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Government releases thin climate change strategy

The Yukon government released a climate-change strategy on Tuesday.The 14-page document is not a climate-change plan.

The Yukon government released a climate-change strategy on Tuesday.

The 14-page document is not a climate-change plan.

It does not recommend industrial regulations or community programming to combat global warming.

Instead, the document defines the Yukon government’s role regarding climate change and sets priorities for the territory.

It summarizes impacts, such as melting permafrost and rising sea levels, and references the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Report.

“The strategy provides direction that government can pursue in its own operations to address climate change,” said Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie on Tuesday.

“It provides the basis for work to start immediately on a strategic action plan,” said Fentie, who doubles as the Yukon’s Environment minister.

“The action plan will identify targeted initiatives needed to implement the goals of the climate-change strategy.”

The strategy document was a year in the making, he added.

It outlines four goals.

The first is to “enhance awareness” by fostering the “creation, collection and dissemination of Yukon-specific climate change information” and adding to existing databases.

The second goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by looking for alternatives to diesel heating fuel, improving Yukon government purchasing policy and establishing energy performance standards for government buildings and vehicles.

“Over 90 per cent of our electrical production is now by hydro,” said Fentie.

Goal three is to build environmental, social and economic systems to take advantage of opportunities presented by climate change, such as applying energy conservation measures to all sectors of the Yukon economy.

Mitigation and adaptation measures will eventually be included in environmental assessments conducted by the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board, said Fentie.

And goal four is to make the Yukon a northern leader in climate change research and development by building capacity in academic facilities.

“Emphasizing a partnership approach, we will begin discussions immediately with other governments, organizations, agencies and individuals to develop a made-in-the-Yukon response to this global phenomenon we know as climate change,” said Fentie.

“Industry will be very much involved in this process, as will First Nations governments, the federal government, municipalities and others.”

He would not commit to a timeline for development of a climate change action plan, which Environment and Energy, Mines and Resources will develop together.

“(The strategy) is a good first step,” said John Streicker, co-ordinator with the Northern Climate Exchange.

However, “regulation is an important piece of this whole puzzle, and it isn’t mentioned in here,” said Streicker, who was consulted during the crafting of the document.

“There is room in a territorial jurisdiction for regulation and legislation.

“There’s nothing in here to address that.

“At the very least, we should be considering what those areas are, even if we’re not necessarily going to do it.”

But, “they say right within (the strategy) that it is their initial step to developing a strategic approach to climate change and they even note that things are changing quickly, so we need to be responsive,” said Streicker.

In the past, Fentie has noted that global warming is a natural cycle of the Earth’s climate.

He has not endorsed the Kyoto Protocol, which provides for international trading of carbon credits.

“We will not support measures and initiatives that do not address impacts, are unrealistic in their goals or objectives, and penalize the North,” said Fentie.

Counting the Yukon’s boreal forest as a carbon sink is a misguided initiative, he said.

The boreal forest changes over its lifetime in its capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, he said.

“The Yukon will support federal initiatives that address impacts that we are facing, that focus on research (and) innovation.”

The Conservative government in Ottawa has promised to release its “made-in-Canada” climate-change plan this fall.

The timing of the release of the Yukon document has nothing to do whatsoever with Conservative plans or a territorial election call expected “on or before November 4,” said Fentie.

“If we could have released it sooner, fine, but it wasn’t completed.

“Once completed, we moved immediately to release it into the public domain.”

But the strategy could be too little, too late, said Yukon Conservation Society spokesman Lewis Rifkind.

It talks about climate change as a rapidly evolving issue, “both scientifically and politically,” two words that cause hairs on Rifkind’s neck to raise.

“Whenever you see those two words in a sentence you have to wonder how committed Yukon is, regardless of which regime is in power,” Rifkind said Wednesday.

“They don’t talk at all about some of the mega fossil fuel projects that are about to hit the North.

“We’ve got two pipelines, the Mackenzie Valley pipeline and the Alaska Highway pipeline, and the Yukon government is always in full promotion mode over the Yukon’s oil and gas resources, and occasionally you hear mutterings about coal.

“Not a single mention of that here.

“Are we trying to have the best of both worlds?

“We’re going to recognize climate change as an issue, pump some money into it, but at the same time we want to develop our fossil fuel resources as quickly as possible, ignoring that fossil fuel is what causes climate change.”