The COP26 conference was a chance for the Northwest Territories to strike out on its own and identify solutions to its own unique climate challenges, according to the MLAs who attended.

The delegation to this month’s conference in Glasgow included Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Shane Thompson, MLA Katrina Nokleby, deputy secretary of Indigenous and intergovernmental affairs Shawn McCann, and the GNWT’s manager of climate change and air quality, Cory Doll.

The delegation had the chance to meet with both business and government actors: Nokleby says she had the chance to speak with a representative of Panasonic about their green cell technology. She also met with the prime minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, to discuss that country’s climate change data storage and collection technology.

“I think the networking aspect cannot be emphasized enough,” she says.

The delegation was also able to meet with delegates from Ontario and B.C. to discuss their approaches to environmental challenges, particularly B.C.’s response to recent floods. “We’re a huge country, but we’re a very small jurisdiction,” says Thompson. “It’s about learning from one another.”

Nokleby says that this year, the challenges of Northern ecosystems were given new prominence at the conference. “There has been a shift to acknowledging the boreal forest and its place in the overall climate cycle,” she says.

“I would say that at least people are aware, and that’s a big shift.”

Although the GNWT’s deputy secretary of Indigenous and Intergovernmental Affairs was part of the delegation, Thompson and Nokleby both acknowledged there could have been a stronger Indigenous presence at the conference. Nokleby in particular called the NWT’s Indigenous representation “embarassing.”

Thompson acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic was a deterrent to many who might have otherwise attended the conference. He said the delegation’s message “didn’t do a disservice, but we could have done better if we had had more Indigenous people there.”

Canada’s federal government made its own promises at the conference, including phasing out public funding for oil and gas extraction and putting a cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector. Meanwhile, the GNWT is implementing its own local strategies, including the establishment of a climate change council. “The climate change council is going to be a high-level advisory body that’s going to meet at least quarterly, if not more,” says Doll.

This council will address the unique climate challenges faced by NWT residents, including the dependence of many isolated communities on diesel and other non-renewable fuels. “We need proven clean energy, and that’s where we reach out to Greenland, we reach out to Iceland — they have some pretty unique things,” says Thompson.

He says the existing diesel plants could be replaced with more fuel-efficient ones, or the GNWT could experiment with carbon capture technology.

“The nice thing about it is that Northerners care; It’s having an impact on them,” says Thompson.

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