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Government's new climate plan 'skirts' mining industry pollution, says Yukon Conservation Society

The Yukon Conservation Society says the government's new climate strategy "skirts the issue" of the mining industry's greenhouse gas emissions because it encourages mines to be more efficient instead of directly reducing overall emissions.

'One big mine could ruin everything,' says mining analyst

Yukon's energy minister says it's good that mines currently operating in the territory are on the main power grid, which uses mainly renewable energy. (Victoria Gold Corporation)

The Yukon Conservation Society says the government's new climate strategy "skirts the issue" of the mining industry's greenhouse gas emissions because it encourages mines to be more efficient instead of directly reducing overall emissions.

The Yukon government released the final version of its plan on Monday to cut overall emissions by 30 per cent over the next 10 years. 

Part of the plan is setting "intensity targets" for the mining industry by the end of 2022. These targets would encourage mines to be more efficient, by setting a level of emissions mines should produce relative to how much material they produce.

But Lewis Rifkind, mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, says these targets won't necessarily reduce overall emissions — particularly if a large mine starts up in the Yukon. Even a more efficient mine could still produce a lot of emissions, he said.

"One big mine could ruin everything if it goes to a fossil-fuel generated electrical supply," he said.

Rifkind said the territory should focus on mining with renewable energy, and setting targets for the actual amount of emissions mining can produce.

"The climate doesn't care whether we have nice efficient mining projects," Rifkind said.

"If they're still producing more greenhouse gas emissions than our target levels, we've defeated the whole point."

But Premier Sandy Silver says if a large mine went out of business, for instance, Yukon could meet its emissions targets without changing anything.

"This approach helps us to monitor and to reduce on a long term basis, without the companies being able to skew their responsibilities," said Silver at the announcement on Monday.

Rifkind says it doesn't matter how Yukon meets its emissions targets — we just needs to reduce emissions. 

"If mines start pulling out, that's great," he said. "We've got the greenhouse gas emissions down."

 Rifkind says there are several good ideas in the report, including electric vehicle subsidies and building efficiencies.

The report says mining emissions ranged from 10 to 15 per cent of Yukon's overall emissions between 2009 and 2017.

The three operating mines in the Yukon are on the grid, said Energy Minister Ranj Pillai. 

The government says new mines will be required to forecast their greenhouse gas emissions and report each year. This also applies to mines that are re-applying for a permit.

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