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NWT revisits emissions reduction target

Solar panels in Inuvik shortly before midnight on June 13, 2023. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Solar panels in Inuvik shortly before midnight on June 13, 2023. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio


The territorial government is seeking input on its approach to energy and greenhouse gas emissions, including whether it should revise its emissions reduction target.

Over the past three days, the GNWT hosted an event in Yellowknife where governments and experts discussed the territory’s approach to energy and climate change.

The GNWT is building up to a five-year review of its 2030 Energy Strategy and Climate Change Strategic Framework, two documents that set out long-term approaches to energy and climate change.

What that really means is reviewing the territory’s targets, said Robert Sexton, director of energy for the NWT’s Department of Infrastructure.



“We are hearing here that they aren’t still appropriate,” he told Cabin Radio on Friday as the three-day climate change event ended. Attendees included representatives from Indigenous governments and organizations, community governments, industry, utilities and non-government organizations, among others.

Illustrated posters created during discussions at the three-day dialogue in Yellowknife. Darren Campbell/GNWT

In 2018, when the GNWT launched its current energy and climate change strategies, the territory committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Since then, a lot has changed.

Canada and other nations have committed to reaching net-zero, energy security issues have increased due to global conflict, and environmental, social and governance considerations are playing a growing role in industry, according to Sexton.



On top of that, people are increasingly feeling the impacts of climate change.

“To be perfectly frank, climate change is an emergency,” Sexton said. “We’re seeing lots of changes in weather and climate, and to wildlife and the land, and the North is disproportionately affected by that.”

He added: “It’s been clear to us for some time, and most other observers, that it’s time to revise our approach – probably in a fairly significant way.”

Leading up to its five-year review, the GNWT asked consulting firm Navius Research to conduct a study exploring various emissions scenarios.

The aim of the study was to better understand what different low-carbon futures might look like, assess the gap between emissions targets and trajectories based on existing policies, and identify the most efficient ways to meet those targets.

In the analysis, the team modelled four scenarios.

One of the scenarios assumed business as usual. In another, the territory would meet its current 2030 target and be net-zero by 2050. In yet another, the territory reaches a 45-percent emissions reduction target by 2030, on par with Canada’s commitment, and reaches net-zero emissions by 2050.



The modelling suggests the territory is on track to meet its current 2030 target, which is partly explained by a decline in the economy, Sexton said.  

“So then the question then becomes, do we go further?”

Sexton said there have been discussions about upping the 2030 target to a 45-percent reduction compared to 2005 levels, or targeting net-zero by 2050.

Reaching a 45-percent decline in emissions would require additional effort and reaching net-zero would require “strong policy,” the study concluded.

While Sexton described reaching net-zero as a “monumental challenge,” he said the modelling shows there are technological pathways to get there.

“There are big questions as to how much that would cost in terms of investments, as well as what that means for the overall economy in the long term,” he said.

“But I think we are hearing there’s a definite need to increase our level of effort.”

Sexton noted the target is up to elected officials and government as a whole. The GNWT is accepting feedback on its energy and climate strategies until August 21, which will inform the review. That review will then be used to brief a new government after the fall’s territorial election.



While decisions have yet to be made, Sexton said he is hopeful about the possibility of more ambitious targets.

“We have, I think, no choice but to try our best,” he said. “If there’s enough ambition and resources put towards it, I think we can go a long way.”