While most states discuss Climate change either as an entirely future phenomena, or in terms of green house gas emissions. Canada’s three Territories: Northwest Territory, Yukon and Nunavut discuss Climate change as an imminent threat to their lifestyle and even their economies.
Arching into the rooftop of the world, Canada’s Northern territories occupy a vast 3.4 million sq. km, containing a surprisingly rich array of wildlife and natural diversity as well as being home to many of Canada’s first nation and Inuit communities. Climactically, the territories exist in an often fierce environment that is susceptible to changes and will experience changes more immediately and with greater variation than the rest of the Southward world.
Despite having only a combined population of 100,000 Northwest Territory, Yukon and Nunavut have to take adaptation and mitigation seriously. Climate change represents a threat not just to traditional industry and commerce but particularly to First nations and Inuits whose traditional way of life is built around their surrounding ecosystem. North Western Territory has First nations as the largest single demographic at 36%, while in Nunavut Inuktitut are 69% of the population, only in Yukon are the First Nations not the largest grouping (they are the second largest) .
Unsurprisingly, Yukon and Northwest Territory have all outlined plans to reduce their emissions. Perhaps surprisingly emissions per capita are relatively low given the extreme conditions of the territories. NorthWest Territory emits on average 5.7 tonnes of Carbon per person (the same as Denmark), approximately 418kt ( rom 2005), the majority of which is transport and energy.
NorthWest Territories publishes its plan, with Yukon’s plan here and Nunavut’s energy plan here. All contain the usual mix of information, stated Green House emissions and mitigation plans, with Yukon for example committing to 20% emissions cut by 2015 and carbon neutrality by 2020/22 (draft action plan here). Reducing emissions is undoubtedly important, and technological improvements can make a huge difference with such a small population. However given the territories represent a tiny fraction of Canada’s GHG’s the efforts are more important as symbols of their willingness to shoulder a burden, because they more than the rest of Canada face more immediate threats from Climate Change.
Both the Yukon and North West Territories’ reports contain substantial sections devoted to adapting and mitigating Climate Change in their regions more so than reducing GHG emissions. This shouldn’t be surprising. Houses are built on permafrost foundations, melting could endanger the both the buildings as well as a large amount of infrastructure including transport which has assumed the permafrost as a permanent landscape feature. Water supplies need to be rethought, snowpacks, river flows and rainfall could all change, change with small shifts in temperatures and weather in the far north.
Traditional transport routes could be interrupted by unpredictable snow patterns, in the winter this can lead delays in the freeze up endangering traditional pursuits such as trapping for animal fur which relies on the ice for movement, increases in snowfall can lead to roof collapses.
Animal populations will have to cope with shifting temperatures, rain and snowfall as well as variations in the ice, this isn’t just an issue for animals hunting and fishing are core parts of the economy in the territories. For many hunting, trapping and fishing are traditional lifestyles and essential to First nation and Inuit economies and culture.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect, linked to changes in landscape and wildlife are to human health in the region. Traditional hunting pursuits could be endangered, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle among native communities which can raise the human risks of diabetes and obesity.
Many environmentalists may groan as more and more reports come out confirming what we already know and too often they seem an excuse for inaction, further studies an excuse for policy delay. In the far north, knowledge is a powerful tool to prepare native communities for changes that will directly impact upon their lives and their children’s lives. Fortunately the Government’s have not been blind to changes around them. Research is being conducted into the changing ecosystems, weather patterns and animals within the region. Human health has not been forgotten either, Health Canada produced this report for health funding, for First Nations and Inuit communities, along with information sites such as Climate Change North, providing educational resources particularly aimed at school children.
It provide a sense of scale that even in developed countries, where some still deny climate change and the policy debate at a federal level is best described as reluctant, Climate Change forcing steady but serious changes to traditional lifestyles.