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Yellowknife MLA again criticizes NWT progress on climate change


The NWT is headed toward “dismal failure” in addressing climate change through its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly warned on Thursday.

Thursday’s criticism echoed concerns O’Reilly shared with Cabin Radio a month earlier, when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources tabled its first annual update on a four-year climate action plan.

In the legislature, O’Reilly said: “The decrease in greenhouse gas emissions last year was said to be a whopping six kilotons on total emissions of over 1,000 – so, less than one percent.”

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The GNWT’s report states the territory is “generally on track” to meet its target of reducing emissions by 30 percent – compared to 2005 levels – by 2030.

But O’Reilly questioned why the “generally on track” statement was not backed up by a percentage figure.

In response, environment minister Shane Thompson said the six-kiloton reduction in 2019-20 amounted to about 4.4 percent of the overall target, which is a reduction of 136 kilotons by 2030.

Each year, Thompson said, “larger and larger emissions reductions will occur as large projects are funded and built.”

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But O’Reilly was unmoved. “We’ve got to reach the target in 2030,” he said. “We’re not going to make it.”

According to Thompson, a review of the territorial strategy is scheduled for 2023 – five years after its 2018 launch.

O’Reilly, though, is already comparing the current strategy to the Auditor General of Canada’s damning 2017 assessment of the NWT’s climate approach, which found the GNWT “did not fulfill its leadership role and meet its commitments on climate change.”

The same report found government departments were not doing enough to address and adapt to the risks of climate change.

“The Auditor General of Canada chronicled how our government’s last two plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were dismal failures, and the current one is certainly heading in that direction, too,” O’Reilly said.

“The Auditor General said that a lack of leadership, policies, and legislation to give ENR the proper authority was largely at the root of the problem.”

A file photo of Shane Thompson in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A file photo of Shane Thompson in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

O’Reilly asked Thompson to outline how departments are making decisions with climate action in mind.

In response, Thompson said government decision-making was “revised to incorporate consideration of climate change mitigations and adaptation factors” last December.

“I believe the GNWT is fulfilling its mandate to show leadership on climate change,” the minister said, “by being one of the first Canadian jurisdictions to take a consistent and systematic approach to ensuring meaningful consultation on climate change decisions in all departments.

“I can honestly tell you: during those conversations, we’ve heard the Member, we’ve heard the public, and we’re trying to make sure the executive and all departments make decisions based on climate change.” 

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