Climate Change in the Northwest Territories
Opening Statement to the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Government Operations
Climate Change in the Northwest Territories
(2017 October Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly)
17 January 2018
Michael Ferguson, Chartered Professional AccountantCPA, Chartered AccountantCA
Fellow Chartered Professional AccountantFCPA, Fellow Chartered AccountantFCA (New Brunswick)
Auditor General of Canada
Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity to discuss our report on climate change in the Northwest Territories. The report was tabled in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories on October 18, 2017. Joining me are Glenn Wheeler and Erin Jellinek, who are members of the audit team.
In this audit, we examined the efforts of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Infrastructure to meet the territory’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to climate change impacts.
This audit was part of a larger climate change audit initiative, which involved several legislative audit offices across Canada. Each audit office developed similar audit approaches and questions to examine climate change action within their governments. To date, 9 out of 12 audit reports on climate change have been tabled, and a report summarizing these audits will be issued in the spring.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the impact of climate change on the Northwest Territories is significant and widespread. The Department has reported that the territory’s climate has warmed three to four times faster than the global average; sea levels have risen, which has caused significant coastal erosion; and permafrost is thawing, which has caused shifting and structural problems in buildings. Climate change affects people, including their food and fuel security, their ability to travel in and out of their communities, and their traditional way of life.
Overall, we found that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources did not provide the leadership that the territory required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change impacts.
For the past 10 years, the Department has repeatedly committed to creating a territorial strategy for adapting to climate change. We found that the Department had not developed one and, as a result, had not set out clear and specific adaptation priorities to address the climate change risks that the territory faces.
Instead, the Department focused on territorial greenhouse gas emission strategies, but these strategies lacked meaningful targets and did not include concrete actions for major emitters.
The Department also failed to correct long-standing deficiencies in its climate change leadership. Specifically, it did not determine the resources or authority it needed to carry out its leadership responsibilities or establish a network of professionals to support action and the exchange of information on climate change.
In the absence of effective departmental leadership, other territorial departments and communities pursued their own adaptation efforts. The result was a piecemeal approach to adaptation, and the government did not know whether the territory was doing enough to adapt to climate change impacts or whether it was addressing the areas of greatest risk.
Through our audit work, we observed a pattern where the Department of Environment and Natural Resources made multiple commitments related to climate change but did not follow through on them.
We saw considerable activity around the development of greenhouse gas emission strategies but then no monitoring of commitments or reporting on results. We noted several commitments to develop a territorial climate change adaptation strategy over the past decade that were not fulfilled.
As part of this audit, we also examined specific adaptation efforts undertaken by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Infrastructure. We found a similar pattern where both departments made commitments important for climate change adaptation but did not follow through on many of the specific actions they determined were necessary to safeguard people, wildlife, and infrastructure from the impacts of climate change.
For example, in the absence of an overall adaptation plan for wildlife, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources set out management plans to protect some vulnerable wildlife, like certain caribou species. However, there were gaps in its monitoring, and some of these species were not monitored at all.
The Department of Infrastructure identified climate change risks to public buildings and roads that could cause structural damage or failure and established practices to protect public infrastructure from these risks.
However, while we found that the Department carried out these practices for roads in most cases, it did not do so for public buildings. For example, the Department often did not inspect and clear snow from the roofs of buildings—including some prone to heavy snow accumulation. It also did not remove snow from building foundations to prevent thawing permafrost and possible structural problems.
This is important because residents rely on these departments to uphold their commitments to manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change—some of which have the potential to be severe and costly.
We made eight recommendations to help the two departments meet their climate change commitments and better adapt to the impacts of climate change. Both departments have agreed to implement our recommendations.
In our report, we acknowledged that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was in the process of developing a climate change strategic framework. In our view, creating such a framework is a start, but more needs to be done. Establishing the appropriate authority and leadership will be critical to the success of this framework. Also critical will be the accountability for results and a continued focus on the framework beyond its release—something we did not see in past strategies.
Mr. Chair, your Committee may wish to seek details from Department officials on how they intend to uphold commitments to reduce territorial greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to climate change impacts in the Northwest Territories. Specifically, you may wish to ask the Department of Environment and Natural Resources how it intends to fulfill its leadership role on climate change and how it plans to maintain a continued focus on climate change commitments.
This concludes my opening statement. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.