Halifax’s new climate change action plan aims for carbon neutral city operations in 10 years and carbon neutrality across the municipality by 2050, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put the ever-important short-term success of the plan in jeopardy.
“The level of effort and timelines of this plan are ambitious and unprecedented,” reads the final chapter of HalifACT 2050, headed to Halifax regional council for debate on Tuesday.
The timelines follow the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC’s 2018 recommendation to limit overall global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
To hit that goal, the city is setting a cumulative carbon budget until 2050 of 37 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, MtCO2e. One MtCO2e is “equivalent to the emissions from 216,000 cars driven for an entire year,” according to the report.
Halifax emitted 5.8 MtCO2e in 2016. If it didn’t take significant action on climate change, it would emit 3.9 MtCO2e in 2050. The report calls that a “business as usual,” or BAU scenario.
Under that scenario, the city “will not follow the 1.5°C pathway and will only modestly reduce emissions by 2050, emitting a total of 121 Mt CO2e between 2020 and 2050,” according to the attached staff report to council. The city would blow its carbon budget by 2028 under the BAU scenario.
Instead, the plan before council, a “low carbon scenario,” would reduce carbon emissions by 95% from 2016 levels, according to the staff report:
Results indicate that by implementing the low-carbon scenario, 95% of emissions can be reduced by 2050, and cumulative emissions limited to 45 MtCO2e between 2020 and 2050. While the scenario includes significant efforts to improve energy efficiency and a shift to renewable sources with current-day technology, 5% of emissions remain in 2050, and the 1.5°C carbon budget is exceeded by 8 MtCO2e. The ability to address the remaining 5% will improve in the next 30 years as new technologies and fuel sources such as hydrogen are developed.
Much of the carbon reduction comes from “retrofits of existing residential and non-residential buildings, and the increased deployment of renewable energy,” with the effect of different categories of reductions shown in this graph:
The plan lays out 46 specific actions, categorized by their timing: immediate, short (two to three years), medium (four to five years), long (six to 10 years), and ongoing.
Among the immediate actions:
- “Develop, adopt and apply a standard for net-zero and climate resilient new construction”
- “Develop a retrofit program to enable and fast-track deep energy and climate resilience retrofits in residential and non-residential buildings”
- “Expand programming for rooftop solar systems and energy storage”
- “Integrate climate into financial decision-making by incorporating climate-related financial disclosure; a cost of carbon and a social cost of carbon; a municipal carbon budget; a climate lens to capital and business planning and asset management”
- “Explore and establish new mechanisms for financing climate action”
- “Establish a central Climate Change Office in the Municipality”
- “Significantly increase staff capacity for implementation”
The short-term actions include “a detailed and costed infrastructure plan, and finance implementation to achieve net-zero municipal operations by 2030.”
Municipalities are on the frontline of climate action, as the infrastructure and services they operate are directly exposed to the impacts of climate change. As a result, municipalities around the world are taking leadership on reducing GHG emissions and adapting their operations.
Halifax’s leadership role will include retrofitting and future-proofing existing municipally-owned buildings and requiring that new municipal buildings achieve net-zero emissions, beginning in 2020. Targets include electrifying the municipal fleet, including ferries, by 2030, developing a waste strategy to reduce residential waste and increase waste diversion, to generate renewable electricity in municipally-owned projects, and to purchase local zero-carbon electricity. These actions combine to achieve net-zero municipal operations by 2030.
Ongoing actions include encouraging Nova Scotia Power to “decarbonize the provincial electricity grid;” the expansion of transit and active transportation infrastructure; and the development of a “holistic, integrated, and climate-informed stormwater management plan and program.”
There are also seven “key areas” for immediate focus:
- Retrofit and renewable energy programming
- Retrofit municipal buildings to be net-zero ready and climate resilient
- Electrification of transportation
- Net-zero standards for new buildings
- Risk and vulnerability assessments
- Capacity building for climate adaptation
- Sustainable financing strategy
COVID-19 budget crunch puts plan at risk
Without hiring more people dedicated to those climate change actions, the city won’t hit its goals, and after cutting its 2020-2021 budget to the bone due to COVID-19, the city isn’t doing much hiring.
“Staff recognizes the need for the Municipality to react and adjust to the new financial circumstances caused by this global pandemic, and therefore proposes to continue implementing HalifACT as best as possible with existing resources until the economy has begun to recover and additional resources can be supported,” the report says.
“However, the likelihood of achieving the required climate targets will be jeopardized with current staff levels.”
The consultants who built the climate modelling for Halifax said the city “urgently needed” 30 new positions. There are only three being created this year — and even those were proposed to be cut due to COVID-19 before councillors voted to restore them.
“Ideally, resourcing, including additional consulting support, should be aligned to implement the plan at the scale and in the time that is required,” the report says.
“While additional resources are necessary to implement the plan, they must be deferred at this time of financial uncertainty.”
The city will instead look to reassign existing employees to work on climate change.
The motion to council directs chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé, in part, to return to council “with a resource plan at the appropriate time, when the Municipality is in a more financially stable position.”
Options for financing include taxes, debt, federal stimulus
The staff report floats a few options to pay for the plan, including a “dedicated Green Tax.”
“For example, 3 cents on all general tax rates would generate $15 million dollars a year. This could be invested in deep energy retrofits of HRM buildings and/or electrification of HRM’s fleet,” the staff report says.
“Or an equivalent amount of debt solely related to climate change could be accessed, i.e. a planned increase in HRM’s debt level, which could be partially paid back through energy savings.”
Funding from other levels of government, particularly the federal government, is also a promising option.
“Significant federal funding is already tied to green outcomes and there are no indications this will change, as the government continues to state that climate action is urgent and necessary,” the staff report says.
“It is anticipated there may be significant additional funding focused on infrastructure and climate action, as part of the country’s economic recovery strategy.”
Councillors recently approved a list of climate change-related capital projects to be submitted for federal funding, along with its full list of “shovel-ready projects.”
Tuesday’s meeting starts at 1 p.m.
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