The long arm of the climate change clampdown

Environment Canada has clamped down on its scientists because of climate change talks in Durban, South Africa. Two Environment Canada scientists were scheduled to meet with the Yukon News on Wednesday to discuss studies they've conducted on contaminants in the North.

Environment Canada has clamped down on its scientists because of climate change talks in Durban, South Africa.

Two Environment Canada scientists were scheduled to meet with the Yukon News on Wednesday to discuss studies they’ve conducted on contaminants in the North.

But Wednesday morning word came from Ottawa that Hayley Hung and Sandy Steffen were not allowed to do the one-on-one media interview.

Instead the News was invited to attend an hour-long presentation the scientists were giving at Yukon College later that day.

Any additional questions would have to be sent to them through the federal government’s new communications regime.

Since 2008, Environment Canada scientists have been ordered to refer all media queries to Ottawa where communications officers help to deal with them.

In a marked change from previous governments, even basic demands for information – once easily fielded by department spokespeople – are now vetted by the Prime Minister’s Office.

It’s a process that can sometimes take days.

The Yukon College lecture topic was fairly innocuous: atmospheric transport and transformation of contaminants in the Arctic.

For 19 years, Environment Canada has been monitoring chemical pollutants at research stations at the Yukon’s Little Fox Lake and Alert, Nunavut.

They’re looking at two toxic chemicals in particular – mercury and persistent organic pollutants, known as POPs. Mercury is naturally occurring but is largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels. POPs usually come from pesticides. Both travel to the North on air currents, often from Asia.

Mercury is a huge problem in the North because it never really breaks down and ends up getting stuck in the Arctic Ocean, eventually entering the food chain.

POPs levels have been diminishing, largely due to international agreements, but because of global warming, scientists have seen a rise in the levels of some of these pollutants.

Traces of chemicals banned for years, like PCBs, are being released into the air again because of ice retreat and warmer weather.

According to a recent report from Statistics Canada, the average area covered by sea ice during the summer has declined in all nine of Canada’s northern sea-ice regions over the past four decades.

“The Arctic is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up,” said Steffen.

One of the main goals of the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Africa is to try to secure a new global climate change agreement, as the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends in December, 2012.

Canada has been accused of obstructing progress.

There have been reports that Canada plans to withdraw from Kyoto before it officially ends. They’ve also said that Environment Minister Peter Kent is refusing to sign on to any new climate change regime until all major emitters, such as India and China, agree to limit emissions as well.

On Thursday, Kent called for a comprehensive treaty as early as 2015.

If it takes somewhat longer, that would be fine, Kent told reporters this week. That would leave the world without any binding emissions treaty for at least two years.

The climate change conference ends today.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

Just Posted

Kristina Kane re-elected chief of Ta’an Kwäch’än Council

Christina Peters, who’s served as a TKC councillor, was elected deputy chief in the Oct. 15 election

Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World

Yukon Teachers’ Association and education minister spar over the number of substitutes in the territory

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to talk to you or, frankly, for the YTA to talk to you while there’s bargaining going on”

Fewer donations mean the United Way is worried about its sustainability

“In the past, people were much more willing to give you $10 a paycheque and let you work well with it”

Yukon soccer teams represent at Canada Soccer National Championships U15 Cup

“Everybody brought their game to a totally new level and set a (new) bar”

Commentary: Celebrating Hanksgiving

Instead of a cornucopia centrepiece filled with autumn foods and flora, we use the Wilson volleyball

U Kon Echelon holds weekend mountain bike racing camp in Whitehorse

“It’s incredible the changes I’m seeing from when we started in September to now”

Liberals to scope out ‘efficiencies’ in departments

The premier was asked about ostensible reductions to department budgets at question period

You and your new car warranty

There are some things that may put your new vehicle or extended warranty at risk

Whitecaps, TSE partner for new youth soccer academy centre program

“They’re building on that relationship”

History Hunter: A tribute to the Palace Grand Theatre

It was the best designed and most pretentious of all the theatres in Dawson City

Most Read