Yukon gets poor marks on climate change

Despite the fact the Yukon's overall greenhouse gas emissions have declined by more than 40 per cent over the last 20 years, the territory still received poor marks for its efforts.

The Yukon isn’t doing enough to combat climate change, according to a report from the David Suzuki Foundation.

Despite the fact the Yukon’s overall greenhouse gas emissions have declined by more than 40 per cent over the last 20 years, the territory still received poor marks for its efforts.

That’s because the report, All Over the Map, found the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was due to the slowdown of gas production at the Kotaneelee field and across the mining sector, rather than policy changes by the government.

But with the mining sector back in full swing, the report’s authors’ predict that the Yukon will experience “a dramatic increase in emissions in the coming years.”

“The huge upsurge in industry has led to an increase in emissions,” said Lewis Rifkind, the mining co-ordinator for the Yukon Conservation Society.

“We’ve got this sort of unregulated boom in as far as climate change concerns go and there’s no way to address it because we just don’t have the regulation or the legislation or, I would add, even the concern.”

The foundation’s report focuses on the actions taken by provincial and territorial governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While no one was ranked “best,” three of the provinces – B.C. Ontario and Quebec – were ranked “very good” while Saskatchewan and Alberta were ranked “worst.”

The Yukon’s, Newfoundland’s and Nunavut’s efforts were categorized as “poor.”

But although it was the fourth year in a row the Yukon government was given that ranking, it wasn’t all bad news for the territory.

The report lauded the Yukon government for its commitment to making its operations carbon neutral by the end of the decade, its stringent energy efficiency standards for new government-funded construction projects and its support for the Northern Climate ExChange at Yukon College.

The territory also won praise for the creation of the climate change secretariat, designed to co-ordinate the government’s response to climate change.

But while the report applauded the government’s effort to set greenhouse gas targets for its own operations, it has yet to set territory-wide targets for industry, something that Rifkind said is long overdue.

“Basically a lot of our poor performance can be laid on the fact that the Yukon does not have a greenhouse gas emission target,” he said. “We’ve got these hodgepodge of programs, some that apply to government, some that apply to building a house.

“We’ve got good programs, but the programs aren’t enough because they don’t cover the entire greenhouse gas economy.”

However, the reason so much of the government’s efforts focus on its own operations is because before the mining boom, when many of these policies were designed, it was by far the largest greenhouse gas emitter, added Rifkind.

“Industry was pretty non-existent, but now things have switched,” he said.

In Rifkind’s view, what’s really needed is a national strategy on climate change.

But, according to the report’s authors, that is unlikely to happen.

“Despite the strong evidence for the serious impacts of climate change and the economic data that show action is possible and warranted, the Canadian government continues to abandon its responsibility on climate change action,” stated the report.

In the absence of any kind of federal action on climate change, the responsibility and criticism fall on the provinces and territories.

And that may be a little unfair, said Rifkind.

“It’s interesting,” he said.

“I yell and scream about the Yukon government, but by default they become the whipping boy because the federal government is doing nothing.”

The report, released earlier this week, made several recommendations. It called on the territory to introduce a carbon tax, to sign onto the recently-launched western climate initiatives cap-and-trade system, to reject carbon capture as an off-set measure, and to implement a territory-wide climate change adaptation strategy.

It also recommended the territory stop promoting fossil fuel development. (Coincidently the government announced a five-year ban on future oil and gas development in the Whitehorse Trough shortly after the report’s release.)

There has been a lot of progress made but, according to the report, there is still a long way to go.

“Clearly, no province is doing as much as it could and provincial targets remain below what the science says is necessary, but a lot is happening to create a critical mass,” said the report.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com