In a concerning development, wildfires in the Northwest Territories (N.W.T) of Canada have discharged a staggering 97 megatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere this year alone. This astronomical figure is a staggering 280 times more than the human-caused emissions in the territory during the entire year of 2021. According to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), N.W.T. holds the dubious distinction of contributing the most to Canada’s total wildfire emissions compared to other provinces and territories.
Since the beginning of the year until August 23rd, wildfires across Canada collectively released a total of 327 megatonnes of carbon into the air, as indicated by data from CAMS. To put this into perspective, one megatonne is equivalent to a million tonnes. The N.W.T. alone has been responsible for more than a quarter of this alarming carbon output. The wildfires, which ignited in May and have wreaked havoc across 10 communities, including Yellowknife, have been particularly destructive, displacing tens of thousands of residents and causing damage in areas such as Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Enterprise, and Behchokǫ̀. Notably, some communities, such as Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation, have been evacuated multiple times within a short span due to wildfire threats.
The situation is closely linked to the accelerated warming of Canada’s northern regions, which is occurring at a faster rate than other parts of the globe. This warming trend has resulted in increasingly severe wildfires. Additionally, the consequences of this warming extend beyond the immediate wildfire threat. Thawing permafrost is endangering infrastructure, traditional ways of life are being disrupted as species shift, and some communities are at risk of disappearing due to the changing environment.
During a recent press conference, Jessica Davey-Quantick, a wildfire information officer for the territory, stressed the unmistakable link between these intensified wildfires and climate change. She pointed out that a combination of factors, including more extreme weather, drought-like conditions, and active fire behavior, are all indicative of the influence of climate change. However, it remains challenging to attribute the blame to a single cause for the heightened impact on communities this year, unlike in previous years.
The dire situation in the Northwest Territories underscores the urgent need for continued efforts to mitigate climate change and its cascading effects, as well as the critical importance of adapting to the changing environment to protect communities and ecosystems alike.