Three Key Environmental Issues for the Yukon Election
Myrtle Warbler (Setophaga coronata ssp. coronata)
The Yukon’s next government will have to make some big decisions, with long lasting implications for the Yukon’s land, water, wildlife, climate—and people. Here are three key issues we’re keeping our eye on.
Will the next government take on mining reform?
The Yukon’s Quartz Mining Act is 97 years old, and our Placer Mining Act is 115 years old. Unlike fine wine and Scotch, mining legislation does not improve with age.
Our mining laws provide few safeguards against mining companies going bankrupt, abandoning their mines, and leaving Yukoners with the bill. The royalty system is so outdated that the Yukon routinely gets more money from camping fees than mining. And under the Yukon’s free entry mining system, you can pound a stake into the earth and claim a series of land rights that can interfere with the realization of the First Nation rights and title.
Many Yukoners and First Nations have been calling for long-overdue changes to how mining happens in the Yukon. Will the territory’s next government have the courage to rewrite the Yukon’s mining laws so they recognize the realities of today’s society?
What lessons has the Yukon government learned from the Peel Land Use Planning saga, and what will happen when the Dawson Land Use Planning Commission presents its plan?
The Peel saga is thankfully mostly behind us, but there could be some drama in store now that land use planning is happening in the Dawson Region. The Dawson planning commission is facing some huge decisions, like whether to limit placer mining in wetlands along the Indian River, and whether to prevent resource roads from cutting into the expanse of roadless lands north of Dawson.
We’re likely to see the Final Recommended Land Use Plan for the Dawson Region within the term of the next government. This was the stage in the Peel land use planning saga when everything went off the rails. The Yukon government abandoned the Final Recommended Plan, and instead approved a land use plan that it had unilaterally created. The case wound its way through the courts for six years, before the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Yukon government had violated the Umbrella Final Agreement. How the Yukon government chooses to act when presented with the Final Recommended Plan for Dawson will be a test of what lessons the Yukon has learned from the Peel.
How will the Yukon respond to the climate emergency?
In 2019 the Yukon declared a climate emergency and last fall the Yukon released Our Clean Future, a plan that aims to reduce the Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. Emissions from the mining industry aren’t included in this target and the plan calls for the mining industry to meet as of yet undetermined “intensity targets.” Intensity targets are about efficiency, like reducing the amount of carbon used to produce an ounce of gold. Intensity targets aren’t absolute targets. That means that if more mines open up then the Yukon’s mining emissions—and overall emissions could still increase—even if individual mines are meeting their intensity targets.
Another challenge for the Yukon’s next government will be cutting the use of fossil fuels in power generation. Most of the Yukon’s electricity comes from hydro, but as more mines plug into the grid there’s a heavier burden on our electricity supply. The demand for power spikes even higher during winter cold snaps, forcing Yukon Energy to burn natural gas and diesel to make up for the shortfall. There are ways that the Yukon could address this problem, like increasing the Yukon’s clean energy generation, incentivizing energy efficiency, or investing in ways to store energy when there’s a surplus and using it during peak times. The Yukon could also require mines to go through a climate change assessment to better understand their impact on the Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions.
CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society asked each party these questions, and many more. To see what they said, visit www.votewild.ca.