Commissioner spills climate worries

The outdated Canadian Coast Guard would be no match for an Arctic oil spill, says the federal commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

The outdated Canadian Coast Guard would be no match for an Arctic oil spill, says the federal commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

North of 60, the coast guard is solely responsible for dealing with oil spills.

But it hasn’t done a risk assessment since 2000, said Scott Vaughan in his damning annual report released Tuesday.

And its response plan is out of date, according to the report.

“The coast guard doesn’t know what it can deal with because it hasn’t assessed the risks,” said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, who has been questioning government about Arctic oil-spill preparedness since last spring.

“If you don’t know the risks, how could you make a plan?”

The coast guard’s training is inconsistent, wrote Vaughan in his three-part, 128-page report.

And its equipment is out of date.

“The coast guard has admitted its equipment is 25 years old,” added Bagnell.

“Some of that equipment is not functional.

“And if you don’t even know what equipment you have, how can you decide what new equipment you need?”

The Arctic is at the highest risk if an oil spill occurred, and the results would be “catastrophic,” Vaughan told Bagnell during a special briefing.

And an oil spill is not the only threat to the North.

Canada has no framework to take care of noxious or hazardous chemical spills, said Vaughan’s report, which cites more than 4,000 northern spills between 2007 and 2009.

Transport Canada doesn’t even know where these hazardous chemicals are being shipped in Canadian waters, said Bagnell.

On top of that, there’s a lack of marine infrastructure in the North, which means little is known about northern waters.

This could result in more shipwrecks and more spills, he said.

“Perhaps the money (Stephen) Harper’s government saved not supplying the promised icebreakers to the North could be used to create marine infrastructure and make northern waters more safe,” said Bagnell.

Vaughan’s report didn’t stop at spills.

Tackling the big picture, he reported Canada has no plan to deal with the effects of climate change.

And the government’s “adaptation to climate impacts has been piecemeal,” said his report.

“There is still no federal adaptation policy, strategy, or action plan in place,” wrote Vaughan.

“Departments therefore lack the necessary central direction for prioritizing and coordinating their efforts to develop more effective and efficient ways of managing climate change risks.”

In other words, they lack leadership, said Bagnell.

“They are working in silos.”

Overall, the departments Vaughan examined “have not taken concrete actions to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.

“With few exceptions, they have yet to adjust or develop policies and practices to better respond to the risks.”

On top of that, funding for the few adaptation programs that do exist runs out in March 2011.

“And there is no plan in place to address ongoing needs after that date,” wrote Vaughan.

“This government has been very weak on climate change altogether,” said Bagnell.

“They basically ignored the file.”

Climate change is affecting the North more than anywhere else, he said.

“We have a serious problem.”

Infrastructure is expensive in the North, but the tax base is small.

There’re fewer than 100,000 people up here, said Bagnell.

So Bagnell started asking government what plans it has in place to repair infrastructure destroyed by climate change and melting permafrost.

The answer lies in Vaughan’s report:

There is no plan.

“And the government denies responsibility for funding repairs to northern infrastructure,” said Bagnell.

We’re on our own, he said.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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