Halifax council has adopted the ambitious HalifACT 2050 climate change plan.
The plan meets the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendation to limit overall global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2050.
Under the plan, city government operations themselves will be carbon neutral by 2030, and the entire municipality, including everything that happens within the borders of HRM, will be close to carbon neutral by 2050.
The plan, which was developed by the city’s Energy & Environment office, says that the municipality will see about a 33% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2016 simply by continuing with the climate policy changes that have already been adopted — those reductions come almost entirely by replacing coal-fired electrical generation with the importation of hydro power from Muskrat Falls.
After that, the biggest chunk of projected reductions comes from energy retrofit of buildings, followed by placing rooftop solar on houses and buildings.
On the city government side of things, the plan calls for the retrofit of existing city buildings coupled with constructing new buildings at top energy efficiency, and converting the city’s fleets, including transit, to all-electric.
But passing a plan is easy. One could build an entire library with mouldy city plans that were celebrated by councillors at adoption, and then were promptly ignored, unfunded, or superseded by more immediate political concerns, usually involving councillors wanting to be perceived as budget-conscious tax-cutters.
Not this time, tho, promised one councillor after another.
It helps that the HalifACT 2050 report claims that the municipality as a whole will save $22 billion by adopting the plan. “To put this in perspective, this investment is an annual stimulus equivalent to 4% of Halifax’s annual GDP of approximately $17 billion,” reads the report. “Much of the investment, for example in building retrofits, would be directed to local businesses and suppliers.” That’s an interesting appeal to the local building industry to provide its powerful political support for the plan.
“Of course it’s going to cost money, and I have to say — you know, one of my favourite authors, she writes science fiction, but there’s a line in one of her books, it says you can’t tax a wasteland,” said councillor Waye Mason. “I mean, that’s what we’re talking about if we do not address these [climate change] issues and build resiliency, built alternate power and do our part. What are we saving the money for? There is nothing you’re saving the money for. These things have to be done.”
“Yes, COVID sucks,” said councillor Shawn Cleary. “Yes, it’s hurt our budget. But guess what? I bet if we asked our residents and … said, ‘look, do you want to wait, four, five, six more years before we actually start tackling clime change?’ I suspect everyone will say ‘No, we need to start now,’ and if that means we need to cut something or we need to raise taxes, guess what? That’s the price of building a society where humans can survive on this planet.”
To that point, councillor Sam Austin amended the motion. The original language directed the CAO to “return to Council with a resource plan at the appropriate time, when the Municipality is in a more financially stable position.” That was replaced with a direction to “return to Council with a resource plan as part of the 2021/22 budget.”
The motion was passed unanimously.