Nunavut not prepared for climate change impacts, auditor general says

Nunavut is not prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change and doesn't have a plan to deal with them, according to the latest report by Canada's auditor general.

Report cites rising temperatures, thawing permafrost among negative impacts of climate change

The latest report from Canada's auditor general says Nunavut isn't ready to deal with the impacts of climate change. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Nunavut is not prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change and doesn't have a plan to deal with them, according to latest report by Canada's auditor general.

The report, tabled in the Nunavut Legislature on Tuesday, also says the territory has twice come up with climate change mitigation strategies, but never followed through on finalizing action plans to implement them.

"There are a number of challenges that the government faces in addressing climate change, whether that be the need to address immediate priorities, but also human resource capacity challenges within the government. And those make it difficult to sustain effort and attention," Jim McKenzie, the principal director responsible for the audit, told reporters in Iqaluit.

Nunavut isn't alone.

The findings echo the auditor general's reports on the same topic out of the Northwest Territories in October and Yukon in January.

"There was a co-ordinated effort amongst the auditor generals across Canada, at the provincial, territorial and federal levels, to look at the issue of climate change," McKenzie said.

"[Nunavut] is the last jurisdiction to table [its] report and based on the ones I have read, I would say Nunavut is not unique in terms of its challenges. Areas such as the need to fully assess climate risks, to have action plans, and public reporting are certainly others areas for improvement that were identified in other jurisdictions."

Jim McKenzie, the principal director of the audit into climate change in Nunavut, says the territory needs to rank the risks of climate change and prioritize action. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Unfinished work

The auditors found two cases in which work had started on an action plan on climate change mitigation strategies, but were never finished.

One was an "adaptation strategy," which started in 2011 by the Department of Environment to come up with a framework for Nunavummiut to better adapt to current and future changes from climate change. 

The strategy had 11 objectives, focused on actions to be taken rather than desired outcomes. But it didn't lay out who would be responsible for achieving those actions, nor did it have timelines for completing them, according to the auditor general's findings.

Nunavut's cabinet directed the Department of Environment to develop a plan to implement the strategy, and by 2014, the department had a five-year action plan drafted, but it was never finalized.

In another case, an "energy strategy" was commissioned by the government in 2007 that aimed to reduce Nunavut's dependance on fossil fuels, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The strategy contained 42 policy actions, but again without direction on who's responsible for implementing most of them.

In 2010, the territory has a detailed draft plan, with descriptions, timetables, deliverables and responsibilities. Again, the plan was never finalized.

Further, the auditors found the government never publicly reported on the implementation of either of the aforementioned strategies.

"We know there were certainly human resource challenges. Some of these draft action plans were developed several years ago and there has certainly been turnover in the government," McKenzie said.

"What we think is the best way forward is to really try and narrow the focus."

In an Aug, 16, 2005, file photo, an iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland, near the Arctic Circle. Since 1948, Nunavut's average temperature has risen by up to 2.7 C. (John McConnico/The Associated Press)

Narrowing scope is key given workforce limitations

One of the recommendations from the report, in order to counter the workforce capacity struggles and not get overrun with an overwhelming amount of issues to tackle, is to rank the risks of climate change and prioritize action.

"I think it's important, because resources are limited, that [the government] try not to do everything," McKenzie said.

"So our recommendation is really to focus in on what are those key actions that need to be taken, and express those in an implementation plan that the government can then use to move forward on the issue."

The audit's 10 recommendations spanned four Nunavut government departments:

  • Environment (and within it the Climate Change Secretariat).
  • Community and Government Services.
  • The Nunavut Housing Corporation.
  • The Qulliq Energy Corporation.

According to Nunavut's latest employment statistics, as of Dec. 31, 2017, the Department of Environment had a 34 per cent vacancy rate, with Community and Government Services at 38 per cent, the Qulliq Energy Corporation at 12 per cent and the Nunavut Housing Corporation at 22 per cent.

As a whole, the territory is operating at a 27 per cent vacancy rate.

Nunavut warming, sea ice receding

There have been countless academia studies regarding climate change in the Arctic. The auditor general's report outlines a few examples of how it has already affected Nunavut.

Between 1948 and 2016, for instance, average temperatures in Nunavut increased by up to 2.7 C.

Nunavut has also seen a shortened and less reliable sea ice season, which has affected locals who travel on it for hunting and fishing, and can impact income and food security, the report stated.

The report's preamble also highlighted the thawing permafrost across the territory.

"In some areas, warming permafrost has created hazards for residents, affected some land-based travel routes and presented risks to archeological sites," the report read.

"Thawing permafrost also poses risks to infrastructure, such as shifting, foundation distress and other structural problems in buildings."

The auditor general will be back in Nunavut in May to take questions on the audit in the legislature.

About the Author

Nick Murray

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.

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