Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Yukonomist Keith Halliday

While it didn’t get much attention at the time, perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target.

Previously, our target was to cut our non-mining emissions by 30 percent from 2010 levels by 2030. Now the target is a 45 percent cut.

This has big implications. We might have been able to squeeze into a 30 percent target with relatively painless moves. But achieving 45 percent will require bigger actions. Especially since our previous action plan, as of last September, explicitly admitted its measures weren’t enough to meet our official target.

This means your furnace and your truck.

But first, let’s look at the Yukon’s current emissions and our targets.

In 2019, the Yukon emitted 690 kilotonnes of CO2 or its equivalent. That’s 16.4 tonnes per person. That’s higher than the Canadian average. It’s higher than the American average, despite their factories and big oil and gas industry. It’s almost double Finland or Norway. It’s eight times what the average Indian emits. And it’s 80 times more than the average Tanzanian or Ethiopian.

As part of the Paris climate accord, Canada committed to a 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels of total emissions by 2030 (a target recently increased to at least 40 percent). If the Yukon contributed proportionately to the 30 percent target, it would mean cutting our 2005 emissions of 568 kilotonnes to 398 kilotonnes by 2030, a reduction of 170 kilotonnes.

The Yukon government’s September 2020 plan, however, is to contribute less than this. We announced a 30 percent target, but chose 2010 as our base year. Since 2010 emissions were higher at 647 kilotonnes, such a target would work out to a target of 453 kilotonnes by 2030. That’s a reduction of only 115 kilotonnes from 2005, or 20 percent.

However, we also decided to exclude the mining industry from our target. This reduces the reduction required. If mining was included in our target, the only way to permit a big, new mine would be to dramatically reduce emissions from regular Yukoners.

As of 2019, our actual emissions were 690 kilotonnes. Even compared to our less demanding 2010 base year, this is an increase not a decrease.

Even with our less demanding base year and excluding the mining industry, the Yukon government’s September 2020 plan admits that its measures will still leave us 62 kilotonnes short of our target in 2030.

If taken seriously, the new 45 percent reduction plan will require new, major efforts.

Which gets us back to your truck and your furnace.

Road transportation is 45 percent of Yukon emissions, so any plan that makes a serious dent in Yukon emissions has to involve major change to how we transport our stuff and ourselves.

The existing plan calls for zero emission vehicles to be 10 percent of light duty vehicle sales by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030. This will have to increase. Furthermore, we are unlikely to get to our target if some people buy electric cars while the percentage of Yukoners driving around in gas-guzzling pickups keeps increasing, as it has been across Canada in the last decade.

This means either fewer pickups and more small electric cars, or a major increase in electric pickup sales. Fortunately, several manufacturers are producing or working on hybrid pickups with promising performance statistics.

The key problem here is that the 2030 target date is only 9 years away. The average life of a Yukon vehicle on the road today is almost 12 years. So the Dodge Ram you buy this year with the 702-horsepower Hellcat engine will still be spewing Sherman-tank levels of CO2 in the donut shop drive-through lane in 2030.

Freight trucking also has to be part of the solution. The current plan foresees minor moves such as blending low-carbon fuels into diesel. More will be needed, but this is more complicated. The conventional wisdom is that electric trucks will only be a small part of the big-rig fleet in the future. Instead, biodiesel, renewable diesel and hydrogen will play bigger roles. But have you ever tried to fill up your hydrogen truck or looked for the biodiesel pump in Muncho Lake or Carmacks?

The Yukon should probably be trying to join Alberta’s Zero-Emissions Truck Electrification Collaboration project, which is trialling hydrogen fuel-cell trucks between Edmonton and Calgary. The project includes 64-tonne, B-train tractor-trailers with a 700-kilometre range.

If you bike to work and don’t own an 18-wheeler, you may be thinking that you are off the hook.

Don’t forget the oil or propane furnace in your basement. Space heating is 21 percent of the Yukon’s emissions, second only to transport and twice as big as the whole mining sector.

To make a dent here, we either need a massive increase in blending biodiesel and renewable diesel into home heating oil or a massive switch-out of current furnaces for electric heat or heat pumps. The problem here is that furnaces last even longer than Dodge Ram pickups. People are installing fossil-fuel heating systems now that could last until 2040 or beyond.

Furthermore, many of the solutions involve using a lot more electricity. Yukon Energy’s current plan was developed before the recent 45-percent target. And the Yukon has not been setting any records adding new renewable electricity capacity to its grid over the last decade. That also will need to change, in a big way.

You can see how politically sensitive this is going to get. Yukoners will see YESAB applications for micro-hydro and windmill facilities in their favourite camping spots. Tough policies will start to affect Yukoners’ vehicle and home-heating choices.

Assuming, of course, that the Yukon government does more than just announce its new target.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist and received the bronze for Outstanding Columnist in the 2019 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.


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