Are greenhouse gas emissions going down in Yukon? Not yet, but officials say that will change

Yukon has yet to see its ambitious climate change plans make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions, but officials say that will change — eventually. 

'We picked actions that we knew would have a big advantage in pushing us forward in our targets,'

In a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Yukon government wants to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road by 2030. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Yukon has yet to see its ambitious climate change plans make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions, but officials say that will change, eventually. 

Recent data shows emissions are rising.

In 2019, emissions were 18 per cent higher compared to those roughly a decade earlier, according to the first progress report on the Yukon government's newly laid plans to combat emissions.

Rebecca Turpin, the director of the Climate Change Secretariat, said while emissions are slated to decrease, it's too early to tell by how much. 

"It's not an immediate resolution and it will take a little bit of time to see that line come down," she said. "The intention was always to have an adaptive management approach for this strategy."

Last fall, the Yukon government released its climate change strategy, titled "Our Clean Future," touted as a roadmap toward fewer greenhouse gas emissions in the territory.

By targeting sectors that produce a hefty amount of emissions, such as transportation, officials say they can significantly reduce emissions by 2030 – the date by which the government proposes to reduce emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2010 levels. 

The strategy contains 131 action items in all, 11 of which the Yukon government has committed to working on this year. Nine of them have so far been implemented, according to the progress report.

They include providing rebates to residents who purchase electric vehicles, rebates for biomass heating systems in residential and commercial facilities and pursuing demand-side management measures.

The two remaining action items – a monitoring program for glacial melt and updating policies and standards to bolster sustainable and local procurement – are set to be completed by the end of the year.

"We picked actions that we knew would have a big advantage in pushing us forward in our targets," Turpin said. "They're all very strategic. The rebates were the most important, for sure."

Yukon now wants to reduce emissions by 45 per cent

The 45 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target is an import from the NDP, following the territorial election earlier this year. The New Democrats signed a confidence and supply agreement with the Liberal party, after it failed to win a majority of votes. The reduction target then changed from 30 per cent to the new goal of a 45 per cent reduction from 2010 levels. 

The day the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a scathing new report on the state of global warming, the Yukon government put out a call out for members to form the Yukon Climate Leadership Council. This body will be tasked with making recommendations to the government regarding how, exactly, it can reach that retooled reduction target. The council will produce a report to government by May of next year.

Turpin told Midday Cafe host Leonard Linklater there could be up to 12 members that make up the council. 

"We're looking for a group of people that can be impartial with a variety of different perspectives, so environmental organizations, renewable energy sector, Yukon First Nations, municipal governments, Yukon University and labour organizations," she said.

Those interested have until Aug. 30 to apply.

Targets for mines still not set

The territorial government wants to establish intensity based targets  — targets based upon the amount of emissions generated per unit of production, in other words — for mines. But they will only be set next year.

John Streicker, minister of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, said conversations with the mining sector are ongoing. 

"The challenge is how do you measure placer versus quartz [mining]?" he said. "How to measure exploration versus an active mine or remediation? Because they're all part of it."

Electric vehicles feature high on the priority list

At the end of 2020, there were 58 registered electric vehicles in Yukon, according to the progress report. Streicker said that's "more than double" the amount there was a year earlier. 

The report appears to take a less optimistic tone.

"While this is slightly behind the forecast from our greenhouse gas reduction model, we expect to catch up in the next few years," it states.

According to Streicker, the number of electric vehicle sales have been on the up and up, adding that Yukoners are increasingly turning to electric bicycles.

Streicker said five charging stations have been installed in the territory, and six more communities will receive them soon.

"It's about getting charging stations in because you need that infrastructure in order for the uptake to happen," he said. "We're laying the groundwork for that path."

The Yukon government wants to have 4,800 electric vehicles on the road by 2030.