The province released its Climate Change Action Plan yesterday. You can read it here.

The plan sets 68 goals, grouped into four areas:

  • responding to climate change impacts
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • seizing opportunities for a cleaner, sustainable economy
  • reporting and evaluating progress

It is perhaps overly reliant on the introduction of electric vehicles as a mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation.

The plan mentions “transit” just once, and that’s in relation to electrifying existing transit systems with the help of federal money; no mention is made of increasing the percentage of commuters who use transit instead of private vehicles. Neither does the plan propose that the province fund the expansion of transit. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars are planned to be spent in coming years to expand the existing highway network.

The plan also hopes to increase the use of so-called “green hydrogen” but doesn’t specify how that hydrogen will be used. I asked Environment Minister Tim Halman if they province has given up on the (terrible) idea of using natural gas as a “transition fuel,” and he responded that hydrogen can be used in natural gas pipes.

Otherwise, the plan sets targets for adopting stricter building codes and reducing the use of oil for home heating. Tory Rushton, Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables, said his department will have an announcement about this next week, presumably related to the funding of heat pumps.

The plan isn’t terrible, said Marla MacLeod, Director of Programs at the Ecology Action Centre

“On the whole, I feel positively about it,” said MacLeod. “I was looking for four things when I went into this plan”:

The first was clear, actionable items. I think we got that. We have 68 items. They’re relatively clear. 

I was looking for, What are the funding commitments? There are some some references to funding. No specifics yet. So I’m going to be looking for that in the future. 

I was looking for accountability mechanisms. That was the third thing. There are some, but they really need to be fleshed out. So there is annual reporting. I really like that. But I want more than just a progress report. What we want to see is Have we met those targets? If not, why not? What’s the plan to address them in the future? So that really important going forward. 

And then the fourth thing I wanted to see that I did not see is a commitment to stop doing things that are going to undermine the progress that we could get under this plan, i.e., we need to stop coal mining, gold mining, any number of other investments in outdated industries that are not going to help us meet our climate goals and in fact, are undermining all of those efforts. 

Isn’t there a contradiction between the Climate Change Action Plan and the province’s recent extension of the industrial approval for the Donkin Mine in Cape Breton? “The three million tonnes of coal the mine will produce a year will create as many greenhouse gas emissions as the yearly energy use of over a million homes — more than the entire population of Nova Scotia,” reports Cloe Logan for the National Observer.

That issued was raised by both CBC reporter Michael Gorman and myself during yesterday’s press conference with Environment Minister Tim Halman. Here’s our exchange:

Gorman: We heard in a tech briefing about how this [plan] is, you know, all hands on deck, it’s going to be cross-departmental. And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how we juxtapose what needs to be done to make this plan a reality with current things the government is contending with, like reopening coal mines, developers who want to build on wetlands, companies that want crown land to build golf courses. How do you square that circle where you’re being asked by the private sector to do things that clearly fly in the face of this plan? 

Halman: So when we say we’re taking a holistic approach, there’s a lot of moving parts. And one of the key moving parts is the 28 legislative goals and environmental goals and climate change reduction. And those goals were the foundational pieces in the 68 goals in the climate plan. Now, another pathway is for me as a regulator, and the Environment Act is the is the guide for that. And companies in this province have the ability to put forward applications. As the regulator, my role is to ensure strong stewardship of the process. And and we want to make, as I said, that there is a holistic approach. We feel we have in place a very strong targets. And it’s going to require definitely everyone involved to ensure that we meet those targets. But at the same time, you know, we still have in Nova Scotia a mining sector that’s regulated. That’s a reality. As to the neutral regulator, my role is to ensure that any company that wants to put forward an application, that that process is followed and those processes are based on science in that.

Bousquet: What’s the science that says burning the coal from Donkin somewhere outside the province doesn’t affect the climate here in the province?

Halman: So in terms of the industrial approval that was given to Donkin, there were very stringent terms and conditions related to greenhouse gas emissions [and] related to industrial noise. But again, look, in terms of process, which is another role that lays the regulator, you know, iwe’re now in a period right now where we have — if people want to appeal the decision, I want to ensure that that process plays out in a fair and impartial way — that would happen. So that’s the thing. For my role as a provincial minister is not only to lead the fight on climate change, but it is also my legislative function under the Environment Act, to serve as the regulator, and under the Environment Act companies can come into Nova Scotia, put forward applications, and it’s my will make sure that there’s a fair and just process. 

To be clear, when Halman speaks of “terms and conditions related to greenhouse gas emissions” at Donkin, he’s talking about emissions from the mining operation itself — the machines and buildings associated with the mine — and not about the coal that will be burned from those operations. The emissions from the operations of the mine are minuscule in comparison to the the emissions from the burning of the coal.

As for burning coal within the province, former premier and current opposition environment critic Iain Rankin said that the Climate Change Action plan relies on overly hopeful expectations that Nova Scotia Power’s coal-burning generation plants can be closed by 2030.

“They should have some action and some plan to actually decommission some of these coal plants,” said Rankin. “I’ve heard here today and in the past that tidal and hydrogen somehow is going to help us close coal plants — that will not close even one coal plant in our province… I don’t see a conceivable way that we’re off coal by 2030, and that’s the underlying assumption.” 

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Great analysis. On the mention of bolstering public transit in the plan, there is this:

    39. Increase access to community transportation services for all communities outside of the Halifax Regional Municipality and Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

    That seems a good goal, but again no indication of how they’ll do it, or how much they’re willing to spend to make it happen.