Reporting Back to Yukoners and the World on our Climate Change Action Plan

Wade Istchenko, MLA for Kluane

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, December 4, 2015
by Wade Istchenko, Minister of Environment

On Wednesday of this week, I tabled the 2015 Climate Change Action Plan Progress Report in the Yukon Legislative Assembly. The report tells the story of a government that recognizes the magnitude of changes to our northern climate and that is responding in a coordinated, informed and timely manner.

In 2009, the Government of Yukon issued its Climate Change Action Plan, which identified priority actions that would help us better understand the challenges we face and adapt to changes already underway. In that plan, we made a commitment to report on our progress. Only by having current and accurate data on our efforts can we remain responsive and demonstrate leadership to the rest of Canada and to the international community.

The 2015 progress report details the steps we have taken so far to achieve the goals in the 2009 plan. It documents our government’s strategic climate change approach and outlines the lessons we’ve learned so far and what we can do moving forward.

I’m proud to say that six years into implementing the original 2009 Climate Change Action Plan, the majority of the government’s 33 original commitments have been completed or are underway, demonstrating our leadership and commitment to this issue.

Yukon’s Climate Change Secretariat and other government departments have led the way in coordinating research, monitoring and outreach activities with stakeholders. These initiatives increase our understanding of climate change impacts on the North and provide us with ways to adapt to those impacts.

The Yukon government is working to complete adaptation initiatives with local partners and federal departments, as well as with the governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut through the Pan-Territorial Adaptation Partnership. The government is also partnering on important projects with organizations like the Yukon Research Centre, the Northern Climate ExChange and Council of Yukon First Nations.

As most of us know, climate change is affecting the North at a rate greater than virtually anywhere else on the planet. Many Yukoners see and feel the effects of climate change every day. Thawing permafrost is damaging buildings and highways, and changes in wildlife migration patterns are affecting traditional ways of life.

The impact of a warming world on transportation infrastructure, specifically related to permafrost thaw, has been a focus of our efforts in recent years. Thawing permafrost along the Alaska Highway from Destruction Bay to Beaver Creek has led to an annual repair cost of about $6 million in that area, a figure seven times higher than in regions that are permafrost-free. Since 2012, the Yukon government has partnered with the Northern Climate ExChange on a project that looks at permafrost characteristics along a 200-kilometre stretch of highway in the Kluane region. This project will recommend new techniques to reduce maintenance costs and increase public safety on our highways.

The 2015 progress report looks not only at our successes, but at our challenges. One of the main goals of our action plan is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While we have made progress on meeting these targets, recent changes to the way we measure those emissions indicate there is still work to be done.

In 2013, the Climate Change Secretariat commissioned a report titled Yukon Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The transportation sector. It examined all available data and found that while Environment Canada data is accurate at a national level, when applied to our smaller jurisdiction, it was significantly under-reporting the territory’s emissions.

Accurate data is important if we hope to make real progress in reducing emissions. It helps to communicate progress and opportunities for improvement. The Yukon Bureau of Statistics is working with Statistics Canada to address these data issues. Until Environment Canada’s analysis reflects Yukon’s real fuel usage, the Climate Change Secretariat, Yukon Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources will work together to produce accurate, made-in-Yukon energy use and emission reports.

It’s also important to put this in context and note that Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions levels are still very low. Our progress report indicates that our emissions contributed less than one percent toward the Canada-wide total in 2013.

The 2015 progress report also identifies 28 new initiatives – most of them focussed on mitigation and adaptation – that support our climate change goals. The Yukon government will continue to work with its many partners on our approach to addressing climate change. We will make strategic investments in infrastructure and will protect our environment to ensure Yukon remains the best place to live, work, play and raise a family.

Finally, I would like to add that the progress report will provide important support to Yukon’s delegation to COP21, who depart Whitehorse today for the Paris conference. Communicating our ongoing work to address climate change to our national and international partners is integral to Canada’s unified approach to addressing this global issue.