N.W.T. can't fight climate change without federal help, minister says

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Shane Thompson, left, the N.W.T.'s minister of environment and natural resources, is at COP26, the UN climate change conference, telling people about the impacts of climate change on the territory.  (Shane Thompson/Twitter - image credit)
Shane Thompson, left, the N.W.T.'s minister of environment and natural resources, is at COP26, the UN climate change conference, telling people about the impacts of climate change on the territory. (Shane Thompson/Twitter - image credit)

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The N.W.T.'s minister of environment and natural resources says the COP26 UN climate summit in Scotland is an opportunity for the North to tell its unique climate change story and press the federal government for more help.

Shane Thompson said the North accounts for 0.2 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions but is experiencing the effects of climate change three times faster than southern Canada.

"We've been living with climate change for the last 15 plus years," he said.

Thompson said he met with the mayor of Tuktoyaktuk recently, who showed him that the community will be underwater in 50 years because of climate change.

He said the territory is seeing permafrost melt, slumping, and river banks disappearing because of floods, like the one in Fort Simpson last May. And, he added, the N.W.T. experienced its worst wildfire season in 2014 when 3.4 million acres in the territory burned.

"When you put that in perspective, it's basically half the size of Scotland," he said.

"We're trying to get the message out there that, you know, we are experienced with climate change. We're living it."

More support needed

Although the territory's contribution to Canada's overall greenhouse gas emissions appears low, per capita emissions are well above the national average. The territory says it's because of long distances between communities, an energy-intensive resource industry and long, cold winters.

The entire territory produced 1.4 megatonnes (or 1,400,000 tonnes) of greenhouse gases in 2019.

Thompson said the federal government needs to understand the territory needs more support from it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We need to articulate that to the federal government and have them understand the impacts that we feel and that we need dollars for adaptation as well as the mitigation funding," he said.

"And you know, we saw [Canada commit] $37.5 million for adaptation for a Third World country. But, you know, in some cases, we are actually a Third World country when it comes to, you know, being able to foot the bill for some of the things that people are asking us to do."

Face-to-face

Thompson said he supports the federal government in its goal of reducing carbon emissions but he wants to understand more what the prime minister is committing to and what exactly the federal government has in mind.

"We're trying to meet with the new minister [of environment and climate change] to have those conversations," Thompson said.

He said he's had the opportunity to meet with some of his counterparts, from PEI and B.C., and is scheduled to have a meeting with the Ontario government. He's also hoping to meet with Patricia Fuller, Canada's ambassador of climate change.

"It's very much about meeting people and have that opportunity to face-to-face. It's great to do Teams and Zoom meetings, but face-to-face has a little bit more opportunity to engage with people," Thompson explained.

Thompson said he views the N.W.T.'s presence at the global climate change conference — he's there with MLA Katrina Nokleby and two territorial public servants — as a success.

"I see this as a success — the opportunity to see the rest of the world and what climate change is doing to that, but also meeting people and hearing their stories and being able to share our stories," he said.

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