Yukon interests accommodated in climate change agreement

Darrell Pasloski, Premier, MLA for MountainviewAs submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, March 4, 2016
by Premier Darrell Pasloski

This week’s First Ministers’ meeting in Vancouver resulted in a declaration from all leaders that is a big win for all Northerners and Canadians. As Premier, I was successful in enshrining special recognition for Yukoners and the entire North in the Vancouver Declaration that was signed at the conclusion of the meeting. The Declaration acknowledges that northern and remote communities face unique circumstances when it comes to addressing climate change.

Northern interests have been accommodated in the agreement, and the provinces and territories agreed to work with the federal government to explore a number of solutions including looking at regionally appropriate carbon pricing mechanisms. Canada also agreed to conduct an assessment of how carbon pricing would affect our economies.

My government will not impose a punitive carbon tax on Yukoners. There are opportunities for us to continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions without implementing a carbon tax that would take money out of Yukoners’ pockets and slow our economic growth.

The Government of Yukon supports measures and initiatives to address climate change by reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. But it’s important to recognize that this is a large and diverse country, and there is no single solution that works for every jurisdiction.

By necessity, we still rely quite heavily on fossil fuels. A nation-wide carbon tax – which is really a consumption tax, essentially another form of GST – would significantly raise costs for Yukoners and would have a negative effect on our economy.

Nationally, Yukon is ahead of the curve when it comes to generation of electricity – 95 per cent of our power comes from renewable sources. Most of our greenhouse gas emissions come from heating fuel and the transportation sector.

My goal is to establish partnerships between Yukon and the federal government to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. New federal funding to make residential and commercial buildings more energy-efficient would reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels for heating. Renovating and re-insulating existing buildings would also create construction jobs and stimulate our economy.

The federal government could also partner with Yukon and with First Nations in the creation of more hydroelectric power. Heating more of our homes and commercial buildings with renewable electricity would mean a dramatic reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions.

At the meeting of Canada’s premiers and the prime minister last November, Mr. Trudeau noted that Canada is a large and diverse country and our approach needs to be diverse as well. That is exactly what we agreed on in Vancouver this week. Implementing a base price and an escalating price on carbon may be the solution for some parts of Canada, but it’s not the solution for the North.

Though Yukon emits only a small fraction of Canada’s greenhouse gasses, we all know that people of the North are living and experiencing climate change right now. Our winters are getting warmer, and we’re having to invest money to repair buildings, bridges and highways that are being damaged by melting permafrost. Indigenous peoples across the North are noticing profound effects on our natural ecosystems.

That’s why Yukon is focusing on adaptation as well as mitigation. We’ve made major investments in the Yukon Cold Climate Research Centre, where climate change adaptation is a major focus.

In Yukon’s case, one of our best opportunities to reduce our emissions is to create more hydroelectric energy. Yukon is blessed with great hydro potential, and by using that potential in a responsible way we can greatly reduce our dependency on carbon fuels. Extending our grid to smaller communities would allow more Yukoners to benefit from renewable energy; connecting our grid to other jurisdictions would allow us to sell surplus power.

Here in Yukon we’ve begun replacing our old diesel generators with cleaner-burning natural gas engines. This is a great way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from Northern communities that are not connected to the power grid.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling climate change that will work for this country. But one thing that the Vancouver meetings showed is that we have 13 premiers and a prime minister who are committed to making Canada the best country in the world and improving the lives of all Canadians. Gathering together regularly to have frank and open discussions is the best way to find a path forward that works for all of us.