The Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are calling on the federal government to increase investments in climate change adaptation and clean energy across the North.
The territories’ premiers on Monday issued a pan-northern statement on climate change endorsed by Indigenous leaders across the North, including 11 in the NWT.
In the statement, the territories stressed a need for more federal funding given Canada’s North is warming three to four times faster than the global average. The territories stated climate change is having far-reaching impacts on food security, health and wellbeing, infrastructure, and culture.
“The time to act is now,” the statement read. “Lessons learned from climate action in the North will be valuable elsewhere across the global north and south in the years to come and will be of great benefit to future generations.”
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said he and his territorial counterparts hoped to ensure “northern voices are as strong as possible and united as possible” on issues ranging from Arctic security to climate change, housing, healthcare and public safety.
“It’s tough being a smaller jurisdiction in a big room,” he said.
“We’re all agreeing that flexible, accessible investments are needed to support climate resilient infrastructure. Reliant, renewable and alternative secure energy systems are extremely important as well.”
‘Time to start working on it’
The latest federal budget made several financial commitments to combat climate change and protect the environment, such as $19.6 million proposed in 2022-23 to support cleanup efforts in lakes and rivers across Canada, including the Mackenzie River.
The pan-northern statement calls for more. The territories ask for immediate federal funding to establish and expand programs that support climate change mitigation and adaptation, clean energy, and monitoring across the North. They request long-term, stable funding to address what they say are unique northern challenges like limited capacity and work across vast, isolated areas.
“We can change a lot of things with money but, if we don’t start working on it seriously, the impacts of climate change will be here for decades,” NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane said.
“Money can’t fix things if it’s too late, so it’s time to start working on it now.”
Cochrane said one project that needs support is the Taltson hydro expansion in the territory’s South Slave region, which the NWT government has long championed as a solution to providing cheaper, cleaner power in the North Slave.
Dominic LeBlanc, Canada’s infrastructure minister, recently told Cabin Radio the federal government was “very close” to securing money to begin construction on the project, currently priced at $1 billion or more.
The pan-northern statement further highlights the need to support Indigenous-led approaches, include Indigenous governments in decisions, and incorporate Indigenous knowledge when addressing climate change.
‘We spent the last year doing better’
Cochrane on Monday highlighted ongoing flooding in Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, saying 250 people had evacuated their homes so far.
While the NWT government’s response to last year’s historic flooding was heavily criticized, Cochrane said the territory had since worked with communities to strengthen their emergency response plans. Representatives from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs previously said the territory was working to enhance regional capacity to respond to Covid-19 outbreaks, wildfires and floods, including hiring a regional emergency management representative.
“What we learned from the last year is that we needed to do better. And we spent the last year doing better, making sure that people are prepared, that communities are prepared,” Cochrane said.
Despite ongoing commitments to address climate change and the premier describing a sense of urgency, not everyone feels the NWT is taking climate change seriously enough.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly has repeatedly stated he does not believe the territory will meet its 2030 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels. That target is now less ambitious than the new federal goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2030.
Cochrane said her government is reviewing its climate change strategy.
Half a dozen current and former climate change staff last month told Cabin Radio they feel overworked, overlooked and underwhelmed at the territorial government. One publicly resigned on Earth Day. Several described a work culture “not set up for success and to take decisive action,” coupled with senior staff “actively working to not care about climate.”
Cochrane said she had heard those concerns – and attributed that inertia in part to the lack of federal funding.
“Younger people are our future and they’re the ones that are going to be impacted by climate change,” she said. “It’s important that we listen to them.
I hear the voices of the youth and I agree with them. We do need to step up, we do need to do more. It’s just a matter of getting the resources to be able to do that.”