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Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault answers your questions on climate change in Labrador

Climate change is changing the landscape of the Labrador coast as early departure of sea ice affects everything from local literacy to food security and mental health.

CBC Newfoundland and Labrador has highlighted climate change in the region by thin icea series describing the shift on the north coast of Labrador and the Aboriginal-led responses to it.

The series raised questions from our audience about what is being done at the government level to address climate change, so the CBC’s Peter Cowan took them to Federal Environment Secretary Steven Guilbeault.

Discussion edited for length and clarity. If you would like to watch the full conversation, you can do so in the video player above.

Charlotte Wolfrey, Rigolet: Ice and snow are very important to the Inuit. We have many cultural lessons and information that we have collected over the years that have been passed down to us from generation to generation. What are your plans to slow down climate change to ensure that future generations of Inuit can preserve our culture and our way of life?

Steven Guilbeault: To combat climate change, we must combat our dependence on fossil fuels. In all areas of our society we need to find new ways of doing what we do. transportation for example. We’re on track to ensure that every new car sold in Canada by 2035 is 100 percent zero-emissions – either a hydrogen vehicle or an electric vehicle. It won’t happen overnight. Our goal is to be 20 percent of new sales by 2026, and in provinces like Quebec and BC we’re already at 13.14 percent.

We work with companies across sectors: Steel, Cement, Aluminum, Oil & Gas to find ways to truly reduce the amount of carbon pollution entering the atmosphere and causing the global warming and climate change that we are seeing Canada and around the world. We’re investing a lot of money – indeed record levels of investment – into greening the economy. More than $110 billion that our government has invested in the last six years and we will continue to do so. So it’s a combination.

There are a number of things we need to do, but we also need to recognize that we have already entered the climate change era. The faster we can reduce our pollution, the less we need to see the effects of climate change.

Novalee Webb, Nain: It’s easy to pay lip service to stopping climate change, but we must act now. What are the specific plans, including actions and timetables, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a significant amount, and how will you fund and implement them?

When we came to power in 2015, Canada’s goal for 2030 was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. Unfortunately, the previous government had made no plans to achieve these goals. So what we realized when we walked in…was that Canada’s emissions and pollution levels were far from decreasing. And by 2030, instead of 30 percent below, we would be 12 to 14 percent above.

We flattened that curve, and in the last few years… emissions, pollution levels, started to go down. We now have a more ambitious target for 2030, which is a 40 to 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The curve has started to shift downwards, but we need to accelerate this downward trend in the coming years.

How do we know we’re getting there? Well, the Canadian government has to publish what is called a national inventory every year. All the numbers that we have on the amount of pollution that we create, the various measures that we have taken to reduce that amount of pollution, and that’s what we have to take to the United Nations… to stay on our feet to the fire .

Peter Cowan, St. John’s: What about Bay du Nord? It seems contradictory to say we reduce emissions and then approve a major oil and gas project that will produce a lot more oil that will be burned and released into the atmosphere.

It might seem counterintuitive. If you look at the studies from organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the International Energy Agency, both organizations say that we need to reduce the amount of pollution, the amount of fossil fuels that we use. But both organizations also recognize that in 2050 we will still be using fossil fuels.

We must ensure that the oil that will still be produced in 2050 is as low-polluting as possible. And that we offset the emissions… so that these projects are carbon neutral or net zero.

Michelle Saunders, Happy Valley-Goose Bay: What are the federal government’s policies to protect sea ice as a critical habitat both ecologically and culturally?

When we came to power in 2015, Canada was not even protecting 2 percent of its oceans and coasts. Today we are at just over 14 percent. … Our goal is to achieve 25 percent protection by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030.

About a month and a half ago, for the first time in Canadian history, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the local government of Nunatsiavut to begin creating… a new nature reserve near the Torngat mountains… We just have an agreement with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador signed to create four new protected areas around Newfoundland. Once these areas are protected, there can be no more oil exploration, no oil production in these areas.

Sea ice is pictured near Rigolet, Labrador in March 2021. (Eldred Allen / Bird’s Eye)

James Tuttauk, Hopedale: Our main source of heat up here in Nunatsiaviut is wood, but with global warming the weather is very unpredictable. We’ve had a really mild year and we’re not getting any wood. Some of our electric bills have skyrocketed, so will the federal government step in with a better price on our electricity rates?

There are a number of things we are doing to address these concerns. We are in the process of modernizing building codes in Canada to ensure new buildings are much more energy efficient. With today’s knowledge and technologies, we can build buildings that require almost no heat, even in cold climates. They do it in Sweden and they do it in other countries.

We’re investing heavily in a major retrofit program to make existing buildings across the country more energy efficient – which is good for the environment, but also good for people because they pay less on their energy bills. The third thing we do specifically for northern communities is to help them reduce their dependency on diesel-generated electricity… by investing with them in hybrid projects, where you couple your diesel generator with wind turbines or solar panels that doing this will help to reduce diesel consumption.

Caroline Nochasak, Nain: Rapidly decreasing sea ice shortens hunting season for Inuit. This greatly affects our food availability and our cultural traditions. How will you help mitigate the loss of available food for hunting families to ensure these measures are impacted?

This is a difficult challenge. If we act quickly enough, we can stem the loss of sea ice, but it will be a long time before sea ice returns, if ever. … The federal government has launched a number of programs to make it easier for northern communities to access foods that are healthy and nutritious for the communities. Unfortunately, I can understand those who say that this does not compensate for the impact of hunting and fishing on traditional ways of life. And that’s one of the many tragedies of climate change… I’m not saying the programs are necessarily keeping up [with the rising cost of food]but we’re getting there.”

Samantha Sagsakiak, Nain: Climate change can affect mental health through direct and indirect exposure, e.g. B. by observing a disaster from a distance or reading a scientific report. Rates of mental health problems in Labrador are already alarmingly high. So, has the long-term impact of climate change on an individual’s mental health and well-being been taken into account?

Mental health is certainly a growing concern of the federal government. We now have a minister dedicated to this issue. … As part of the renegotiation of the health deal with the provinces and territories, we put on the table that as part of the transfers, the provinces and territories must be required by the federal government to invest more in mental health.

Are we aware of the long-term psychological effects of climate change? I think the honest answer is no. Together we have only recently started studying the impacts of climate change on human health, mental health and ecosystems. We have only a few decades of evidence, and mental health has only recently been studied. So we don’t know what these impacts will be, but we have started investing in research to better understand what these impacts could or will be.


Thin Ice is a CBC special series about climate change along the north coast of Labrador and the indigenous-led responses to it.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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