Air Quality and Emissions

Trends in Yukon greenhouse gas levels




Greenhouse gases (GHGs) trap heat in the atmosphere, keeping the Earth's surface warmer than it would be in their absence. This process is essential for sustaining life on the planet, but burning fossil fuels has increased the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere, which enhances the warming effect. Global GHG levels are now at their highest in the last 800,000 years (IPCC 2014) as a result of human activity, resulting in climate change.

GHG emissions include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide among others. Carbon dioxide is the principal contributor to human-caused increased atmospheric levels of GHGs; therefore, it is used as a basis to compare all greenhouse gases.

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is the measure most often used to compare emissions from various GHGs based on their potential to contribute to global warming. Tracking GHG emissions (in units of kilotonnes of CO2e) allows tracking of Yukon’s emissions across time, identifying the major sources of emissions and opportunities for reductions, as well as tracking Yukon’s contributions to national and global emission levels.

The observed and predicted rate and magnitude of temperature change in Yukon are among the largest in Canada. The Government of Yukon is taking action and has set targets to limit GHG emissions produced from its operations and those from key sectors. The Government of Yukon is also working on climate change adaptation in the short and long term. These measures take the unique challenges in Yukon into consideration, including long distances from production centres, high demand for heat during cold winters and an isolated electricity grid.


Alaska Highway.



What is happening?


Yukon’s emissions

The Government of Yukon is working with local and federal partners to achieve an accurate and consistent emissions profile for Yukon. This profile is necessary to support the effective policy development for minimizing growth in Yukon’s overall GHG emissions. To date, two data sets are available to support an understanding of Yukon’s overall GHG emissions:

  • Emissions estimates by Environment and Climate Change Canada for Yukon (Canada's Greenhouse Gas Inventory), found in the National Inventory Report 2014: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada.
  • The Yukon GHG Inventory 2009-2015, developed in partnership between the Yukon Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Environment, with support from the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. This data is based on reliable fuel tax data collected under the Fuel Oil Tax Act and held by the Government of Yukon Department of Finance.


Figure 1: Yukon greenhouse gas emissions reported by Environment and Climate Change Canada and by a suggested methodology from Taggart and Pearson’s report (2015), 2009-2013.


The Government of Yukon is continuing its work with the federal departments of Environment and Climate Change Canada as well as Statistics Canada to improve accuracy in their data collection and reporting. Until federal data better reflects Yukon’s overall GHG emissions, the Government of Yukon considers locally-derived data from the Yukon Bureau of Statistics and Department of Finance as the most accurate.

Summary points from the Yukon GHG Inventory 2009-2015 report include:

  • Yukon’s overall greenhouse gas emission have decreased by 0.7 per cent since 2009.
  • Yukon’s total GHG emissions for 2015 were 0.573 megatonnes (573 kilotonnes) of CO2e.
  • Transportation accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in Yukon: 63 per cent of the total in 2015.
    • On-road gasoline and on-road diesel contribute equally to transportation emissions, at approximately 43 per cent each.
    • This means that passenger vehicles are a significant source of emissions in the territory.
  • After transportation, space heating from fuel oil and propane is the next highest source of GHG emissions in Yukon at 18 per cent. Electricity generation accounts for three per cent of Yukon’s emissions.


National comparison


  • Canada is ranked among the highest of all countries in the world in terms of per capita GHG emissions. Canadians produced 722 megatonnes (722,000 kilotonnes) of CO2e in 2015, about 18 per cent above 1990 levels (Environment and Climate Change Canada 2017).
  • Yukon per capita emissions in Yukon in 2015 were 15.3 tonnes per person. Compared to the per capita emissions of the 12 other provinces and territories as reported in the National Inventory Report, Yukon's per capita emissions rank ninth out of 13.
  • Yukon's total GHG emissions contributed 0.08 per cent towards the national total in 2015.



Ride Sharing



In an effort to address transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the territory, the Department of Environment is partnering with the City of Whitehorse on a Yukon-wide ridesharing program that was launched in April 2016.

The on-line service enables registered users to connect with others interested in saving on fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, as well as reducing their GHG emissions. To date, over 170 users have registered, with numerous others using the "Single Trip" function to find rides for longer distances both within the territory and beyond.

Yukon Rideshare helps to make carpooling and active transportation easier and more convenient, removing some of the barriers that typically prevent individuals from exploring more sustainable and less GHG intensive options.

The platform also helps both the Government of Yukon and the City of Whitehorse keep track of emissions avoided as a result of individuals carpooling, using transit or choosing more active transportation options.

Visit Yukon Rideshare to learn more.



Taking action


The Government of Yukon partnered with the Northern Climate ExChange at Yukon College on developing a Yukon Climate Change Indicators and Key Findings report. This cross-sector, structured, evidence-based assessment of Yukon climate change knowledge synthesizes our current understanding, providing researchers, decision-makers and the general public with an objective overview of the climate system and any potential changes.

In 2015, the Government of Yukon published its Climate Change Action Plan Progress Report, building upon the leadership and commitments outlined in the 2009 Climate Change Action Plan and the 2012 Progress Report.

Since the majority of the 33 priority actions which were outlined in the previous reports are either completed or ongoing, the 2015 Progress Report includes 28 new initiatives which support four goals:

  • enhance our knowledge and understanding of climate change;
  • improve our ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change;
  • reduce our greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • lead Yukon action in response to climate change.

More detail on those new actions, as well as an update on progress on achieving previous commitments can be found in the 2015 Climate Change Action Plan Progress Report.

The Government of Yukon has recently initiated a new strategy on climate change, clean energy, and green economic growth. It is in formative stages, but will be underway between 2017 and 2019, with multiple opportunities for public engagement and input.



Solar Energy


Solar panels on a rooftop. Credit: John Maissan.



Installing solar panels, or photovoltaic (PV) systems, on the roofs of Yukon homes, as shown in the photo above, is becoming a more common sight. Though over 95 per cent of Yukon’s electricity is generated from hydroelectricity, producing electricity from the sun using solar panels has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power production using fossil fuels, particularly in remote communities, and reduce air and water pollution. Additionally, technical innovations and government incentives are helping to make solar photovoltaics more accessible.

The potential for solar electricity production in Yukon is surprisingly high. Whitehorse, for example, has more annual PV potential (960 kWh/kWp) than Berlin, Germany (848 kWh/kWp) where PV panels are widely used. Experience tells us that PV systems do indeed work well in Yukon.

The environmental and health benefits of using solar energy are substantial. When solar power displaces fossil fuels for electricity generation, emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter are all reduced. Increased use of electric vehicles, already present in Yukon, would further increase the expected environmental and health benefits in Yukon.

The lower outdoor ambient temperatures in Yukon help improve winter energy production by 25 per cent or more at -25˚C; better at -40˚C. This is an advantage of solar energy production in Yukon, especially when hydroelectricity generation is reduced during the winter and more diesel and LNG are required to meet demand.

The average energy generated by solar cells can be increased by using bifacial PV cells which collect light from both sides. The amount of electricity that can be generated in the same area is therefore higher and more consistent, at only a slight cost increase. Bifacial solar cells are currently being tested and are in use in Yukon.

Bifacial (two-sided) solar panels mean more electricity from less space.



There is a benefit to installing PV panels vertically. Work done in Alberta has shown that panels installed vertically rarely, if ever, require snow removal. Production is also higher in the spring and fall when electricity demand is greater, and is lower in summer, when there is typically a surplus of electricity available. For these reasons, it would be advantageous if more vertical solar panels were installed in Yukon.

Because the price of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells has dropped to less than 1/100th of the cost from 35 years ago (from $76 per Watt to $0.64 per Watt), the cost of solar modules has also dropped. In Yukon, the total price of a PV system is now typically in the range of $2.75 to $4.00 per Watt, installed. Prices can be higher depending on structural requirements. Prices are higher in off-grid locations due to the need for battery banks.

In many locations, the payback for solar panels is dropping to about one to three years depending on the technology used and the size of the system. Currently, the payback in Yukon is generally over ten years, due largely to the small market and shipping costs.

Given the environmental and health benefits, growing interest in independent power production, and declining system costs, it is not surprising that the rate of new solar panel installations is rapidly increasing. Yukon is no exception. In only three years, the number of installations has exceeded 60, bringing the total installed solar electricity generation capacity up to 350 kW or 0.35 MW.

More information is available on the Energy Solutions Centre website at www.emr.gov.yk.ca/energy/solar.html.


1. kWh = kilowatt hour, kWp = kilowatt peak (under standard test conditions)

2. A solar panel or module is made up of a number of individual solar cells. There are 60 solar cells in each solar panel in the photo at the beginning of this profile.

Data quality

Previously, the GHG emissions indicator was based on data provided by the federal department of Environment and Climate Change Canada via the National Inventory Report, which presents GHG information annually for Yukon in kilotonnes of CO2e by sector (Energy, Industrial Processes and Product Use, Agriculture and Waste). All national inventory reports are accessible online.

The Yukon GHG Inventory 2009-2015, based on tax and finance data provided by Yukon Bureau of Statistics and Department of Finance, is considered by the Government of Yukon as being the most accurate data for Yukon-wide emissions. The Government of Yukon will continue to work with the federal departments of Environment and Climate Change Canada as well as Statistics Canada to improve data accuracy, and in the meantime, will access and report Yukon data from local sources to inform Yukon GHG emissions results.



Environment and Climate Change Canada. 2017 National Inventory Report 1990-2015: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada. Pt. 3, p.35. Environment Canada, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2014. Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland. Available from: http://ar5-syr.ipcc.ch/.

Government of Yukon. The Yukon GHG Inventory 2009-2015. 2017. Available from: http://www.env.gov.yk.ca/air-water-waste/reducing-GHG-emissions-yukon.php#yukon.