Yukon conference tackles environmental issues, climate change and other issues

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With many Indigenous Yukoners experiencing major impacts on their way of life due to the effects of climate change, government officials met with Indigenous and other leaders recently in Whitehorse in the first Intergovernmental Forum to be held since the pandemic hit 27 months ago.

Leaders representing Canada, the Yukon and Yukon First Nations met at the forum, which was last held in 2019 – and climate change and its toxic effects on life in the north – and on First Nations communities in particular – was high on the agenda.

Each of those agencies their concern about the ever-increasing impacts of climate change in the Yukon. Leaders insisted on the growing need to fight climate change by investing in clean energy, and the imperative to protect a way of life and important cultural resources.

Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston said Yukon First Nations are “united” and were grateful for the opportunity to express their concerns.

"The Intergovernmental Forum provides an opportunity for Yukon First Nations and Yukon government leaders to have an audience with the federal government and speak with a united voice on behalf of Yukoners on issues that are impacting our communities,” he said.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said only through collaboration and increased partnership can the crisis be mitigated.

"Today's Intergovernmental Forum was a great opportunity to meet with Yukon First Nations and federal leaders to discuss climate change, land use planning, Canada's Arctic and Northern Policy Framework and our continued work to advance reconciliation,” he said. “It is through collaboration on our shared priorities that we will build a more vibrant, prosperous and sustainable territory for Yukoners today and future generations."

A few weeks prior to the conference, Silver – and other territorial premiers – called for increased government investment and aid in combatting the effects of climate change. Government figures indicate the North is warming at three times the global rate.

“The time to act is now,” the premiers’ joint 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.”

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.

Climate change is of particular importance in Canada's North where climate warming is causing causing significant impacts on shoreline erosion, wildfire risk and permafrost stability. Many Yukoners, and in particular Yukon First Nations, are experiencing impacts on their infrastructure and way of life, which are closely tied to the land and waters.

The federal government committed $25 million in the 2021 budget to support climate-change and clean-energy initiatives in the Yukon, which “will support northern and Indigenous partners to advance important projects to enhance community resilience and participate in a clean energy transition,” a government statement said.

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase

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