Hundreds of people march through a city street with a banner reading “We are in a climate emergency”
Students and their supporters, carrying a banner reading, “We are in a climate emergency” at the School Strike for Climate Change in Halifax on September 24, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

Halifax is not on track to meet its climate targets under its ambitious 2020 plan and staff are warning councillors the municipality will blow its carbon budget by 2028.

Council unanimously passed the HalifACT 2050 plan in June 2020. It’s a set of actions designed to 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. The plan sets a carbon budget until 2050 of 37 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, MtCO2e.

The plan was in jeopardy from the start, having been passed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated budget cutting from HRM.

At an Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday, staff presented a progress report on the first year of HalifACT to councillors, and it’s not good. From the staff report:

Since the passing of HalifACT in June 2020, 30 of the 46 actions have been started. Of the actions that have started, only 7 are on track and 5 are adequately resourced. Despite current efforts and commitments to staffing and resources, the plan’s targets will not be met at the current pace, and the carbon budget will be exceeded by 2028. To be successful in reaching the stated climate targets, HalifACT needs to be prioritized across Business Units, integrated into municipal budgeting, work planning, and reporting processes. The resources and level of effort outlined in this report and its attachments are critical to ensure the successful implementation of HalifACT. While the investment needed is substantial, it will result in a net benefit through increased adaptation measures that reduce the cost of climate impacts, avoided energy costs, lower operations and maintenance costs, carbon pricing costs and increased revenues from energy generation.

Shannon Miedema, HRM’s environment and climate change manager, told councillors she’s proud of the work done so far.

“Unfortunately, it isn’t meeting the scale and the speed required to achieve the very ambitious and large targets that we have for 2030, and for 2050. As was mentioned, and what you see in the report, is that we estimate we’re about 20% on track, and 14% adequately resourced,” Miedema said.

“And this requires further resources, obviously, but also major systems change, mainstreaming our climate action, education and awareness.”

Councillors were most concerned about communications.

“We need to work harder to make our reports more accessible. I’m not saying they need to be all jazzed up with bells and whistles, but they need to be digestible,” Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace said.

Miedema agreed the current messaging is a “corporate way of presenting information,” and said the climate team met with social media influencers in the summer about helping with communication.

The committee also heard from Emma Norton, communications director and Atlantic Canada Organizer for the Climate Emergency Unit, during Wednesday’s meeting. Norton urged councillors to treat the climate crisis like a war.

“In frequency and tone, in words and in action, emergencies need to look and sound and feel like emergencies,” Norton said.

“The communication about the climate plan from Halifax has been very lacklustre. We know that many constituents do not even know that you have a climate plan.”

Coun. Tony Mancini, chair of the committee, said because residents don’t know about the plan, they don’t understand why they’re being asked to pay more in property tax to support it.

“They truly don’t get it,” Mancini said.

Municipal staff are recommending a 3% hike to the average property tax bill in 2022-2023 to pay for the plan. It’s already met resistance among councillors and Mayor Mike Savage.

Miedema told councillors the money is well-spent.

“It’s not just a spending. There is a return on investment for climate,” Miedema said. “There are estimates from the federal government that for every dollar you spend preparing for extreme weather and climate events, you will save six in future loss in future impact costs.”

Coun. Sam Austin amended the motion on the floor — to accept the report and forward it to regional council — to direct council to schedule a committee of the whole meeting to discuss the progress report, along with “a briefing note outlining the business unit responsibilities for each HalifACT action.” That amendment, designed to help councillors hold the directors of each business unit accountable during budget talks, passed.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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