Yukoners push for climate research in Doha

The North is on the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to climate change. That's the message that the Yukon delegation is bringing to the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference happening this week in Doha, Qatar.

The North is on the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to climate change.

That’s the message that the Yukon delegation is bringing to the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference happening this week in Doha, Qatar.

But of all the international players, it’s the Canadian government that the Yukon delegation went all the way to Doha to impress.

“(Climate change in the North) is a key objective for the Yukon in terms of coming all the way to these conferences. One of our main audiences, curiously enough, is the Canadian delegation,” the Yukon delegation’s Ed van Randen told reporters on Thursday.

The North is feeling the impacts of climate change in a big way, van Randen said, and the conference in Doha is the perfect opportunity to get that message across to the federal government.

“In the North, we are feeling the effects, and it’s going to take an effort to counteract those effects. Essentially what we need is cash and research. We need research into what kind of infrastructure that will work. We need to understand the anticipated climate effects in the North and we need to react as severe weather events affect us. We need to be able to react to those things over time,” said van Randen.

The meetings are all part of COP 18, which stands for the Conference of the Parties to the UN framework convention on climate change. Representatives from 194 countries are in Doha for the conferences, which end today.

Canada’s primary focus at the convention is on negotiating a new agreement to replace the Kyoto accord.

“The prime objective for Canada is to move forward to a new agreement, in particular an agreement that would include commitments from all of the major emitters,” said van Randen.

At last year’s COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, countries signed the Durban Action Plan, which calls for a new agreement to be on the table, hopefully by 2015, said van Randen.

That might seem ironic, given Canada’s reputation as an obstructionist when it comes to climate change. The federal government pulled out of the Kyoto accord officially last December, but the bad reputation isn’t entirely deserved according to van Randen.

“I think we often get painted that way, but when you’re here on the ground it certainly looks to me like we’re participating in a positive way and trying to make a real difference,” he said, pointing to $1.2 billion in federal money committed over the last three years to fight climate change in developing countries.

But the accord itself doesn’t need replacing, and pushing for a new agreement is an attempt at misdirection, according to Whitehorse city councillor and federal Green Party candidate John Streicker.

Streicker is a climate change expert who contributes sections to Encyclopedia Britannica about the Arctic, melting sea ice and climate change every year.

Developing nations are often major greenhouse gas emitters, but forcing them to meet the same benchmarks for reductions as developed nations like Canada or the U.S. isn’t what the original Kyoto accord called for, he said.

“Canada and New Zealand talk about replacing Kyoto completely. They say things like we need these developing nations to be part of it. It’s so inappropriate because the whole concept of Kyoto was that the countries which had the largest per capita emissions would begin and pave the way for developing nations in the second round,” said Streicker.

Regardless, after Canada pulled out of Kyoto a year ago, it’s not surprising that it would be pushing for a new agreement instead of upholding the tenets of the old one, said Streicker.

“Some countries talk about another deal, but it’s usually just a misdirection attempting to set the process back further,” Streicker said.

He also worries about the Yukon delegation’s focus on dealing with the effects, rather than the cause, of climate change.

In the language of policy wonks, managing impacts – like extreme weather or melting permafrost – is called adaptation and reducing the gasses that cause warming in the first place is called mitigation.

“Adaptation is treating the symptom. Mitigation treats the root causes. You have to treat both,” said Streicker. “If you have mitigation but no adaptation, you leave yourself in harm’s way. If you have adaptation but no mitigation, you will lead yourself towards harm.

“We have to shift the energy economy,” said Streicker, “and we could use some leadership from the government on it. There will be some, some day. I haven’t seen any signs from this government, but the problem is not going away.”

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com