The provinces and territories are failing to adequately address one of the “defining challenges of our time,” say Canada’s auditors general, and the NWT is no exception.
In a collaborative report released Tuesday titled Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada, the auditors general state that most governments in Canada are “not on track” to meet their 2020 or their 2030 commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nor are they prepared for the impacts of climate change.
The report was compiled by nine provincial auditors, excluding Quebec’s, and the federal auditor who is responsible for the territories.
“As a whole, Canadian jurisdictions are not doing great, but even compared to them, the NWT is not doing very well,” Bob Bromley, a spokesperson for Alternatives North, said Wednesday after reviewing the report.
No province or territory scored perfect marks.
The NWT fared poorly in a review of its progress toward reducing emissions – indeed the territory’s 2020 emissions goals allow for an increase in harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
The auditors criticized the Department of Infrastructure for inconsistent maintenance of buildings and roads affected by permafrost degradation.
They also found that the GNWT had not yet done a comprehensive assessment of the risks posed by climate change, nor did it have a plan to adapt to the negative impacts of a warming North, “despite long-standing commitments to developing one.”
In each of the participating provinces and territories, the auditors looked at: emission reduction targets and the progress made toward meeting these; the risks and plans (or lack thereof) to respond to those risks; and whether governments were reporting to elected officials and the public in a timely and consistent manner.
“Unfortunately for the NWT, we really didn’t meet any of those sort of basic tests,” Kevin O’Reilly, the MLA for Frame Lake, said Wednesday.
The GNWT is one of only three jurisdictions to have a region-specific emissions target for 2030. However, the territory’s aim of reducing emissions to where they were in 2005 does not align with the the 2030 target set out in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which calls for emissions to be at least 30 per cent below 2005 levels.
The NWT signed on to the pan-Canadian framework in 2016.
“There does not seem to be appreciation for the magnitude of the issue we’re facing here, and how this problem will affect every aspect of our lives,” said Bromley.
The Department of Energy and Natural Resources reports that since the 1940s, the territory’s surface temperature has risen by about two degrees Celsius, an increase that is about three times the global average.
The results – thawing permafrost, diminishing sea ice and erosion to the coastline, among others – have implications for human health, Indigenous ways of life, water quality, wildlife and infrastructure.
Considering all this, the territorial government is developing a climate change strategy that it says takes into account commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the territory’s dependence on fossil fuels and the high cost of living.
The final strategy is expected to be released this spring and was not part of the auditors general review.
A draft of the strategy has been released, but O’Reilly said it offers “very little detail” on how emissions reduction targets will be met.
Canada’s auditor general released a report on climate change in the NWT last October, which informed the collaborative climate change action report released Tuesday.
That audit found that territorial departments were not taking adequate steps to adapt to climate change or to meet the GNWT’s emission targets.
Specifically, it found that the department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is in charge of the climate change file, “did not fulfill its leadership role,” did not identify climate change-related risks to the territory and was not providing the communities with easy access to climate change information.
Robert C. McLeod, the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.
Environment and Natural Resources spokesperson Meagan Wohlberg stated in an email that the GNWT is “actively addressing” the auditor general’s recommendations through the climate change strategy and a separate energy strategy.
McLeod met with federal Environment and Climate Change minister Catherine McKenna this week. Cabinet spokesperson Shaun Dean said talks included “ongoing bilateral issues, like fulfilling the NWT’s commitments under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change and the federal government’s role in that.”
O’Reilly said the NWT needs climate change legislation that spells out emissions goals and clearly defines departmental responsibilities in achieving those goals.
He noted that the territory’s plan for carbon pricing – possibly it’s most effective tool for reducing emissions – remains uncertain.
“We have an opportunity to show leadership on this issue because (climate change) is impacting our part of Canada to a greater extent than many other parts, and our government really has not assumed that leadership role,” said O’Reilly.
“That’s very disappointing and this auditors general report bears that out.”