According to Kirsten Burrows, the acting director of the Yukon’s climate change secretariat, the independent verifier that’s supposed to confirm the accuracy of the Yukon government’s numbers has asked for more data. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Is the Yukon government reducing its emissions? Nobody knows

‘Before we go out and put out any data, I want to make sure that it’s reliable’

The Yukon’s climate change branch says it still doesn’t know if any of the 2015 goals for reducing the territorial government’s greenhouse gas emissions have been met.

In its various plans and strategies dating back to 2009, the Yukon government publicly said it wanted to reduce emissions from government operations to 20 per cent below 2010 levels by 2015. It also aimed to reduce emissions from its light fleet of vehicles by five per cent by that same year.

Both of those numbers were supposed to be available by sometime in 2017 but government officials now say they’re not ready yet.

Kirsten Burrows, the acting director of the Yukon’s climate change secretariat, said the independent verifier that’s supposed to confirm the accuracy of the Yukon government’s numbers, has asked for more data.

The verifier, Stantec, said emissions created by the Yukon Housing Corporation need to be included under “government operations” in order for the overall numbers to be accurate, Burrows said. That means the territory not only has to adjust its numbers for 2015 but also the baseline 2010 data.

Burrows said her department is fine with the verifier asking for improvements. “We’re just going though the process right now of making sure that we collect that data from Yukon Housing, that it’s accurate and that it gets passed on to the verifier.”

She wouldn’t say when the accurate data is expected to be released.

“Before we go out and put out any data, I want to make sure that it’s reliable.”

The government also won’t be releasing its data related to the light fleet yet. Burrows said the government is taking a “holistic” approach and wants to release all the verified data at the same time.

“We’re not considering light fleet being separate to the whole process that we’re undertaking to make sure the process is accurate.”

Burrows said it’s not uncommon for data collection to take 18 months to two years to be analysed.

“For example, the national inventory report, which is the national greenhouse gas inventory, operates on a two year lag. So next year, in 2018 were’s going to get 2016 data,” she said.

“So (the Yukon getting) 2015 data, say in the next year, is still going to be useful.”

Even without the official verified data, the odds of the Yukon actually meeting those two goals do not look promising. In 2015, when the territory released its latest progress report it showed that in 2014 emissions from the Yukon government’s light fleet had increased by three per cent.

Preliminary data in the report also show that government operations emissions in 2013 were slightly higher than in 2010.

The verifier asked Yukon Housing Corporation data be included sometime after the 2015 progress report was released, Burrows said. That means the report doesn’t include any of the adjustments.

“This data was accurate at the time in terms of our understanding of our data but we are trying to make it more accurate going forward,” she said.

The Yukon does not have a territory-wide goal when it comes to emissions reduction. Instead it has a series of individual targets dealing with specific sources of emmisions. That decision was made years ago because of the nature of Yukon’s economy, Burrows said.

“Having an economy where the emissions can change so dramatically with one or two mines coming online would not accurately reflect the work that would be going on in other sectors”

Only targets that deal specifically with Yukon government have to be verified by the outside source, Burrows said. Any Yukon-wide targets do not go through the same level of scrutiny.

Earlier this week the Auditor General of Canada criticized the Yukon government for the way it gathered data on climate change. Many of the Yukon’s commitments were “weak” and didn’t include milestones or completion dates, the auditor general’s report said. The government also didn’t prioritize any of its promises according to what was considered the highest risk.

Of the 12 targets specifically related to greenhouse gas emission levels only two of four had been met ahead of their 2020 scheduled competition date, according to the auditor.

The other eight either hadn’t been met or couldn’t be measured because the data wasn’t available.

The government has accepted all of the auditor general’s recommendations and has promised a better plan for 2019.

Yukon’s environment minister, Pauline Frost, wouldn’t say if the government planned to come up with a Yukon-wide emission reduction target or if it would continue with the sector-specific goals that are in place.

She said multiple departments were working on the “strategy” and that the recommendations from the auditor general “really clearly define some perimeters around what we need to do in terms of improvements.”

One of the previous government’s targets was to “work toward becoming carbon neutral by 2020.”

Burrows said that target could “possibly” change under the new plan.

“We’re still in the early stages of developing the new strategy and so those targets are going to be certainly taken into consideration in terms of any new commitments, any new targets, that we work towards.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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