Nunavut unprepared for rising levels of rain, snow, auditor general hears
"We should be on the leading edge"
In 2012, heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused such damage to a road and bridge in Coral Harbour, it cut off the community’s road access to the local airport for almost a week.
The flooding also damaged the resupply pipeline to the community’s fuel tank farm.
This is just one of many examples of how climate change is impacting Nunavut’s communities, outlined in the auditor general of Canada’s recent report on climate change in Nunavut.
Auditor general Michael Ferguson and his team attended hearings in Iqaluit April 30 and May 1, where the legislature’s Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Operations and Public Accounts had a chance to review the report’s findings.
Precipitation levels have shifted across Nunavut, MLAs said; snowfall has increased and melts earlier. Communities also experience severe rain events, which can lead to flooding and washouts.
But communities and buildings don’t have much in place to help drain that excess water, MLAs said. Nor is there any major plan to implement drainage systems, Government of Nunavut representatives said May 1 at the hearings.
“The Arctic is on the front line of climate change and we should be on the leading edge,” said one committee member, Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone.
Environment Canada’s data shows that between 1948 and 2016, average temperatures increased by up to 2.7 degrees Celsius in Nunavut.
And the recently launched Climate Atlas predicts that over the next 60 years, parts of the territory will see 103 millimetres more precipitation.
Road damage aside, drainage is a major and ongoing issue in Coral Harbour each spring, when Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser said water flows to lower-lying levels of the community and can pool for a week at a time.
That creates safety and health issues—such as mould in local homes—and degrades permafrost over time.
If the drainage issue is closer to home, Netser said residents will borrow a gas-powered pump from the hamlet to help clear out the excess water, but he noted that’s only a temporary solution.
The auditor general’s report also found that Arctic sea ice is reduced, which means less protection from waves and storm surges.
That leaves communities like Clyde River, Kugluktuk and Hall Beach vulnerable to coastal erosion and flooding. That’s especially true for residents whose homes line the shores in those communities.
“What can our communities do about beach and shoreline erosion?” Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk asked GN officials attending the May 1 hearing, noting that public housing sits along Hall Beach’s shoreline.
“Up to now, we have not worked with the local housing authority in Hall Beach to see what we can do,” said Nunavut Housing Corp. President Terry Audla, committing the corporation to look into the issue.
“But I can say that this is an important matter and I’m aware of the changes that are happening in the Hall Beach [shoreline] area.”
The auditor general’s report focused on what measures—if any at all—Government of Nunavut departments and agencies have taken to prepare for or adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Overall, the auditor general said the GN is not adequately prepared to respond to climate change.
In areas where the GN had strategies outlined, the report noted that there were few plans on how they would be implemented.
The report also looked at how the GN is working to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the territory, though it found the territory has yet to set any targets.
You can read the auditor general’s full report in English or Inuktitut here.