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A recent parliamentary report on Arctic security missed the mark, according to one MP, by failing to recommend solutions tackling a huge threat to the Arctic: climate change.

“The New Democratic Party is profoundly disappointed with the report’s lack of climate policy,” NDP MP Lindsay Mathyssen wrote in a supplemental opinion at the bottom of the report, released on April 24. “The New Democratic Party tried to push for the consideration of climate change as the existential threat to Arctic security, but unfortunately the committee was opposed.”

The Arctic is warming at about four times the global average rate. Melting sea ice, rapid coastal erosion, increased precipitation, degrading permafrost, deteriorating infrastructure and the migration of invasive species are all fallout from this rapid warming, Jody Thomas, national security and intelligence adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, told the committee on Dec. 8.

“Climate change remains the most prominent and visible threat to the Arctic and all its inhabitants,” said Thomas. Several other witnesses also highlighted climate change as the most pressing threat to the Arctic, according to the report’s section on climate change, which spans two pages.

None of its 26 recommendations explicitly deal with climate change, which Mathyssen characterized as a “glaring gap.” The closest it comes is one recommendation to “rapidly increase the pace of development and deployment of clean and renewable energy sources, including possibly small modular nuclear reactors for the Canadian Arctic in order to provide the clean energy necessary to support NORAD modernization and to stabilize local energy infrastructure needs.”

Ice melt caused by climate change is creating new sea lanes, which have caused increased traffic in Canadian Arctic waters. The loss of permafrost is increasing the possibility of accessing in-demand resources like oil, gas and precious minerals. Witnesses expressed concern that ice melt could make the Arctic easier to access for other nations “that do not share our values.”

However, climate change isn’t necessarily going to make the North more accessible at sea, Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, told the committee.

He says climate change makes navigation in the Arctic “more unpredictable and in some ways more dangerous” because it “move[s] the ice up against the western edge of the Arctic archipelago,” displaces icebergs and “can create storms and other phenomena that complicate the situation in the North.”

The federal government works in silos, so there is often debate over what is within the purview of the Department of National Defence and what should be left to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Mathyssen said in an interview with Canada’s National Observer. Because of the areas of overlap between silos, some members may not think it's necessary to include specific climate change recommendations, but Mathyssen disagrees.

A recent parliamentary report on Arctic security failed to adequately address the biggest threat to the Arctic: climate change, according to NDP national defence critic @LMathys. #ClimateChange #NationalDefence #Arctic #ArcticSecurity

“In order for us to actually address what's needed, we need to really tear down those silos and talk about it in a more fulsome way,” she said.

National defence issues — for example, the recent $19-billion investment in a fleet of F-35 fighter jets — should be viewed through a climate lens, said Mathyssen.

“The military itself is excluded from Canada's climate change goals,” said Mathyssen. The federal government has a strategy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings, vehicles and procurement activities by 2050.

National security fleets — such as aircraft, marine vessels and tactical land vehicles used by DND, the RCMP and the Canadian Coast Guard — are exempted from the strategy’s 2025 interim target, a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report from 2021 noted. These types of vehicles account for a “far larger” share of emissions than conventional administrative vehicles, which are required to be 80 per cent hybrid or zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, according to the report.

DND accounted for 46 per cent of the federal government’s total greenhouse gas emissions in the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to data from the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. The second-biggest slice came from Public Services and Procurement Canada at 11 per cent. Correctional Service Canada accounted for 10 per cent.

DND has set a net-zero emissions target for 2050. A progress report tabled last October taking stock of its progress on environmental objectives showed that together, DND and the Canadian Armed Forces had reduced their overall emissions by nearly 36 per cent since 2005.

In its report, the committee put forward several recommendations “aimed at enhancing Canada’s ability to monitor and operate in a warming Arctic, address search and rescue demands which are predicted to grow as a result of climate change, and build local, community-based capacity through infrastructure investments and support for the Canadian Rangers,” reads a joint, emailed statement from Liberal MPs Bryan May, Jennifer O'Connell, Darren Fisher, Charles Sousa and Emanuella Lambropoulos. These were in recognition of climate change being a driver of instability in the Arctic, they said.

“Furthermore, this report consistently points to the need to involve Indigenous partners in all aspects of Arctic defence and security.”

Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs on the committee did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer