As Canada prepares to present its emissions targets at the next international climate convention in Paris this winter, Northern premiers are looking to ensure those goals don’t make life more challenging for residents above the 60th parallel.
NWT Premier Bob McLeod released a joint statement with fellow Premiers Darrell Pasloski in the Yukon and Peter Taptuna in Nunavut last week in preparation for the national Climate Summit in Quebec City on Apr. 14.
The statement points out that Canada’s Northern territories have had a minor impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions in the country, while at the same time experiencing the firsthand impacts of climate change most severely.
With that in mind, their “Northern perspective” calls for Canada’s climate goals to be “conducted in a way that does not significantly impact Northern costs of living, undermine food insecurity or threaten emerging economies,” the premiers agreed.
“I think it really reinforced the science and certainly for the southern jurisdictions, it made them realize that, although they recognize climate change is starting to impact them more…for us we can actually show how it’s impacting us, how we’re having to adapt and mitigate,” McLeod told The Journal.
“Not only is climate change affecting us, but it’s combined with the fact that we’re faced with very high costs of energy and a lack of infrastructure.”
That means no carbon pricing or carbon storage, he said, at least for now.
“I think that if we put in a carbon tax immediately, that would increase the cost of living. If we put in a cap and trade system, that would also impact,” McLeod said. “The modelling that we’ve done in the past indicated that we have a very small economy and carbon pricing approaches would provide very limited benefit.
“If anything, if we decided to go down that road, we’d probably have to join up with somebody else,” he said. “Then those dollars would flow south.”
While low on the scale of emitters, overall, McLeod admitted that the NWT has the highest rate of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the country, due to the fact that many communities rely on diesel for their electricity and heating.
That struggle is compounded by the very real effects of climate change already being felt in the North, which have made the necessary conversions to clean energy more challenging while the NWT is forced to – sometimes literally – put out fires caused by climate change.
Last year’s record-breaking wildfire season consumed an estimated 3.5 million hectares of forest, ultimately caused by a drought that has also cut back on the use of hydroelectricity in the territory. Warming experienced at four times the rate of the south is also causing permafrost melt, coastal erosion and loss of sea ice in the NWT.
That’s why McLeod said as much of the focus for the GNWT has to be placed on adaptation and mitigation as is on emissions reduction.
“Even hydro’s at risk now because of the changing Northern climate and the predictions for continued drought,” he said. “So we can ensure that there are reliable energy and heating systems in our communities, but even if we move a long ways on renewables and alternatives, we’re still going to have to use diesel as redundancy.”
Despite the challenges, he said the territory is still finding ways to cut its emissions by investing more and more into renewables like biomass and solar, and finding ways to conserve and increase efficiency.
“The work we’re doing is resulting in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so that this year, 2015, we’ve reduced our emissions to 2005 levels,” McLeod said.
“I think the most success we’ve had in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions has been in the use of biomass, by converting buildings to biomass heating, which has allowed us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent. Proportionately we’re the highest users of biomass energy in Canada,” he said.
“We’re also expanding the use of solar energy; currently we have 294 KW of solar energy electricity capacity and we made a commitment to replace 20 per cent of the average load in diesel with solar systems by 2017.”
McLeod said the provinces and territories are expected to come to an agreement on targets with the federal government by September, starting with a meeting of environment ministers in early June, the Climate Summit of the Americas in Ontario in July and Council of the Federation meetings, also set for this summer.
He said cooperation among jurisdictions and the federal government is going to be key in coming up with an arrangement that effectively controls emissions, while adapting to ongoing change.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris is scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2015.