Residents push for climate change prep

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Ben Linaker, a climate change specialist with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, was one of the government representatives at a two-day workshop last week in Hay River on climate change and energy.

The GNWT held two days of public consultations in Hay River last week on climate change and energy.

The by-invitation workshop on March 8 and 9, and an evening public information session, were to gather input for the NWT Energy Strategy and the Climate Change Strategic Framework.

Drafts of both documents are expected by the summer.

Ben Linaker, a climate change specialist with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), said the department is replacing its greenhouse gas strategy from 2006 with a Climate Change Strategic Framework.

“It’s a little bit more holistic approach to climate change,” he said.

At the public information session on March 8, community residents – about four or five who were outnumbered by about a dozen territorial and federal officials – heard some dire predictions about climate change.

“One of the things that we try to stress to people is that we are sort of at ground zero for climate change impacts,” said Brian Sieben, a climate change adaptation planning specialist with ENR. “We have the most significant warming in Canada, with the most warming occurring in the northern part of the Northwest Territories.”

Sieben noted the southern part of the NWT – Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson – is warming at about half the rate of Inuvik.

“In Hay River, the temperature is rising here at about three degrees per century. So very significant warming,” he said. “Whereas in Inuvik it’s about seven degrees.”

Sieben said he was interested in hearing concerns from Hay River, such as about flooding, forest pests and shortened ice road seasons.

The GNWT strategy will look at climate change adaptations to minimize its negative impacts.

Sieben noted the vegetation could even change in the southern NWT.

“From present to the 2090s, we’re seeing forests in the southern NWT projected to change from no longer boreal to more like a grassland prairie more like southern Saskatchewan,” he said, explaining it may be too hot to sustain the trees.

While Sieben noted there are negative impacts, he said there may also be opportunities created by climate change, such as a longer growing season for agriculture.

“I don’t see opportunities in climate change. I’m sorry,” said Hay River resident Gene Hachey. “I’m in agriculture and the only way you’d see opportunities in climate change associated with agriculture is disasters.”

Hachey said he wants to see more planning on how to mitigate climate change.

ENR is working in conjunction with the Department of Public Works and Services (PWS), as it renews its energy strategy.

“We’re going to build a 10-year energy strategy, as well as a three-year action plan for this term of this government,” said Geraldine Byrne, manager of energy research and development with PWS.

Byrne said the workshops and information sessions are to engage residents in building the energy plan.

She said one of the main goals is to reduce the NWT’s carbon footprint by transitioning to energy production such as solar power and hydroelectricity.

Hay River resident Andrew Cassidy wondered how much impact the NWT and its 40,000 people could have on mitigating climate change by switching methods of producing energy.

“The impacts are happening globally and we’re just a tiny drop in the bucket,” said Cassidy, adding he agrees communities should be supported in changing energy production, but should not suffer because of it.

The first day of the workshop in Hay River dealt with energy, while the second day focused on climate change. About 20 local residents were involved in the workshop, representing such groups as aboriginal organizations, the Hay River Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Hay River, the Northern Farm Training Institute, Arctic Energy Alliance and Northland Utilities.

Along with ENR and PWS, the workshop involved two representatives of the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Workshops have previously been held in Inuvik, Norman Wells, Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.

There will also be a future meeting with K’atlodeeche First Nation and possibly another workshop in Behchoko.

– Paul Bickford