Government environment report is history, say critics

The Yukon emits less greenhouse gases per capita than the rest of Canada, but feels more impacts from climate change than other jurisdictions.

The Yukon emits less greenhouse gases per capita than the rest of Canada, but feels more impacts from climate change than other jurisdictions.

If it seems like a familiar fact, one you’ve heard from the government many times, that’s because it is.

The numbers come from the recently released Yukon State of the Environment Interim Reports for 2003 and 2004.

Both reports were tabled in the legislature by the government two weeks ago, years after the requirement to release them passed.

Opposition parties had asked for the reports for several years.

Under the Yukon Environment Act, Premier Dennis Fentie, the Environment minister, is supposed to release an interim report every year a full report is not made.

Interim reports act as indicators on several environmental fronts: air and water quality, climate change, land use, animal extinction and significant news stories.

Both opposition parties are questioning the relevance of reports released four years after the fact.

The Yukon Party, the Yukon Conservation Society and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon chapter did not return calls by deadline.

“These two reports are nice, but they belong in the archives,” said Liberal MLA and environment critic Darius Elias.

“They’re historical documents.”

Climate change is the No. 1 issue in Canada and the Yukon Party has failed to recognize this because of its “cavalier attitude to the environment,” he added.

Unprecedented spruce beetle infestations, flooding, deep snow years and the decline of the Porcupine caribou herd are all indicators climate change is hitting the Yukon harder than anywhere else, said Elias.

“We can adapt all we want, but that would mean a lot of money from Ottawa because of melting permafrost and infrastructure costs,” he said.

“Humans are causing this. We need a climate change action plan.”

Net metering, geo-thermal heating, solar panels and requiring government buildings to meet the strictest environmental standards can help mitigate climate change, he added.

Compiling and confirming data for the reports is a lengthy process so delays are inevitable, said Boyd Pyper, policy analyst in the Environment department.

If a report is late, it’s still useful because dealing with climate change requires a long term, big-picture view, he added.

“Data is always useful because it continues to show trends — you go back to early reports and read forward,” said Pyper.

“If you take a look at just one report, you don’t get a full picture. Each year you see where the lines on the graph are going.”

The reports package indicators together, which can be used as a general reference and research tool, he added.

In 2004, the Yukon released 16 tonnes of greenhouse gas per capita, about seven tonnes less than the Canadian average.

The northern BC/Yukon region has shown the greatest temperature increases in Canada.

Since 1948, the average temperature here has risen 2 C, compared to the Canadian average of 0.1 C.

Five of the warmest 10 years on record occurred in the last decade.

“We’re seeing significant increase in temperatures,” said Pyper.

“Science tends to back up our belief that climate change is affecting the North more than any other jurisdiction (in Canada).”

Lead levels in Southern Lakes and Aishihik caribou have increased four to five-fold compared with fossilized caribou.

The lead levels, caused by increased atmospheric contamination, is not a health risk, says the report.

But the government recommends a limited intake of caribou and moose liver and kidney.

If people never look at the past, environmental problems will never be fixed, said NDP Leader Todd Hardy.

“Over a course of five or 10 years, you’ll be able to see trends, changes in climates and wildlife patters — a basic sketch of what’s happening in the Yukon,” he said.

“But we can do all the reports, do all the analysis and if we do nothing — just read the reports — we’re allowing things to get worse.”

There’s a concern when the reports are late, though, he added.

“The reports sat on the premier’s desk for years and there’s no excuse for that,” he said.

“The roadblock is at his desk.”