With Canada poised to take over as chair of the Arctic Council, Yukon College is getting some important attention from the council and Canada’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs.
On Tuesday, college president Karen Barnes and the director of the Cold Climate Innovation Centre, Stephen Mooney, gave a presentation via video conference to eight parliamentarians on the standing committee, including Dennis Bevington from the N.W.T., about the work the school does studying everything from climate change to cold weather technology.
The talk went very well, said Barnes.
“They were asking a lot of questions about how we can prepare Canada and the North to take over the chair of the council,” said Barnes.
Both Barnes and Mooney had about 10 minutes to make presentations to the standing committee, followed by an open discussion.
Mooney focused on the research, while Barnes spoke about the education and labour challenges facing the North.
Mooney said that while research into cold climates takes place across the country, Yukon College is perfectly positioned to be a leader because, essentially, it is very cold here.
That allows college researchers to actually test their research in the climate it’s meant for, said Mooney. That makes it particularly interesting to the Arctic Council, which can take the work the college does and present it to its partners in other Arctic countries.
The research centre has been working to identify potential hazards of climate change, such as melting permafrost and changing weather patterns. It’s also focused on finding ways to keep the benefits of resource development in the Yukon, said Mooney in his presentation.
“Since 95 per cent of Yukon’s electrical generation comes from hydro that is distributed through a stranded grid, we have also partnered with the local energy provider to study the effects of climate change on the glacier-fed Yukon River,” Mooney explained to the committee.
One project that Mooney emphasized in the presentation was the development of North America’s first plastics-to-fuel machine, which he said can turn 10 kilograms of plastic into 10 litres of fuel every hour. That fuel can then be used to heat homes and buildings while providing an alternative to throwing used plastic into a landfill.
In total, the Cold Climate Innovation Centre completed 27 projects with more $1.8 million in public and private funding last year.
While research is one side of the college’s coin, preparing northerners to help drive the Yukon economy is the other.
“In the labour market, we need to prepare people to be mobile because industry tends to be fairly migratory, especially mining,” said Barnes.
She also spoke about preparing the Yukon’s young people to take over leadership roles in First Nation governments and the need for education.
“We know that where you go to school is where people tend to put down roots. If we want people to stay here, if we want to attract people to live here, we need to offer them that.”
Barnes said the college is already an important player on the pan-Arctic scene as a member of the University of the Arctic and with agreements between Alaska and the Danish Technical Institute.
“We’re really hopeful that as the council unfolds we get to play an important part. It will be good for the North,” said Barnes.
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