N.W.T. misses climate target — but one critic has reason for hope

Bob Bromley, a member of Alternatives North, says the territory is failing to make progress on its emission reduction goals. But he believes it has the capacity to do better.

The territory failed to reduce emissions by 57 kilotonnes by 2022

Exhaust emissions from the tail pipe of a vehicle in Yellowknife. The N.W.T. emitted 1,401 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020, according to new figures. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

The N.W.T. government says it's fallen short of a goal to reduce greenhouse emissions by 2022 — and one critic says a lack of political will is to blame.

"Things have really evolved over the past years, and circumstances have changed," Diane Archie, the N.W.T.'s infrastructure minister, said in an interview. 

Every three years, the territory releases an energy action plan. The last one outlined a list of projects expected to reduce emissions by 57 kilotonnes by 2022. 

Now, a new plan released last week and first reported by Cabin Radio, says the territory will reduce its emissions by 51 kilotonnes in 2025. In other words, it pushed the target back and made it smaller. 

A photo of the existing 18 megawatt Twin Gorges power plant on the Taltson River. Phase one of the expansion would built a 60-megawatt expansion next to it. (N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure)

When asked why the target was missed, Robert Jenkins, the assistant deputy minister of infrastructure, told CBC News larger initiatives — such as the Taltson hydro expansion project and a hydro line to diesel-reliant Fort Providence and Kakisa — are taking more time than expected. 

"Once they come online we're going to sort of launch forward, in bigger steps, towards our emissions goals," he said. 

Bob Bromley, a member of social justice group Alternatives North, called the N.W.T.'s emission reductions an "abysmal failure." 

Taltson won't be built by 2030, says territory

The territory's overarching goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from what they were in 2005 by 30 per cent by 2030. Archie said the territory is well on its way toward that goal, having reduced emissions by 19 per cent as of 2020. 

But how it'll go the rest of the distance is unclear. 

If the territory achieves its stated 51 kilotonne reduction by 2025, it'll still need to reduce emissions by another 142 kilotonnes in the following five years. And up until recently, the territory has been relying on the first phase of the Taltson expansion — said to reduce emissions by 227 kilotonnes per year by replacing diesel with hydropower at mines — to hit the target.

Jenkins said on Tuesday the $1.5 billion project "is not likely to be coming online in advance of 2030." He said the territory would still hit its 2030 target, but didn't provide a clear explanation about how it would get there. 

"We need to continue to adjust through time and we've got a number of larger initiatives [that] will get us there," he said. He also described the Taltson as a "transformational project" that needs "quite a bit of time" to become a reality.

Bob Bromley, of Alternatives North, says the N.W.T. has the resources to do a better job reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 'This lack of ambition is not due to lack of capacity or lack of ideas.' (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Alternatives North has long been critical of the Taltson expansion.

"It's a very expensive project. It will not achieve the greenhouse gas reductions that we need, and there's even some question about its need — and yet we continue to spend a lot of dollars [on it,]" said Bromley.

A spokesperson for the territory's infrastructure department told CBC News in an email Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada has committed to spending $1 million on the Taltson expansion project in 2022 and $4 million the following year. 

Bromley said those taxpayer dollars can be used more effectively to reduce emissions. One alternative he recommends is switching to renewable diesel, which is made from plant oil and animal fat. Alternatives North issued a report about it in 2020. 

It isn't the final solution, said Bromley, but it would buy the territory time to invest in other long-term renewable energy projects, like solar arrays and wind turbines. 

"We need reductions right now, up front," he said.

More ambitious target possible

The N.W.T.'s capacity to make progress on climate change may seem bleak to some. Bromley, however, has hope. He believes the territory's 2030 target is achievable, and that it could even set a more ambitious target. 

But in its current approach, Bromley said, the territory is mixing up climate goals with other goals, like the refurbishment of aging Northwest Territories Power Corporation infrastructure. It's important work, said Bromley, but it doesn't help the territory get closer to its target. 

Bromley said the territory has resources, skilled civil servants and strong Indigenous governments. He also pointed to money flowing into research for the Taltson expansion as an example of the kind of money the federal government is willing to spend. 

"Everything's here. We just need some better decision-making," he said.  "This lack of ambition is not due to lack of capacity or lack of ideas."


Liny Lamberink


Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She moved to Yellowknife in March 2021, after working as a reporter and newscaster in Ontario for five years. She is a member of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network. You can reach her at