Casey Thomas, principal auditor, speaks to media on Dec.5, about an Auditor General of Canada report that finds a lack of action taken by the Yukon government to adapt to the impacts of climate change. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Auditor General of Canada criticizes Yukon’s climate change plans

Yukon’s plans lack milestones, completion dates or costs, according to latest audit

The Auditor General of Canada has taken the Yukon government to task for creating plenty of reports on climate change, but not following through with clear action.

In a report presented to the Yukon legislative assembly Dec. 5, auditors say the departments of energy, mines and resources, environment, and community services gathered and produced information on adapting to climate change but had taken little concrete action.

“Although gathering information is an important step, it is not enough,” said principal auditor Casey Thomas. “The benefit of the information can be fully realized only when it is used to take concrete action.”

The report concludes the Yukon government departments “had not worked sufficiently to adapt to the impacts of climate change” and “had not worked sufficiently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The audit covered July 2006 to July 2017. In that time the government created a strategy, an action plan, and two progress reports to respond to climate change, it says.

But the commitments in those reports were “weak,” the audit says. Many didn’t include milestones or completion dates and the government didn’t prioritize any of its promises according to what was considered the highest risk.

“Milestones or completion dates were missing from 56 of the 70 commitments (80 per cent). In our opinion, this absence of timelines would make it more difficult to measure when progress should occur,” the audit says.

On top of that, many of the targets related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions didn’t include estimates of how much the emissions would be reduced by. “Therefore, the government would be unable to measure whether actions taken to reduce these emissions were sufficient.”

The reports also had no cost estimates either for the overall plan or individual commitments.

The audit looked at 18 projects carried out by the various departments to see if those lead to actual concrete action. For example, did the government implement recommendations made in reports or providing information for people to use in making decisions.

Auditors only found concrete action for seven of the 18 projects they examined.

The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources conducted an assessment in 2009 of how capable Yukon’s trees are at adapting to climate change.

“However, it had not implemented three of the four recommendations made in the assessment,” the audit says.

The Department of Community Services produced detailed community hazard assessments from 2011 to 2016, to help the communities develop emergency preparedness plans.

“However, the department had produced these assessments for only eight communities in Yukon,” the report says.

“Department officials told us that they provide these assessments to communities only on request.”

The audit mostly covers years when the Yukon Party was in power. Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers acknowledged “there are areas within the climate change strategy where more work needs to be done.”

Cathers said the auditors didn’t consider the success of other plans created by the former government including the energy strategy.

“The energy strategy committed us to increasing the amount of on-grid renewable energy by 20 per cent by 2020 and that commitment was met by 2011 with the addition of Mayo B.”

The former government’s micro-generation program has also been successful, he said. It has resulted in the Yukon “in the space of only a few years becoming second in the country in terms of solar panels per capita.”

Cathers said he hopes the current government will create a more detailed plan that quantifies what it plans to do.

“The most notable and obvious example would be in terms of the carbon tax plan,” Cathers said.

“We still don’t know the exact cost to Yukoners, we still don’t have the details on what rebates might be provided and the government has not identified any predictions about … reduction of fossil fuel consumption as a result of the carbon tax.”

Thomas said her office didn’t look into whether the Yukon was spending its money appropriately when it comes to climate change.

The auditors recommend the Yukon’s Climate Change Secretariat prepare a “comprehensive, territory-wide risk assessment to help prioritize commitments.”

Commitments should be time-bound and include costs, the audit says. Commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should include the intended levels of reductions.

The Liberal government is promising to follow the auditor general’s recommendations with another report.

In its response to the report, the government promised its 2019 strategy for climate change, energy, and the green economy “will be supported by clear milestones, completion dates, and associated costs.”

In a statement after the report was made public, Environment Minister Pauline Frost said the government expects to seek public feedback into this strategy next year so the final product can be released in 2019. “However final dates will be decided with our partners.”

“As outlined in the report, a climate risk assessment contract is also underway,” the statement says. “This information will support departments as they develop climate risk reduction plans, including implementation and monitoring plans.”

Frost was not available for an interview.

Thomas said the office of the Auditor General of Canada is completing climate change reports like what was done for the Yukon for each jurisdiction in Canada.

A national report compiling all the data will be completed in the spring, she said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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