The Senate

Motion to Recognize that Climate Change is an Urgent Crisis--Debate Continued

March 3, 2022

Hon. Margaret Dawn Anderson

Akana, honourable senators. I rise today on Treaty 7 territory, the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Nations, including Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, the Tsuut’ina Nation, Stoney Nakoda First Nation and the Métis Nation Region 3 to speak to Motion No. 7 moved by Senator Galvez.

I rise today in support of this motion and to share how climate change affects the residents and communities within the Northwest Territories, or the N.W.T. We are on the forefront of climate-driven change and global warming. It severely threatens our people, culture, community, landscape, ecosystem and way of life.

According to Susan Nerberg, a science and environmental journalist:

For people living in the Arctic, climate change is hacking away at their foundation. It drives storm surges, washes out roads and clogs rivers with sediments. It produces sinkholes and triggers landslides capable of altering the topography and tilting houses. The climate crisis is even seen by some as a form of environmental racism — a problem created down south and suffered up north.

Although the N.W.T. is responsible for less than 0.2% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, some places in the N.W.T. have already experienced significant warming in mean air temperature. Since 1957, in the Beaufort Delta, the territory’s northernmost region, Inuvik’s average air temperature has warmed by 4.4 degrees Celsius, while in Hay River, located in the southern part of the territory, the average air temperature has warmed by 2.7 degrees Celsius. To provide context, the Paris Agreement, adopted by 196 parties at COP21 and entered into forced on November 4, 2016, set a goal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The North’s temperatures are indicative of a larger global issue.

On June 22, 2020, I spoke about the experience of climate change in my home community of Tuktoyaktuk and the impact on community infrastructure. That spring the hamlet had relocated four privately owned homes inland from the point of Tuktoyaktuk because the shoreline was eroding under their piling foundations due to rising sea waters and permafrost melt. The relocation of four homes from the point is just the latest chapter in the lived experience of climate change in Tuktoyaktuk. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the loss of the community’s curling rink, relocation of the community school and the RCMP detachment, as well as several metres of land loss around the perimeter of the community.

The one-kilometre sized island where my mother grew up and which, in my lifetime, always provided protection to the harbour of Tuktoyaktuk is also falling victim to erosion and rising water.

The Government of the Northwest Territories, or the GNWT, anticipates that further community infrastructure — including the landfill, several community buildings and cemeteries — will need to be relocated due to coastal erosion and sea level rise. This is not a simple task.

Coastline erosion is a divisive issue for my community. It is not simply a matter of relocating buildings and residences. Our cultural heritage, including our graveyard, is threatened by encroaching sea. The monetary costs of relocating them are difficult to weigh against the cultural costs of them washing away. There are also significant and legitimate concerns about the loss of historically important Inuit cultural sites. The GNWT is working to assess how erosion of the Arctic coast and glacial recession are affecting artifacts and key archeological sites. We are facing not just a loss of land and resources, but significant loss of our historical and cultural landmarks as well as a lifestyle which defines us. This loss is immeasurable.

According to the GNWT:

Infrastructure and processes that rely on weather, such as ice roads, building seasons, supply chains, and community access for residents are becoming unreliable.

This means the annual window of opportunity to get critical goods into communities is shrinking. This creates new challenges, financial implications and affects food supply, building seasons, fuel resupply and capital infrastructure.

Much of the N.W.T. is underlain by permafrost, and climate change is decreasing its thickness. As the layer of seasonal thaw in the ground increases, so too does the need for deeper piles to support infrastructure, raising building and maintenance costs. The vast majority of highways and municipal roads are constructed and surfaced with gravel. Permafrost thaw causes subsidence and sinkholes in the roads, which requires financial investment and maintenance to keep them safe and useable.

Near Fort Simpson, in the southern part of the N.W.T., discontinuous permafrost has decreased by 38% over the last 61 years. Permafrost thaw on hills has resulted in an increase in large landslides that are up to 40 hectares, with head walls up to 25 metres, resulting in sediment affecting streams and aquatic life.

These landslides are also occurring further north. In September 2017, I witnessed four landslides within hours while at the historical Inuvialuit site of Reindeer Station and along the Mackenzie River. The landslides not only uprooted trees, dumping them in the river, but also destroyed a historic cabin as well as channel markers along the river.

Events like these are occurring all over the territory. In the Gwich’in Settlement area, subsidence is outpacing our ability to map the occurrences. Subsidence and sinkholes on the Dempster Highway also affect the integrity of the highway connecting the N.W.T. to the Yukon. Slumps in lakes run the risk of connecting the lakes to rivers and draining them. Residents of Fort McPherson have observed this phenomenon in the lakes around their community.

The warming climate is disturbing habitats in the N.W.T., and invasive plants and animals have been observed in many communities. From Into the Arctic:

My eighty-two-year-old mother loved to fish. Regardless of the weather or season, she would set her net in the ice, or water just off the shore that lies within steps of her home. A tangible and vital connection to her past and our culture. My brother sets the net now and we follow in her footsteps. The same place, same net and same waters. There has been one notable difference, salmon, a fish once foreign to our nets and diet is now in our waters.

Cougars and magpies, species that have historically not been present in the N.W.T., have also been observed.

Warmer temperatures are making weather patterns less predictable, endangering traditional lifestyles and livelihoods. The number of days below freezing can be used as a measure of the season for travelling over ice. Historically, in Fort Simpson this is about 221 days. By the end of the century, it may decrease to only 176 days if nothing changes.

In the Beaufort Sea, a decrease of 8.3% in summer ice per decade, combined with rising sea levels, has accelerated coastal erosion and is impacting community infrastructure. Since 1968, the Beaufort Sea has experienced a total loss of 204,000 kilometres squared of sea ice. This is an area almost three times the land area of New Brunswick.

The GNWT notes that the loss of sea ice caused by the carbon emissions of industrialized nations destroys 30 square metres of Arctic sea ice annually.

As the Arctic sea ice melts, potential shipping lanes will open allowing for reduced transit times for global shipping. This is particularly relevant for shipping between Europe and East Asia, as it would allow shipping to occur throughout the Northwest Passage, rather than through the Suez Canal.

The N.W.T. is also experiencing more extreme weather during the summer months, making wildfire management more challenging. In 2014, 3.4 million hectares of boreal forest burned in the N.W.T. This is six times the normal amount and 2.5 million hectares more than annually burns in Canada. That same year the drought caused the Yellowknife hydroelectric facilities to run dry. Because Yellowknife is not connected to the grid, $15 million in diesel fuel was burned to generate and provide power.

According to the GNWT, ecosystem modelling suggests that the boreal forest located in the southern Northwest Territories will be replaced with grasslands by the end of the century. This is attributed to climate changes, including drought, wildfires and insect infestation. Water levels have been recorded in the N.W.T. since 1939, with the highest water levels recorded in 2021. Although there have been historical flooding and high water levels in N.W.T. communities located near water bodies, the high water levels that we are seeing now are unprecedented.

In May 2021 extreme flooding led to the complete evacuation of Jean Marie River and displaced over 700 people in Fort Simpson, causing millions of dollars in damages. In Jean Marie River, the water levels rose so high and so quickly that the fuel tanks were uprooted, cell service disrupted, the power plant damaged, and the only access road to the community was cut off. The Canadian Rangers were deployed to help assist those affected by the flooding.

Another rare weather event occurred on June 29, 2021. A downburst, one of the first ever recorded in the N.W.T., ripped through and uprooted a patch of trees some 60 kilometres long and 9 kilometres wide when it struck the Dehcho region east of Fort Liard. It is believed that the wind speeds during the Dehcho storm reached up to 190 kilometres per hour.

On January 24, in a conversation with Brigadier-General Pascal Godbout, Commander of Joint Task Force (North) located in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, I was apprised of Operation LENTUS. Operation LENTUS is the Canadian Armed Forces response to natural disasters in Canada. Brigadier-General Godbout noted that within the last year they have responded to three major events across the three northern territories: the floods in Jean Marie River, Yukon floods and the Iqaluit water crisis. He added that this is the first time in 15 years that Operation LENTUS has responded to requests and noted that these were unusual and reflective of the increased climate impacts we are seeing in the North.

Given that Joint Task Force (North) is responsible for emergency responses across the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon, this poses an additional burden on their ability to serve the North and places an additional demand on the Canadian Armed Forces resources.

In the N.W.T., responding to climate changes means balancing adaptation to and mitigation of the significant impacts we are already seeing. With our population of 44,000, we will not be able to support the logistical and financial challenges of adapting and mitigating without a Northern-specific approach to climate change. This must also incorporate national and international advocacy and partnerships.

As Inuvialuit, we have survived epidemics, mass deaths, colonization, residential school, as well as relocation; yet, with climate change, the Inuvialuit are facing one of the greatest challenges of this century. I venture to say that this goes beyond the Inuvialuit. As a country, and collectively a world, we are facing the challenge of our lifetime.

In the words of Hans-Otto Pörtner, a co-chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

My 16-year-old daughter wrote an assignment for her Canadian and World issues class with Ashbury College, and it was entitled “Tuktoyaktuk: Evidence and global climate change.” I share her words for two reasons. Firstly, it is telling that it is important and relevant to a teenager. At 16 years of age, I never wrote or thought about climate change. Secondly, I believe that her words are timely and valid. These words are as follows.

This issue in the Arctic transcends all boundaries. It is a global responsibility and given we created the problem; we must also create the solution.

The importance is not lost to her. It should not be lost to us as decision makers and as parliamentarians. I urge you to support this motion. Quyanainni, mahsi’cho, thank you.

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