Halifax councillors want more accountability from the city’s managers on what they’re doing to implement their climate change action plan.
During a virtual committee of the whole meeting on Friday, councillors heard a presentation on the city’s progress in implementing HalifACT 2050, the ambitious action plan approved in 2020.
As the Halifax Examiner reported in December, that plan is woefully underfunded:
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.”
On Friday, chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told councillors Miedema is being promoted as of April 1 to a director-level position, and her office is moving from planning and development to corporate and customer service to allow her to better implement the report’s recommendations.
Dubé also tabled a briefing note outlining which business units are responsible for which actions. For instance, Dubé’s office, along with finance and asset management and legal is responsible for “Net-zero & climate resilient new construction.” That action is listed as neither on track or adequately resourced.
With two amendments, councillors signalled they’ll be looking for more action on the recommendations during this year’s budget process and in future staff reports.
Coun. Waye Mason brought forward a motion, passed unanimously, for a staff report on setting a corporate carbon budget for HRM in line with the plan and requiring all business units to demonstrate how activities meet or exceed those goals.
Mason said it’s something Edmonton is doing, and it may cost money, but is required to meet the goals of HalifACT.
“We need to have in all reports how we are meeting our carbon budget,” Mason said.
The municipality is currently on track to blow its carbon budget — 37 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, MtCO2e — by 2027. The plan envisions HRM emitting that much carbon by 2050, in line with he 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.
Coun. Sam Austin brought forward a motion, which also passed unanimously, asking for each business unit to include in their upcoming budget presentations “what actions their business unit plans to undertake on HalifACT and what gaps might still exist within their area of responsibility.”
Chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood said there will be a slide in each executive director’s presentation on what they’re doing to meet the plan’s goals.
Early in the meeting, Coun. Tony Mancini suggested that while all councillors would support the climate goals during Friday’s presentation, they won’t all put their money where their mouth is.
The municipality’s financial staff brought forward an early budget recommendation in November, calling for a 3% increase to the average property tax bill specifically for climate change capital projects like electric buses and building retrofits. The total increase to the average property tax bill proposed for 2022-2023 is 5.9%, and multiple councillors, including Mayor Mike Savage, felt it was too steep.
“Some of my colleagues here are not in favour of spending too much on this topic, even though they’ll agree with what you presented today, because it’s going to potentially have an implication on budget,” Mancini said to Miedema.
“What’s going to happen if we don’t put the money up now, as you’re asking us to do, as the science is telling us to do?”
“The more we delay action, what we’re being told by the scientific community, all the think tanks, is that we’re going to be spending more at the end of the day,” Miedema said. “Really it’s not optional to spend money on climate, it’s whether you do it now in the way that you have some control over, and in a less expensive way.”
According to HalifACT, every dollar spent now will save HRM $6 later.