Farmers among those 'most directly impacted' by climate crisis, says Sask. farmer headed to COP26 summit

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Glenn Wright is one of the Canadian farmers sent to the UN's COP26 climate change summit by the National Farmers Union. (Submitted by Glenn Wright - image credit)
Glenn Wright is one of the Canadian farmers sent to the UN's COP26 climate change summit by the National Farmers Union. (Submitted by Glenn Wright - image credit)

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

It won't just be world leaders gathering when the United Nations COP26 climate change summit in Scotland begins Sunday.

A Saskatchewan farmer will also be among the attendees, hoping to add his voice to the climate conference which some call "the world's last best chance" to mitigate the effects of climate change.

"I've actively been working to address climate change for nearly 15 years, so I'm excited," said Glenn Wright, a lawyer who farms between Vanscoy and Delisle, southwest of Saskatoon.

He is among the Canadians sent by the National Farmers Union to attend COP26, the United Nations conference on climate change.

Over 20,000 participants are expected to attend the event in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, including heads of state, climate experts, business leaders and citizens.

"It feels like a big task that's been appointed to us," said Wright.

"I also feel kind of small and insignificant as one Prairie farmer going as an observer to the UN conference…. I just hope to do my best and strive to learn as much as I can and bring that back to Saskatchewan."

In Glasgow, delegates of the National Farmers Union will not be speaking on the big stage with world leaders, he said, but in the area where civil society organizations will meet and network.

"We'll be watching the proceedings and planning to engage with media to ensure the Canadian public knows ... what their government is up to on these matters of critical importance," Wright said.

'Need urgent action': farmer

The Conference of Parties (COP), as it's known, normally meets every year and is the global decision-making body set up in the early 1990s to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent climate agreements.

Last year's COP summit was postponed to 2021 due to the global pandemic.

This year's is seen as an important follow-up event to COP21, held in Paris in 2015. That was the birthplace of the Paris Agreement, in which countries agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, aiming for 1.5 C.

WATCH | What's expected of Canada at COP26?

Wright says while he's excited to go to COP26, he also feels "a lot of anxiety" about the trip due to the urgency of addressing the climate crisis.

He is also bothered by the hypocrisy of so many people flying to Glasgow from around the world, using fossil fuel in order to discuss how to use less fossil fuel.

Despite his reservations, the Saskatchewan farmer still thinks it is important to attend the conference.

"I really felt compelled to do my part," he said. "We need urgent action."

Wright hopes Canada and other countries will end government subsidies for oil and gas production.

"It's a strange paradox for a country to commit to being carbon neutral while expanding the source of the problem," he said.

Farming affects, is affected by climate change

Wright says he became more aware of the issue of climate change in 2006, when he watched a documentary about global warming and started doing research on the topic.

"The more I learned about the significance of the problem, the more convinced I was that we had to do something," he said.

"Farmers are among the most directly impacted people by the climate crisis.… As a farmer, we depend on a stable climate to grow our food."

While extreme weather events are a threat to the world's food supply and the work of farmers, Wright said he also knows about the effects agriculture has when it comes to emissions in Saskatchewan.

It's estimated agriculture generated almost a quarter of Saskatchewan's greenhouse gases in 2018, according to the province.

"To become carbon neutral, farming has got to be a part of the solution," said Wright.

Different approaches to farming

Every industry sector will have to make changes to reduce emissions, he said. At his own farm, Wright says he's been working on that over the past five years.

He's been experimenting with different approaches such as intercropping — planting more than one crop together — or using organic fertilizer rather than relying on inorganic nitrogen made by natural gas.

"The air we breathe is 78 per cent nitrogen," he said.

"If you can use plants to make that bio-available for other plants, that's one great way to reduce emissions, and we need to focus on that."

Not everybody in Saskatchewan is on board with Wright's approach and point of view when it comes to climate change.

The Saskatchewan farmer knows it has been a divisive issue in the province.

Talking about climate change for years, he realized that the most important step is for people to change their behaviours.

"It's nearly impossible to change what people believe," he said.

"To me, it doesn't matter what they believe anymore as long as we're making those changes, and that's why we need our governments pushing policy to drive that collective action."

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