Climate change tops agenda as northern premiers meet face-to-face again

The three territorial premiers agreed to press the federal government on a range of issues but want to see, as a first step, more funding in the North for climate change mitigation and adaptation, clean energy and monitoring.

Northern premiers call on feds for more help, investment on climate change

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane, left, with Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok in Whitehorse on Monday. The premiers met for the first in-person Northern Premier's Forum since 2019. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

After two days of talks, Canada's three territorial premiers agreed to call on the federal government to provide more support and funding in seven key areas.

As a first step, the premiers said they want to see more funding in the North for climate change mitigation and adaptation, clean energy and monitoring.

Speaking to media on Monday afternoon after their meeting in Whitehorse, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said they didn't have a specific number in mind.

"It's not necessarily a dollar value. It's based on what the premiers recognized across Canada, the unique needs and concerns and considerations of being a territory," said Silver. "Per capita spending is not enough."

Issues connected to climate change

The seven areas the premiers agreed on, which are detailed in the pan-northern leaders' statement on climate change, are climate-resilient infrastructure, renewable and alternative secure energy systems, emergency preparedness, northern research, knowledge and capacity building, supporting health and wellness, preservation of cultural identity and economic opportunities.

In the statement, which was also signed by many Indigenous governments, the premiers state the North is warming up three to four times more than the global average.

Silver added there aren't many issues in the North that aren't connected to climate change.

He said it affects infrastructure, food security, health, energy systems, emergency preparedness and public safety and that more investments by the federal government are needed.

Silver also singled out housing as an issue.

He said the premiers acknowledged that the lack of housing affects individuals and the resilience of communities. 

"We understand that access to affordable, adequate and suitable housing is linked with all aspects," he said.

Taltson hydro expansion project

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane added the whole world is recognizing the effects of climate change and governments are talking about it more and more, but warned they also need to act.

"We can change a lot of things with money but if we don't start working on [climate change] seriously, we're going to be impacted. Climate change will be here for decades. And money can't fix things if it's too late. So it's time to start working on it now," she said.

She said the best example she can give to support climate in the N.W.T. is for the federal government to support the expansion of the Taltson hydro project

"That is the way that we will get more communities off diesel, but it's not going to be the answer for all communities," said Cochrane, adding governments will have to keep looking for more solutions to reduce emissions.