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Ministers of environment meet in Whitehorse

Solutions for plastic waste lead discussion between representatives of all provinces and territories
Steven Guilbeault the federal government’s minister of environment and climate change speaks at the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment conference in Whitehorse on Aug. 31. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

Whitehorse served as the setting for discussions among Canada’s politicians tasked with protecting the environment on Aug. 31.

Representatives of the federal government and from each of the provinces and territories met for the first in-person Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) in three years.

Among the results of the meeting, shared with the press by ministers on the afternoon of the 31st, was a new “roadmap” document aimed at more effective management of plastic waste. The document was not shared in full, but a summary states it contains best practices and voluntary actions that will guide governments in better management of plastic items that often wind up as litter. It states that the ministers will also encourage key industry sectors to continue efforts at reducing plastic waste.

“We’ve had, over the last few days, very productive meetings and discussions with my counterparts, and it’s good to hear diverse perspectives,” said Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change.

The federal minister added that Whitehorse served as an apt setting for the conference both because it is surrounded by nature and also because the northern climate is warming at three times the national average.

In Guilbeault’s words, the accomplishment of the conference has been the harmonization of efforts to recycle plastics across Canada. He said the measures the environment ministers agreed to will help to keep companies responsible for their waste, use more recycled content and more clearly label products based on their recyclability.

The roadmap the ministers agreed to consists of best practices and voluntary actions but Guilbeault said federal regulations on plastics are also being developed.

“I’m a strong believer in the need to have different tools to tackle these important issues. Regulations can be a very useful tool, investments are very important, in some cases, maybe it’s legislation. Voluntary measures also have a role to play, it can’t just be one size fit all, if the only thing we were doing is to put in place voluntary measures, I would be the first one to be climbing somewhere up here to say this is not enough. And this won’t cut it but that’s not what the conversation is about,” Guilbeault said.

He spoke about the dual crisis of climate change and degradation of biodiversity which he said will be further addressed at an international conference to be held in Montreal later this year.

Nils Clarke, the Yukon’s minister of environment spoke about efforts to make transportation in the territory more resilient in the face of washouts and damage caused by permafrost. He said hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in this over the next three to five years.

He also elaborated on the Yukon’s progress in meeting the federal objective of conserving 25 per cent of Canada’s lands by 2025. He said about 19.1 per cent of the Yukon is protected now and there will be further opportunities to add to that number soon with the finalization of some parts of the Peel Regional Plan and ongoing land use planning for the Dawson region.

Clarke added that along with its phasing out of single-use plastic bags, the Yukon government will also be moving away from single-use paper bags at the start of next year. He said he supports the federal government’s plans to phase out other common and hard to recycle objects: Serving trays, stir sticks, six-pack rings and others. Asked about the Yukon’s local recycling capacity he praised the work being done by Raven Recycling, but also said that each Yukoner still producing about 450 kilograms of waste per year leaving a lot to be done.

A separate meeting of the ministers and First Nations representatives was held on Aug. 30. Representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and the Native Women’s Association of Canada attended. The purpose of the meeting was also the discussion of climate action.

Guilbeault praised the leadership of the Yukon Government in organizing this portion of the conference; it was the first time CCME has had a dedicated day for meeting with Indigenous representatives. He said it’s been agreed that this will be repeated at future conferences.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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