Auditor general finds holes in Yukon's climate change response
Audit report, released Tuesday, says territory isn't doing enough to adapt to climate change impacts
The Yukon government is not doing enough to help the territory adapt to the impacts of climate change, a new report from the auditor general has found.
Casey Thomas, principal auditor with the office of the auditor general of Canada, delivered the report on Tuesday in Whitehorse. The report says even though Yukon is seeing faster and more dramatic change than much of Canada, the territorial government's own Climate Change Action Plan — adopted in 2009 — is a bit flimsy.
"The commitments in its action plan and progress reports were weak. For example, many of the commitments did not include milestones or completion dates," the report says.
"In addition, the government did not systematically assess the risks associated with climate change before it defined its commitments."
The auditor general's office has been looking at climate change strategies and actions in other jurisdictions as well. In October, it released an audit report for the N.W.T. that also described an inadequate response.
Thawing permafrost, beetle outbreaks
The Yukon report points to a number of climate change impacts already evident in Yukon, such as roads damaged by thawing permafrost, beetle outbreaks in drier, warmer forests, and an increased risk of extreme weather and lightning-caused forest fires.
Yukon's audit focused on four government departments that have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or adaptation: Environment, Community Services, Highways and Public Works, and Energy, Mines and Resources.
None of those departments has done enough, the report says.
The auditors found that the government has been gathering information about climate change, but hasn't gone much further than that.
"They took limited concrete action. In our opinion, the benefits of gathering information are fully realized only when the information is used to take action in a timely manner," the report says.
"These findings matter because to respond effectively to climate change, the government must take concrete and timely action, given the severity of climate change impacts and the speed with which they are expected to occur."
The audit did not only find problems. It noted Yukon's Climate Change Action Plan, and two progress reports on that plan (from 2012 and 2015), identified actions and targets, and "took into account present and future generations."
The problem, according to the report, is that the government didn't prioritize actions based on urgency.
"We were told that although some high-risk areas were specifically identified through the research and analysis, the commitments were based on whether they could be done."
The report points out that Yukon did follow through with one key commitment made in the 2009 action plan — the creation of a Climate Change Secretariat, to coordinate the government's response to climate change.
It found the Secretariat is mostly fulfilling its role, and is adequately monitoring and documenting the government's progress on its commitments, although there were deficiencies in how the Secretariat reported on that progress, and the costs involved.
New strategy on the way, gov't says
Yukon's audit is important, Auditor General Michael Ferguson says, because the territory "is experiencing significant climatic changes, which can affect its land, wildlife, and people. These changes can be damaging to infrastructure, ecosystems, and traditional ways of life."
Yukon Environment Minister Pauline Frost responded on Tuesday, saying in a statement that climate change is a priority for her government, and work is getting underway to develop a new plan, with help from First Nations and municipalities.
"The commitments and targets in the new Yukon strategy for climate change, energy, and green economy will be supported by clear milestones, completion dates and associated costs," the statement reads.
The goal, she says, is to release the new strategy in 2019, but "final dates will be decided with our partners."