Nunavut needs climate change centre

Proposed facility would help to spread information, access federal funds



Global warming may mean residents of the Eastern Arctic will need to shovel more snow in the future.

That’s because snow serves as an excellent insulator, helping to trap cold, or heat.

During spring thaw, this insulating property actually speeds up the melting of permafrost around the foundations of buildings, residents of Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories have found.

Their solution? Shovel snow away from their homes.

That’s one example of how communities are coping with climate change, shared during a conference held in Iqaluit last week presented by the Government of Nunavut.

Participants included residents from Nunavut’s communities, and researchers from around Canada, as well from the United States and England. One conclusion they drew was the need for a Nunavut Climate Change Centre, which would serve as a “clearing house” of information related to climate change for Nunavut’s communities.

There’s plenty of federal money for projects related to climate change and energy conservation, but employees at hamlets and Inuit organizations may not know about them, or how to apply.

Likewise, government departments create maps of the territory’s coastlines, vegetation and sea ice, but this information isn’t easily accessed if you aren’t a specialist.

A climate change centre could help bring all this information under one roof, said Jackie Bourgeois, who organized the conference, and is the Government of Nunavut’s only employee working on the climate change file.

Researchers spoke of how they want to help communities more. For example, Natural Resources Canada plans to soon start a project, called “Enhancing Resilience in a Changing Climate,” which would have its direction set by residents of one Nunavut community, rather than by researchers.

Researchers would visit the community to explain the kind of information they could share, such as maps of coastlines, vegetation and permafrost, or remote sensing imagery, said project leader David Mate.

But how that information would be used would be up to the community, based on their needs, said Mate.

That’s a change from how research often works.

For example, the conference heard of a study of vegetation in the Kivalliq could be useful to residents, if it showed areas along the migration path of caribou.

But the map narrowly missed those areas.

Residents from Nunavut’s communities shared their concerns with climate change, and how they plan to deal with it.

“I’m totally disgusted with the concept of all the hunters not having enough gas to go hunting for their families,” said Nick Idlout from Clyde River, referring to the rising cost of fuel.

His community is already developing plans to relocate their community to higher ground if ocean levels rise as expected when glaciers and ice sheets melt.

“Our land looks completely different. You can see the indications everywhere,” Idlout said.

Hall Beach has similar concerns, with widespread land erosion along the coastline near the community.

Soloman Awa from Iqaluit spoke of how he lost two new snowmobiles because of thin ice. He said if he had been aware of what warning signs to look for, “I guarantee you I would not have lost my skidoo.”

Jayko Simonie from Hall Beach said 20 years ago, hunters could travel over the ice by snowmobile in October. Not anymore. “Now, in October, we’re still going by boat,” he said.

“It’s obvious the climate is changing.”

Another subject at the conference was how to make communities more energy efficient, and contribute less to greenhouse gases linked with global warming.

“I piss people off sometimes in Kugluktuk, because when I see a vehicle idling, I turn it off,” said Paul Waye, senior administrative officer of his community.

Waye said he hoped everyone in attendance would make “one small step” towards lessening their impact on the environment.

As for Waye, when he returns home, he said he would replace every lightbulb in his home with energy-efficient, compact fluorescent bulbs.

Others said change won’t be that easy.

“Even if you give these (bulbs) out free of charge, people will take them home and put them in a drawer,” said Mary Ellen Thomas from the Nunavut Research Institute.

But by the end of the conference, researchers and Inuit residents alike agreed on the importance of finding ways to live with a changing climate by working together.
“Inuit are really very scientific people, because we can relate to you,” Awa from Iqaluit told conference goers.

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