The Black Swan Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization headquartered in Canada. We are a think and do tank collaborating with NGOs, civil society and governments to seek solutions through research and action on some of the complex challenges facing the world today.

Food Security

In a warming world, the weather will get wetter because warm air is able to hold more water. Consequently, when rains fall, it will be in torrents; while evaporation will be quicker and dryer. Geographic regions that are wet will become wetter. Regions that are dry will become drier. This makes agricultural planning difficult for farmers.

“Farmers know all too well that agriculture is highly dependent on weather. Modern methods, techniques, and technologies have made today’s crop and livestock farms increasingly productive, but agricultural success still depends on getting just the right amount of rain and just the right amount of heat at just the right time of year.

  • The planting, maturing, and harvesting of crops all depend on consistent seasonal patterns.
  • Livestock depend on feed, water, and a tolerable range of heat and humidity for healthy, productive growth.
  • Climate helps determine which pests and diseases will spread, and so how much time, effort, and money farmers must spend on herbicides, insecticides, and other defences.
  • Beyond the harvest, patterns of temperature and weather affect the entire supply chain of storage and transportation that brings food from the field to the dinner plate.

From the largest farm to the smallest market garden, from planting to eating, and at every stage in the cycle of production –from choosing seed to transporting livestock – agriculture and agri-business thoroughly depend on climate. And the climate is changing.1

Food Security And Nutrition

A changing climate “affects all dimensions of food security and nutrition:

  • Food availability: Changes in climatic conditions have already affected the production of some staple crops, and future climate change threatens to exacerbate this. Higher temperatures will have an impact on yields while changes in rainfall could affect both crop quality and quantity.
  • Food access: Climate change could increase the prices of major crops in some regions. For the most vulnerable people, lower agricultural output means lower incomes. Under these conditions, the poorest people — who already use most of their income on food — sacrifice additional income and other assets to meet their nutritional requirements, or resort to poor coping strategies.
  • Food utilization: Climate-related risks affect calorie intake, particularly in areas where chronic food insecurity is already a significant problem. Changing climatic conditions could also create a vicious cycle of disease and hunger. Nutrition is likely to be affected by climate change through related impacts on food security, dietary diversity, care practices and health.
  • Food stability: The climatic variability produced by more frequent and intense weather events can upset the stability of individuals’ and government food security strategies, creating fluctuations in food availability, access and utilization.” 2

Several reports by the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) “all point to climatic extremes as one of the major impacts of climate change” said Prof Riccardo Valentini, a director of the Euro-Mediterranean Center for climate change. Other factors affecting food security include:

Drought and aquifer depletion

Aquifers are fed by rain. The worst drought in San Joaquin Valley in central California caused farmers to drill wells and extract billions of gallons of groundwater, depleting a resource faster than it could be replenished. As a result of this massive depletion, the land is sinking as a result — by up to a half-meter annually according to a new Cornell University study in Science Advances.

Pest increase and invasion

“Dan Bebber, from University of Exeter, who led the research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said: “If crop pests continue to march polewards as the Earth warms, the combined effects of a growing world population and the increased loss of crops to pests will pose a serious threat to global food security.” One example of a serious weather-sensitive pest was the mountain pine beetle, Denroctonus ponderosae. Warmer weather had driven the beetle northward to destroy large areas of pine forest in the US Pacific north-west. Another was rice blast fungus, a devastating pest affecting more than 80 countries which was now attacking wheat. Considered a new disease, “wheat blast” is having a severe impact in Brazil and there are fears of it spreading further north to the US. The scientists wrote: “Observed changes in pest distributions accord with observations of wild species, direct responses of pests to warming, and with expectations for expanding pest ranges under climate change.”3

In 2019 Italy will see a 57% plunge in its olive oil harvest. Olive oil infestations have hit farmers in both Italy and Greece. “The problem this year was because of fly attacks but also the gloeosporium olivarum fungus,” said Vasilis Pyrgiotis, the chair of the Copa Cogeca farming union’s olives working group. Italy sees a 57% drop in the olive oil harvest in 2019. Italy’s Coldiretti farmers’ union estimates that the cost of the olive oil collapse this year has already reached €1bn. Beyond Italy, the European commission has projected 2018-19 olive harvests to drop by 20% in Portugal and 42% in Greece, although industry sources said final figures there could be significantly worse.”4

Ocean Acidification

One of the scariest and potentially most dangerous effects of global warming is ocean acidification. Oceans absorb 30% of the earth’s carbon dioxide. Carbon pollution is changing the chemical makeup of the seas. Many marine species cannot survive in an increasing acidic environment. For example, increasing acidity weakens the shells of shellfish. Also researchers from MIT and the University of Alabama at Birmingham have found that increased ocean acidification will have a serious affect on global populations of phytoplankton — microorganisms on the ocean surface that make up the base of the marine food chain for other species that feed on them. Given that seafood is a large part of many people’s diets around the world, especially in low income, food deficit countries where seafood contributes approximately 20 percent of their animal protein.


1Agriculture and Climate Change, Climate Atlas of Canada

2Climate Impacts on Food Security, World Food Programme

3Climate change makes pests move north from the tropics – study; The Guardian; September 2nd 2013

4Italy sees 57% drop in olive oil harvest, The Guardian; March 5th 2019

Global Warming

In 1997, concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, reach the highest levels in at least 400,000 years, as measured in Arctic ice cores. The World Meteorological Organization report says that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are now far above pre-industrial levels, with no sign of a reversal of the upward trend. “The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5m years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now,” said the WMO secretary general, Petteri Taalas.

The increase in climate-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is being fuelled by the continued burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Worldwide, fossil-fuel use pumped 2.7% more CO2 into the air in 2018 than in 2017. In 2017, carbon dioxide emissions totaled 9.9 billion metric tons (gigatons). Such emissions fuel global warming and climate change. CO2 is a greenhouse gas which acts like a blanket to trap the sun’s heat close to the Earth’s surface. The more CO2 that’s emitted, the more heat that gets trapped.

According to the National Climate Assessment, the quality of food is also expected to decline, due to rising levels of CO2 which will reduce the presence of key nutrients —such as iron, zinc, and protein. As well, extreme weather patterns and rising temperatures are adversely affecting food production. Crop yields are falling worldwide; thus reversing a trend of rising agricultural productivity and threatening food security around the world.

Oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to rising acid levels in oceans, which is one of the biggest threats to coral reefs. This ‘osteoporosis of the sea’ threatens everything from food security to tourism to livelihood. The speed by which oceans’ acid levels have risen has caught scientists off-guards, says the head of the USA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ideally, global warming should be below 2° C.  However, despite the Paris Agreement, temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5° C between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current pace and if the world fails to take rapid and unprecedented measures to stem the increase, says a U.N. report.

On October 8th 2018, a 1,200 page report written by 91 researchers from 44 countries provided a sobering read of what a half-degree difference means for our planet.  “At 1.5° C, 6% of insect species, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates would lose more than half their habitat.  The figures for 2° C are 18%, 16% and 8%, respectively.  At that temperature rise, ecosystems covering between a twelfth and a fifth of Earth’s land mass can be expected to undergo transformation to another type — savannah to desert, say.  More dramatically, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds it almost certain that a 2° C rise would wipe out more than 99% of corals.”1

“Permitting a rise of 2° C rather than 1.5° C could also see 420m more people exposed regularly to  record heat. Several hundred million more would have to contend with climate-induced poverty  Food security would decline and water scarcity increase, especially in poor and already-fragile areas such as the Sahel region of Africa, just south of the Sahara desert.  And an additional 10cm of sea-level rise could hurt the livelihoods of more than 10m people living on the coast.”2

In order to save the planet, carbon dioxide emissions need to drop by 45% within the next 10 years.  Ways of achieving this would involve the phasing out of coal, increasing carbon-free sources of electricity and energy, and creating negative emissions by planting more forests which absorb carbon dioxide.

The world is at the crossroads of a perfect storm situation. We are over-fishing our oceans to feed an ever-increasing planet. More people now inhabit and recreate on the coasts, leading to more pollution on land and sea. Peoples in developing countries rely on natural resources for their basic livlihoods yet have little or no control over these resources.

1Global Warming, The Economist; Oct 13th 2018

2Global Warming, The Economist; Oct 13th 2018

Governance and Insecurity

The absence of good governance gives rise to global insecurity. “Good governance has been said at various times to encompass: full respect of human rights, the rule of law, effective participation, multi-actor partnerships, political pluralism, transparent and accountable processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public sector, legitimacy, access to knowledge, information and education, political empowerment of people, equity, sustainability, and attitudes and values that foster responsibility, solidarity and tolerance.”1

The challenges facing global governance and security threatens to undo the multilateral policies and partnerships, and international cooperation on peacebuilding and state-society relations.

Climate change, economic and political upheavals, cyber hacking all give rise to global insecurity. In the case of Syria, the civil war was started due to climate change of the 2006 drought which forced farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to urban centers; which in turn exacerbated socio-economic stresses that underpinned Syria’s descent into war. “In Iraq, the absence of a strong government since 2003, drought and shrinking aquifers have led to a recent spate of assassinations of irrigation department officials and clashes between rural clans. Some experts say that these local feuds could escalate into full-scale armed conflicts.”2

In the case of Pakistan, climate change has exacerbated political tensions. The mangrove ecosystem has been shrinking. The mighty Indus River is now a trickle. Melting glaciers in Pakistan’s north, floods, droughts and the 1960 Indus Water Treaty are the new geopolitical tensions between India and Pakistan.

The Russian cyber hacking incidents of the 2016 US Presidential election derailed Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House.

The United States has called out China for “trade cheating, cyberattacks, industrial espionage, theft of technology and an attempt by Huawei to penetrate key infrastructure systems through 5G projects.”3

China is currently engaged in several high stakes confrontations with countries big and small all over the world, over everything from bullying its trade partners to intellectual property theft, to massive debt traps [$1-trillion Belt and Road debt infrastructure loansharking debt racket] to cyber-spying, election-rigging and bribery.”4

One example: China’s displeasure that Australia denied residency and citizenship to a Chinese billionaire accused of political interference in Australian politics brought a halt to Australian coal shipments at five Chinese ports, causing the Australian dollar to tank. China has shown displeasure in the policies of New Zealand, Palau and South Korea by using tourism as a weapon costing those countries billions in lost revenues. In Canada, contract termination of canola is the latest weapon from China, which could cost roughly $2.5 billion in export trade.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, ranked 161 out of 180 countries on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index; due to decades of political corruption and economic mismanagement; all of which has taken its toll on its citizenry, causing its populace to revolt against its leadership.

The dire situation of food and medicine shortages, electricity blackouts and economic hardships in Venezuela has caused a third of its population to flee the country. Our regional office in Venezuela is providing external support and development cooperation, at the request of the Catholic Churches for its parishoners.

1Good Governance and Human Rights, United Nations Human Rights

2Is a lack of water to blame for the conflict…?, Smithsonian Institute; June 2013

3Becoming too dependent on China, Financial Post; 5 March 2019

4How to deal with the gangsters in Beijing, National Post; 14 March 2019

Increasing Water Security

Safe water and sanitation is a basic human need. More than two and a half billion people do not have access to safe sanitation. Around a third of the world’s population – almost 800 million go without access to clean drinking water. More than 2,000 children under the age of five die daily because of a lack of clean water and safe sanitation; water-related diarrhoea is one of the biggest killers of children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Managing our finite water resources to improve the lives of billions while maintaining or improving the quality of our natural environment is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. The concept of innovative water projects to transform the lives and health of the world’s poor will be central to work at the Black Swan Foundation.