The Local Climate – Fixer Upper

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There’s a lot to be said about Bill 213, the so-called Sustainable Development Goals Act which represents our province’s impressive though imperfect contribution to national efforts on climate change, passed in late October.

The purpose of the Act is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Instead of detailing how we intend to do so in the Act itself by way of established goals, our provincial government decided to leave the finer points of GHG reduction to forthcoming regulations, which means progress on this target of 53 per cent will be much less transparent, invite less input from opposition parties, and be at the mercy of sitting Liberals going forward.

We have no idea what these regulations for GHG reduce will be, at least not yet. Suggestions have included support for electric vehicles, enormous investments in renewable energy, environmental education, improved energy efficiency, managing and protecting forests as carbon sinks, and more, but again, no such regulations have appeared to support this fledgling Act.

Then there’s the goal itself, of 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Yes, this is a bold reduction target when compared to others across the country, but it still represents the bare minimum for avoiding 1.5°C of average global warming, the tipping point after which climate change becomes untenable. We’re dealing with nothing less than the security of food and fresh water past 2050, the predictability of weather, the swallowing of coastal communities by the world’s oceans, killer heat waves, the hastened spread of disease, the catastrophic rearrangement of regional ecology and accompanying mass extinction, and more. 53 per cent may be a good start, but stronger targets will mean the loss of fewer lives and livelihoods for the remainder of this century, and should be taken seriously.

All of this came up, of course, in public consultation, during which our provincial government could have harnessed the passion and expertise of Nova Scotians to address these shortcomings and others, and crafted a bill with wider support and enthusiasm. As you might have heard, it didn’t happen that way.

After one month of online consultation, which was more about gauging the public’s priorities than making actual changes to the Act, our provincial government decided to invite in-person, constructive criticism for this bill on Monday, October 28 before a law amendments committee, where conservation professionals and concerned citizens could point out flaws and offer perspective before the Act became law. The problem is, they announced this Monday committee hearing in the afternoon of the preceding Friday…

Crowds of people were thus forced to leave messages on government answering machines over the weekend, trying to get a ten minute slot to share their concerns the following Monday. Most who called were disqualified from speaking, either because there weren’t enough slots to go around and government wasn’t interested in extending the hearings for a second day, or because the aforementioned answering machines were full and failed to take more messages.

In spite of this egregious cull, the people who did managed to sit before the law amendments committee were eloquent, many of whom I knew to be experts in their fields and passionate. Some people went so far as shedding tears for the nightmare we’re preparing for our children. The hearing went on for hours, during which it was recommended that the 53 per cent target be increased to 58 per cent to better represent Canada’s fair share and avoid 1.5°C, that the goals for achieving it be enshrined in the Act itself, and on and on, over and over. After all of this impassioned speech, the Act was passed without a single change, reeking, in my mind, of bad faith throughout the process.

In case you didn’t hear, 11,000 scientists from across the planet issued a joint warning in the journal BioScience early this month that climate change will cause “untold suffering,” without dramatic efforts to reduce carbon emissions and conserve the biosphere. It’s a gut-wrenching read, and should leave no doubt about the importance of bills like this one. In tandem are movements like Extinction Rebellion, School Strike for Climate and a suite of lawsuits being undertaken against governments, ours included, who disregard warnings like this. We could have done better with Bill 213, and the consequences are mounting, socially, politically and climatically.

All that being said, we can still make something of this Act. Its first mandatory review is scheduled in five years, half way to the 2030 deadline, but one can be done sooner if MLAs see fit. The regulations which will decide the success or failure of our reduction targets must cover a wide range of issues and should involve the experts which were ignored on October 28. This is not the golden document we were promised, but the heartfelt and mounting pressure of citizens to address the climate crisis might see us through. Contact your MLA and demand nothing but their best on this, the defining issue of our time, and the strengthening of this Act in every possible regard. We must succeed where it fails.

Shown above is an electric car charging station alongside a solar farm in Summersie, PEI.  (Zack Metcalfe photo)

Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, columnist and author active across the Maritimes.