Yukon wildfires heat up COP 16

The Yukon is lobbying to keep wildfire smoke off the carbon-emission list referenced in a global climate change deal, says one of the territory's two envoys in Cancun, Mexico.

The Yukon is lobbying to keep wildfire smoke off the carbon-emission list referenced in a global climate change deal, says one of the territory’s two envoys in Cancun, Mexico.

“We’re saying that wildfires happen naturally,” said climate change secretariat director Eric Schroff, who spoke to reporters from the 16th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty meeting – COP 16 – over the phone Thursday afternoon.

If the world ever reaches a deal on climate change, it will require countries to control their emissions at certain levels and compensate for contributing to climate change.

The Yukon, which suffers from many wildfires every summer, both natural and human-caused, is pressing hard to make sure it won’t be punished for naturally-caused wildfires, said Schroff.

But at the same time, the envoy is keeping attendees informed on the territory’s vast forests, which absorb carbon dioxide and act as a carbon sink.

The world should be aware of how much carbon we store, he said.

Schroff denied the Yukon was arguing it could do less to curb its emissions because the region is such a big carbon sink.

“That is not the Yukon’s position,” he said.

If it were, the territory would want credit for its vast natural forests, and ask that emissions from its huge, natural forest fires be ignored.

It’s not clear what role natural carbon sinks, like the boreal forest, will play in a global climate change deal.

There are clauses in the Kyoto protocol that allow for natural carbon sinks to be used as credits, but, with negotiations ongoing, nothing is firm.

The Yukon’s delegation, which currently consists of Schroff and assistant deputy minister of Environment Joy Waters, is also trying to learn what other Arctic countries are doing about adaptation, said Schroff.

It won’t help the Yukon’s adaptation directly, he said.

“But it will helps us understand the context we’re working in.”

While Schroff is playing a minor role in Cancun, Waters is currently part of the Canadian negotiating team for the second year in a row.

A deal is not expected from the Cancun meeting, but negotiators are laying the groundwork for more substantial work next year in Durban, South Africa, said Schroff.

Environment Minister John Edzerza and his assistant are joining Schroff and Waters next week.

Contact James Munson at


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