Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory, is studying ways to boost its use of hydroelectric, wind and solar power to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate climate change, Premier Eva Aariak said.
The territory, about the same size as neighboring Greenland, has “abundant” renewable resources, including summer days with 24 hours of sunlight, said Aariak, in an interview yesterday. The government may consider feed-in tariffs and other mechanisms to promote the use of alternative energies, she said.
Nunavut, with a population of 33,000, is one of the world’s most thinly populated regions and relies primarily on diesel fuel to run generators and heat homes. Using renewable energy sources would reduce the need for fossil fuel shipments that must come from southern Canada by plane or boat because there are no roads or rail links to the region.
“It’s important for Nunavut to look at innovative ways into other sources of energy,” said Aariak, 56, who was elected leader in 2008. “Right now, we are at the research and study stage,” which includes studying construction of a hydroelectric power plant near the capital of Iqaluit, which hosted finance ministers from the Group of Seven nations in February, 2010.
While focusing on renewable energy to meet local demand, Nunavut may ultimately become an exporter of fossil fuels. The Arctic, including sections controlled by Canada, may hold 90 billion barrels of oil, more than the proven reserves of Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Mexico combined, and enough to supply the U.S. for more than a decade, the U.S. Geological Survey said in 2008.
The value of the territory’s petroleum reserves may be as high as C$3 trillion, the Nunavut government has said. Nunavut’s economy of about C$1.2 billion grew 11 percent last year and will post “strong growth again” this year, Aariak said. Growth will average 5 percent over the next four years as mining projects, tourism and the fishing industry boost employment, she said.
At the same time, the climate of the Arctic territory, which is home to polar bears, musk-oxen and caribou, is among the fastest-changing in the world with warmer summers and thinner ice, Aariak said.
“Climate change is very much upon us,” said Aariak. “It is affecting our hunters, the animals, the thinning of the ice is a big concern, as well as erosion from permafrost melting.”
The region is warming about twice as fast as the global average, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Negotiators from 191 nations meeting in Durban, South Africa are struggling to agree on how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent has said the country will not extend its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol.