Mining in Yukon peatlands could release ‘massive’ amounts of CO2, thwart government’s climate target: report
According to a new report from the regional chapter of Parks Canada and the Wilderness Society (CPAWS).
Based on current and projected levels of placer mining in the Indian River watershed, the report says nearly 600 kilotons of carbon dioxide are at risk of being released into the atmosphere over the next century. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 125,000 cars.
“Keeping carbon stored in peatlands safely underground could be one of Yukon’s greatest contributions to global efforts to fight climate change,” he says.
The territorial government aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030. A large part of its goal is to replace fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy, including wind and solar.
Not knowing the magnitude of emissions from peatland destruction is a “blind spot for the Yukon government,” the report says.
“Yukon has no plan to protect the carbon stored in peatlands. Protecting peatlands and other natural carbon stores must be a pillar of Yukon’s climate action plan.
Bogs, made up of partially decomposed plants, take thousands of years to form. Representing a band of different wetlands, including bogs, fens and swamps, they act as natural carbon stores.
“Peatland habitats along the Indian River have formed over the past six thousand years, but can be lost within a few mining seasons,” the report says, adding that carbon is released as peat decomposes. and dries out, which can happen when miners thaw permafrost or pile it up.
The peatlands that have been restored are a far cry from their original shape, making the damage « irreversible », the report says.
Although the Indian River watershed represents only 0.3% of the territory’s landmass, the report indicates that there are peatlands in the Dawson region and beyond that could be affected by mining. placers and other forms of development.
“This report did not examine the impacts on peatlands of other industrial developments, such as roads that can interrupt the way water flows through landscapes, or hard rock mining that can lower groundwater in surrounding areas, » the report said.
Malkom Boothroyd, who co-authored the report, told CBC News that tracking and analysis of emissions from territory-wide peatland disturbance has never been done before.
He wants that to change.
« Any development that fuels the climate crisis has to be very, very careful, » he said.
The Klondike Placer Miners’ Association did not immediately return a request for comment.
Peatlands are not well mapped
Regions where peatlands occur have yet to be widely mapped, the report says.
The opposite is true in the heavily mined Indian River watershed.
That’s why CPAWS has focused there — there are both known bogs in the area and a litany of mining claims.
To determine where wetlands might be vulnerable to mining, staff used a GPS tool to map possible future disturbances in the area, based on the distribution of placer claims and historical mining patterns; and the recommended land use plan for Dawson, which establishes various benchmarks for development.
Boothroyd said the land use plan should include better protections for wetlands if carbon is to stay stored indoors where it belongs. It calls on land use planners and others to advise against development in the fens and to ensure that the plan is consistent with the Government of Yukon’s emissions reduction target.
CPAWS recommends that the Yukon government track emissions from peatland disturbance, halt all new mining development in these areas, and initiate a territory-wide inventory.
John Streicker, Minister of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, told CBC News that the report tackles a complicated subject and that there are still many uncertainties.
To help with that, he said the territorial government would cover the cost of joint research into the issue.
« I appreciate the recommendations that CPAWS has made, but I still think we probably need to tighten up the science a bit before we know how much of a problem this is or not. »