious infuences such as climate and weather but also by oil and commodity prices, trade and social policies, global politics, and population growth, to name just a few. Bringing the two together to determine how climate change may impact food security is complex. Sir Nicholas Stern recognized this when he wrote in his 2007 landmark analysis, The Economics of Climate Change, “Climate change will have a wide range of effects on the environment, which could have knock-on consequences for food production. The combined effect of several factors could be very damaging.” The impacts of climate change on food security is a vital challenge and a particularly critical one for vulnerable regions such as the Arctic.

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The recent food security “crisis” can be attributed to many factors. The last two years, however, have seen the convergence of critical global occurrences that have in essence produced a perfect storm that will ultimately see the Arctic and world food crisis worsen. In light of this it is becoming increasingly diffcult to maintain food security in a world beset by a confuence of “peak” phenomena: peak oil prices, peak water scarcity, peak grain prices, and peak fsh exploitation. Combined with the global fnancial crisis, global warming, and an explosion in world population, humanity may well be on the verge of a great “food security” crisis.

It is generally accepted that the term ‘food security’ means, in simplest terms, “access to nutritious food.” The health and well-being of Northerners, and, especially of Arctic indigenous peoples, are directly linked to food security and in particular, their relationship to customary ‘country food’ which encompasses community sharing, cultural continuity, and intergenerational communication.

The Arctic, being on the frontlines of climate change, will be forced to address food security sooner than other regions of Canada and many other areas of the world. How the Arctic responds to this crisis may well provide valuable directions to others and by participating in programs such as Many Strong Voices, the Arctic can work together with other vulnerable or remote communities to find solutions to the food security challenge.

As politicians begin to recognize the holistic nature of global environmental phenomena and the impacts of policy decisions, the connection between climate change, mitigation and food security has become a priority issue. We see now the debate over the efforts to mitigate CO2 emissions by converting food crops to biofuels and the effects that might be having on the global food supply. Similarly, more concerns are being expressed over the impacts of the changing climate on the ability to grow food in certain regions of the country or to harvest food from the land.

Food security is a vast and complex topic, standing at the intersection of many disciplines. This paper will briefy touch upon the myriad of infuencing factors, examining the impacts of climate change on food security in the Canadian Arctic and how it compares to other global regions, and consider options for maintaining food security.