‘This is a crisis’: Yukon minister urges action on climate change

·4 min read

The Yukon might be the only jurisdiction in Canada with a climate scientist sitting in cabinet.

In the 1970s and 1980s, John Streicker committed himself to convincing others that climate change was real. In 2007, he was one of the reviewers for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report for the polar chapter. In May 2021 he became the Yukon’s Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.

Now he’s in a position to do something about it.

“What the 2021 IPCC report is good for, is that it helps to reinforce that this stuff is unequivocal,” Streicker says.

The Intergovernmental Panel has had the herculean task to convince the world that climate change was man-made and could be solved with a move to a new energy economy.

“It’s that they’ve had to fight this crazy fight around denialism, which is not over. The U.S. is not over; but in Canada, it’s mostly done.”

Streicker cautions, that even though much of scientific debate is quieted, the challenges carry forward.

“It is not just the warming that is concerning – it’s the rate at which we are warming.”

He uses a teacher’s example. “Yes, a meteor strikes the earth, and it cools the planet very quickly because it puts up so much dust into the atmosphere. Yes, that’s faster. But other than that, this is the fastest that we know in the geologic record.”

Streicker makes the point that what is happening in the Yukon right now, like the record snowfalls, and flooding and the fires in British Columbia are not included in the report, because the science in the report is already two years old.

“But we do know is that what is happening now will be more frequent and more severe in the future. It’s off the charts, literally.”

It took a long time to get the climate moving. It takes an even longer time to put the brakes on.

Streicker explains further, “What people don’t understand, even with this report, is that suppose tomorrow we dropped our emissions to zero, we would still have decades of temperature rise, we would still have centuries to millennia of changes to our oceans.”

But this is not a reason to do nothing; it only adds to the urgency. As he says, “it should just motivate us to get more proactive around solutions.”

And for that, he points to the Yukon’s climate change document, Our Clean Future.

Streicker says there are several reasons why the Yukon’s prioritization of climate change actions needs to differ slightly from southern jurisdictions. One is the extreme seasonality of renewable energies, another is the predominance of transportation as a contributor to emissions.

For example, over half of Yukon’s emissions are attributed to transportation, whereas in southern Canada transportation only accounts for 25 per cent. Also, that data does not account for the whole picture – emissions are only tabulated from the time a truck crosses into the Yukon from British Columbia.

Both fuel and food are primarily trucked into the territory.

It is this kind of consideration that brings Streicker to his top four actions for the territory: electrification of transportation infrastructure (for everything from bikes to Zambonis to semi tractor-trailers); agriculture, as part of local food production; biomass (strategized to reducing fire risk); and retrofitting old houses and buildings.

He admits that increased production and seasonal storage of renewable energies are needed to change things up – either a new disruptive technology such as drastically improved battery life, or a project like the Moon Lake pump station as proposed in Yukon Energy’s 10-year electrical plan.

Streicker knows that the recently released IPCC report isn’t everything. There are still three more reports to come in 2022 as part of the Sixth Panel — Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; Mitigation of Climate Change; and a final Synthesis Report.

And, he acknowledges that Indigenous ways of knowing are absent from this report, for many reasons, including the rigorous scientifically-focused review process, but Streicker hopefully suggests that the importance of Indigenous means of habitat protection and the creation of corridors and pathways may find their way into subsequent studies. Some of those are in the Yukon’s strategy.

After all these years, John Streicker, the Yukon’s minister of energy,mines and resources still retains a scientist’s faith in the science behind the problems, and an optimist’s faith in the do-ability of the Yukon’s solution sets. He just hopes that there is enough public support.

As he said, “This is a crisis. We need to think of it in that kind of framework.”

Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News

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