A new report documenting climate change in the Yukon has been released – and its findings are pretty grim.
The report, titled Yukon Climate Change Indicators and Key Findings 2015, compiled research to form a list of key findings that cover 10 areas.
“The issue of climate change is going to be around for a while,” said the report’s author, John Streicker.
“We realized that (this) would be a good way to try and keep track of things over time.”
Perhaps most notably, it found that the Yukon’s annual temperature has risen at double the rate than in southern Canada, and the entire planet.
In the past 50 years, the annual average temperature has climbed by 2 C, with the highest increase of 4 C occurring during the winters.
Backing up the temperature findings is the widespread melting of glaciers and sea ice and degrading permafrost.
“Yukon has lost 22 per cent of its glacial cover,” the report states.
The thawing permafrost is particularly problematic for the North – it can disrupt mine dams and tailing ponds that are dependent on permafrost berms, as well as destabilize
buildings and other infrastructure.
It also changes how greenhouse gases are released from soil, vegetation and coastal oceans.
It is not just the temperature that’s on the rise.
Annual precipitation has risen by roughly six per cent in the past 50 years, with the largest increase occurring during the summers.
Higher levels of greenhouse gases are expected to contribute to a 10- to 20-per-cent increase in precipitation over the next five decades.
More precipitation translates to changes to the Yukon’s water systems, adding flood risk to the list of concerns.
The report adds that rain and storm events are also likely to get worse.
The report acknowledges that because precipitation levels can vary, there is less confidence in determining the trends in the Yukon.
Though a lot of signs are pointing to negative impacts, Streicker notes there is a silver lining to some of it.
The warmer climate means a longer summer growing season for agriculture, he said.
“And when you’ve got warmer winters, you need less heating fuel. Your energy costs and emissions go down,” Streicker added.
While this seems like a good thing all around, it will likely put stress on others in the territory.
“For Yukon First Nations, the effects of climate change on wildlife and food security are the two biggest concerns,” the report states.
For foraging animals, climate change alters access to food, the nutrient value in food sources, breeding grounds and migration routes. There have already been observed
changes to caribou and salmon migration patterns.
“There are no current predictions of what the cumulative impact(s) will be other than to note it will put stress on the species.”
At the heart of the report’s findings, the stress and strain that climate change puts on things is what’s most problematic.
Because all of the impacts and findings are grouped together in one report, it forms a clearer picture to those reading and using the report, Streicker said.
“It’s useful because it tells a story of climate change in the North,” said Stephen Roddick of the Yukon government’s Climate Change Secretariat.
“Northern communities are resilient,” the report says.
But a quickly changing climate is the ultimate test of that resilience – and something the government would like to enhance, Roddick added.
“I think it’s pretty natural for people to adapt,” Streicker said.
It’s dealing with the causes of climate change than can be more complex, he noted.
The Yukon government is working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, which is a start. For individuals, he suggests trying a day-long “fossil fuel diet”, to see where
people’s dependencies are.
By taking measures in existing planning processes, considerations for issues such as thawing permafrost can be incorporated into building plans for future infrastructure, for
The Yukon Climate Change Indicators and Key Findings 2015 was developed through the Northern Climate ExChange.
It was reviewed in partnership with the Council of Yukon First Nations and Climate Change Secretariat.
In December, the secretariat released a progress report for its 2009 Climate Change Action Plan. Within the report, it was stated that the government would continue to
support updates and development of the Yukon Climate Change Indicators and Key Findings.
It will likely be reviewed on an annual basis, taking into consideration any new research that may have come up throughout the year, Roddick said.
An emphasis going forward will be put on traditional knowledge, which helps enhance the local perspective to climate change.