All energy in Nunavut is provided by fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are burned to provide the energy needed for electricity, heat, and modes of transportation. However, when we burn those fuels, we are causing measurable harm to the environment around us, particularly with the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide and methane. GHGs are known to cause climate change.
Climate change is caused by what is known as the “greenhouse effect.” This is whenheatemitted from the Earth’s surface (usually in the form of reflected sunlight) is kept in the atmosphere. Under normal circumstances, naturally occurring GHGs such as water vapor and carbon dioxidekeep the Earth at a habitable temperature by trapping this heat.However, with the increased burning of fossil fuels, more greenhouse gases are entering the atmosphere, resulting in more energy being trapped, which in turn warms the Earth’s surface. These increased surface temperatures create a number of atmospheric effects, which is what is known as climate change.
Climate change has, and will continue to have profound impacts on the arctic environment we live in. Observable changes include increased frequency of extreme weather patterns, thinner sea ice, earlier and faster sea ice break-up, and changes in wildlife distribution patterns. All of these impacts have implications for Nunavummiut, especially those who depend on hunting and fishing for their livelihood.
Recognizing this reality, the Government of Nunavut is working to reduce greenhouse gases through a number of agreements and strategies. In 2007, through the Council of Federation, the GN signed on to an agreement with all other provinces and territories that signified its intent to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the GN’s energy strategy, Ikummatiit, seeks to reduce impacts on the environment by reducing energy-related emissions which contribute to climate change. To date, the GN has taken steps toward honoring these commitments by completing a territory-wide GHG database to measure Nunavut’s GHG emissions, as well as reducing emissions through the Nunavut Energy Management Program.
Nunavut’s first GHG database, which was recently completed by the Energy Secretariat, breaks down GHG emissions by energy end use for each community. In this way trends can be analyzed and mitigation efforts tracked. For instance, territory-wide GHG emissions in 2014 were 473,813 tonnes of C02e, which is up 14,941tonnes from 2009.
While it is true GHG emissions have been increasing over time, the GN is currently acting to reduce those emissions. Since 2008, the Nunavut Energy Management Program has retrofitted 39 government-owned buildings in Iqaluit with energy efficient technologies such as LED lights, solar hot water heating, and solar wall air preheating. These retrofits are estimated to have reduced C02e emissions by 1,270 tonnes per year.
While much work remains to be done, the GN continues to look for opportunities in which to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn and decrease the amount of GHG emissions being released into the environment. Individual Nunavummiut can do their part too by conserving energy and ensuring that our land, water, and air are healthy for generations to come.