Climate action plan generates hot air, say critics

The Yukon Party government’s new Climate Change Action Plan is missing something important, say critics. Action.

The Yukon Party government’s new Climate Change Action Plan is missing something important, say critics.


Released Monday, the 34-page draft plan is a blueprint for how the government will respond to climate change in the coming years.

The plan is a good step, but needs improvement, said Yukon Conservation Society executive director Karen Baltgailis.

“The Climate Change Action Plan is weak — it’s lacking action,” she said.

The plan includes lot of good things, but the language is soft.

A long list of proposals suggests a lot of study, examination, exploration and consideration but lacks concrete commitments and dollar figures.

Within two years of the plan’s official release, the government will establish greenhouse gas emission targets.

There are good examples and models for setting emission targets so a delay is unnecessary, said Baltgailis.

“If we wait two years, it’ll only get more expensive and more difficult to meet whatever targets we set,” she said.

The government is reluctant to set targets because emissions from resource development is low — a drop in mining activity from 1990 to 2005 also caused a 25 per cent drop in emissions — and the government supports intense industrial development.

The government needs more time to study how increased activity, which traditionally relies heavily on fossil fuels for energy and transportation, will affect emission rates, says the action plan.

A desire to establish large, protected wildlife areas is missing from the report, said Baltgailis.

Forests are carbon sinks and help mitigate climate change, she added.

“But also things like fires and insect infestations invariably happen and wildlife must have a refuge to move to,” she said.

One hard commitment in the plan establishes internal government emission targets.

Emission rates associated with internal operations will be capped in 2012 after climbing for four years.

Then emissions will be cut by 20 per cent by 2017 with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2022.

“That makes sense because the government can immediately act — and it’s a big sector,” said Baltgailis.

“But the target is too distant. The government won’t even be in power by then.”

The government released a climate change strategy two years ago that laid groundwork for the action plan.

Two years later, the government hasn’t moved very far, said Baltgailis.

“If the government takes this plan — and there’s a lot of good ideas — and makes commitments, there’s huge potential for it,” she said.

But holding the government accountable for climate change policy will be difficult for that reason — no commitments means no results.

The plan suggests increased study of climate-change impacts and support for initiatives, the continued development of a climate change research centre and the creation of a climate change secretariat to ensure implementation of the action plan.

In the legislature, opposition parties ridiculed the government for its lack of vision.

“Passive and fluffy words are all through this Yukon Party climate change action plan, like ‘monitor’, ’encourage’, ‘expand’, ‘support existing initiatives’, ‘develop scenarios’, ‘assess risks’, ‘continue to explore’, ‘establish targets’, and the list goes on and on,” said Liberal environment critic Darius Elias.

“The plan is to offer lower registration fees on fuel-efficient vehicles. Here is the big kicker: they get special licence plates.

“Wow, we wait six years and the solution all along has been special licence plates?”

The opposition is out of touch with Yukoners, said Environment Minister Dennis Fentie.

“The government is clear in its agenda to deal with climate change, its vision and its plan to do so, both in mitigating measures and ensuring we meet measures for adaptation here in the Yukon and in the North,” he said.

“If the members opposite want to take action, they should get involved in the solutions, instead of being part of the problem as they always are.”

The government’s 31-page energy strategy was also released for public comment this week.

It examines the Yukon’s energy needs with a focus on balancing economic and environmental concerns.

Renewable energy, conservation and production are considered.

Compared to the action plan, the energy strategy makes more specific commitments.

Implementing efficiency standards for government operations and creating training opportunities to build labour capacity for the renewable energy sector provide more direction than suggestion, said Baltgailis.

“The government is saying, ‘These are things we want to do, not think about,’” she said.

But the increased focus on oil and gas exploration and development is a concern, she said.

The government is preparing for the development of the oil and gas sector while exploring the possibility of a local oil refinery and natural gas pipeline.

Mix the growing nonrenewable energy sector with increased mining activity, and the environment will be strained, said Baltgailis.

“It’s all connected — the industries you choose to develop will affect the environment and contribute to climate change.”

The government will take comments on the energy strategy until June 30 and the action plan until July 31.