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Environment

NWT can ‘bring stories of the North’ to COP26 climate summit

Last modified: October 26, 2021 at 11:08am


Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby believes there is a role for the Northwest Territories to play at one of the world’s largest climate summits as she accompanies environment minister Shane Thompson.

The two will attend the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland at the end of the month. The conference is known as COP26 as it’s the 26th “conference of the parties” in UN terminology.

The summit runs from October 31 to November 12 with the intent of propelling climate action and ensuring goals outlined in the Paris Agreement and UN climate change convention are met.

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Nokleby told Cabin Radio she hopes to be the “anecdotal face” of climate change’s impact on the North at the conference. Several major reports have found northern regions like the NWT are experiencing climate change at a faster rate than most.

“I feel a role I would play is to personalize and really help tell the stories that’ll bring it home to people who are looking at things from a higher level,” Nokleby said. 

With thousands of delegates flying to Glasgow from all corners of the world, Nokleby said the significant carbon cost of the summit is not lost on her. But she sees its capacity to make change, too. 

“I see a lot of value in the networking aspect of it,” she said, “of connecting with other countries, circumpolar countries, that are maybe ahead of us in areas such as wind energy or alternative resources, things around the green energy mining sector.

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“I’m not going to be the person who’s sitting there defending that this [summit] is the saviour to the world and needs to happen. Especially as we move things more virtually, a lot of it probably could be done online. However, nothing beats in-person relationships either. I think it’s one where you can make arguments either way.” 

As a smaller voice among nations’ delegations, Nokleby says she believes the NWT’s presence can still serve a purpose.

“While we may be small, we could be quite mighty in having that voice and being sort-of the guardians, or the forerunners, or the warning system to the rest of the world as to what’s happening, because it is impacting us a lot more,” she said.

“Plus, we have the traditional knowledge of thousands of years of experience to draw upon that, if we were smart, we could really utilize to actually look at the way things have changed in the last while and capturing that. 

“I’m optimistic that we have a good role to play in this.”

Below, read a full transcript of the interview.


This interview was conducted on October 20, 2021. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Ollie Williams: How did you end up being a part of the delegation?

Katrina Nokleby: The way it works generally, when a minister travels, they’ll often invite a member from the opposite standing committee that sort of oversees their department. So for ENR [Environment and Natural Resources], it is SCEDE [Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment]. And I’m a member of that. And so Jackie, the chair put out a call, ‘who wants to go,’ and I was the only one that was wanting to go. And it’s a good fit. 

What makes you think it is a good fit?

I think given my background, I did a lot of contaminated sites work, environmental engineering type work here in the North, and then you know, I have listened to a lot of different groups and community members, etc. My colleagues talk about the impacts of climate change on their lives and in their constituencies. So I feel like, while not only is it a great opportunity to network politically, for Canada, I also have the technical background, to go and have those conversations and understand a lot of the presentations. So I think that will be really effective for me, bringing that information back to the group.

What, if any, message do you intend travelling with, and do you think maybe the minister should be travelling with, in terms of what the Northwest Territories needs to convey to people about what’s happening here and what needs to happen in Glasgow?

For myself, personally, I think the biggest thing that I can do is bring the anecdotal face to this sort of message around the impacts of climate change as we are on the forefront of it, and we are seeing a lot more of an extreme change than, say, in maybe southern Canada. 

I feel a role I would play is to personalise and really help tell the stories that’ll bring it home to people who are looking at things from sort of a higher level. And often I think when you get into that bigger process and procedure look, you kind of lose sight of why you’re doing things. So I’m hoping to bring some of the stories of the North to the global scale.

How much faith do you have in these big intergovernmental meetings? We had the Paris Agreement signed, ultimately, in 2016. We’re five years down the road from that, and a lot of news coverage is more about nations talking about the ways that they’re struggling to meet it, or they haven’t committed to this, or they have committed to that. Do you believe that this meeting in Glasgow has the potential to genuinely make a significant difference?

The irony is not lost on me of the carbon footprint – of, you know, 30,000 delegates descending on Glasgow for a couple of weeks. I think the biggest way that this can have an impact is the networking aspect of it. I think it’s all great, we do need to have policies that line us up with seeing a better future. But if nothing kind of filters down to the actual operational level, like the leaders can sit at a table and say all they want if nothing is changing with the people doing the work. 

I see a lot of value in the networking aspect of it, of connecting with other countries, circumpolar countries, that are maybe ahead of us in areas such as wind energy or alternative resources, things around the green energy mining sector. It’ll be informational that way, as well as the networking way. Do I really think on a global scale that the conference does a lot? I’m not sure. I think it’s a good way to maybe hold people accountable if they’ve signed up to something but how effective is that, I really couldn’t say,

You’ve just touched on this but there is an element of irony, isn’t there, to flying thousands of people to Glasgow to talk about climate change?

100 percent. And that’s already been pointed out to me, from other people. It was one of the things, as you sort-of grow up and you lose your idealism a bit… growing up in British Columbia I was very green-oriented, eco-oriented. And then as you get older, you learn the realities of that and somebody pointed out to me the “eco heroes” that then fly around in private jets, not really walking the walk that they talk. So I do recognize that, I’m not going to be the person who’s sitting there defending that this is the saviour to the world and needs to happen. Especially as we move things more virtually, a lot of it probably could be done online. However, nothing beats in-person relationships either. I think it’s one where you can make arguments either way. 

Where do you see the Northwest Territories’ role in the broader spectrum of this? There are people in the NWT who say, ‘we’re so few people that really what the Northwest Territories does, in the grand scheme of things, makes very little difference if nobody else is doing it, and really what happens is the Northwest Territories feels the effects.’ There are other people who believe the territory has the capability to be a world leader and be at the forefront of doing what it can to reduce emissions and to mitigate climate change. Where do you see the territory fitting in?

I agree. Like with the carbon tax, I’ve heard that from a lot of constituents: it’s just a drop in the bucket, what Canada is contributing versus other countries. Should we then cut down our emissions? Are we really going to have an overall impact on the net global situation? Likely not. What I do see the Northwest Territories being positioned to do is sort-of back to what I had said earlier about being the storytellers and maybe the voice. We are great in the North about telling stories and telling what we’re seeing in our observations. And I think anywhere you look around the world, one person at times can have a huge impact. 

I think as we build our polytechnic university – and we have some amazing permafrost scientists in the North that I’ve been lucky to work with over the years – I see our role in it as: while we may be small, we could be quite mighty, in having that voice and being sort-of the guardians, or the forerunners, or the warning system to the rest of the world as to what’s happening, because it is impacting us a lot more. Plus, we have the traditional knowledge of thousands of years of experience to draw upon that, if we were smart, we could really utilize to actually look at the way things have changed in the last while and capturing that. So I’m optimistic that we have a good role to play in this going forward.

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