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Nunavut among those failing in climate change efforts

The territory is not ready to deal with the impacts of climate change, according to the Auditor General of Canada's final report on Climate Change in Nunavut, presented March 13 in Iqaluit.

Principal director of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada James McKenzie, responsible for the audit Climate Change in Nunavut, tells reporters in Iqaluit the territory is not adequately prepared to respond with the impacts of climate change March 13.
Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

"From reduced sea ice to warming permafrost, the impacts of climate change are visible across Nunavut," said James McKenzie, principal director responsible for the audit. "Our audit found that the

Government of Nunavut was not adequately prepared to respond to these impacts."

As Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Joe Enook tabled the report, McKenzie spoke to reporters across the street at the Nunavut Research Institute.

The crux of the findings is not unusual for the territory – strategies without implementation plans.

"We found the government released a strategy to help Nunavut adapt to climate change. The government also released a strategy to manage Nunavut's energy use with objectives to reduce the territory's dependence on fossil fuels and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said McKenzie.

"However, the government did not have implementation plans that outlined when and how the objectives would be met and who would be responsible for what. It also did not report publicly on the implementation of these strategies."

The audit also found the strategies did not identify outcomes, timelines and the responsible agency.

The audit spanned from Jan. 1, 2011 to May 31, 2017, and incorporated material from before and after those dates.

The report makes 10 recommendations to the Department of Environment, the Department of Community and Government Services, the Nunavut Housing Corporation and Qulliq Energy Corporation. In each case the targeted department or corporation agreed.

The climate change audit on Nunavut is one of many nationwide undertaken in an effort to determine Canada's overall readiness. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Julie Gelfand is scheduled to release a collaborative report, Perspectives on Climate Change Action in Canada: A Collaborative Report from Auditors General, on March 27.

McKenzie said Nunavut is the last jurisdiction to table its report, and based on the others he has read Nunavut is not alone in the challenges it faces.

"Areas such as the need to fully assess climate risks, to have action plans that address how governments are going to address climate change, and areas such as public reporting are certainly others areas for improvement that were identified in other jurisdictions."

McKenzie said the government's failure to follow through on its strategic plans were likely due to a combination of factors.

"There are a number of challenges the government faces in addressing climate change, whether that be the need to address immediate priorities but also human resources and capacity challenges within the government," said McKenzie.

"Those make it difficult to sustain effort and attention."

The auditors did find a few false starts toward action plans, but they were never completed or finalized.

That's why one of the recommendations is that the Department of Environment fully assess risks, and rank them, stressing collaboration with other key departments and identifying who is responsible for outcomes.

The report stresses government should take the audit seriously because climate change is affecting daily life, traditional activities and infrastructure in Nunavut.

For example, "in some areas of Nunavut, warming permafrost has created hazards for residents, affected some land-based travel routes, and presented risks to archaeological sites. Thawing permafrost also poses risks to infrastructure, such as shifting, foundation distress, and other structural problems in buildings," states the report.

Specifically the audit mentions heat recovery ventilators in public housing units.

"They help ensure good indoor air quality, control humidity, and avoid moisture build up, which can contribute to mold," states the report.

The Housing Corp. agreed with the recommendation and says it will "ensure maintenance programs … are implemented according to schedule."

But McKenzie repeated the government needs to assess and prioritize risks, because it can't do everything.