NDP MLA Lisa Roberts. Photo: Joan Baxter

Halifax-Needham MLA Lisa Roberts is as familiar as most Nova Scotians with the story about how province is “a leader” when it comes to fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) — which are now 30% below 2005 levels. That Nova Scotia has legislated targets to produce 40% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2022. And that Premier Iain Rankin has set ambitious goals (although not yet firmed up in regulations) to close coal-burning electricity plants and become the first Canadian province to achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

Roberts told the legislative committee examining Nova Scotia’s plan to tackle climate change how she wishes she could “celebrate” these achievements but said she is “impatient” to see more progress. 

“For the entire two terms since I’ve been elected, we’ve been working on a 2009 Climate Change Plan with goals for GHG reduction that were met in 2015,” noted Roberts. “This while the crisis of our time is proceeding apace. According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia households are among the most polluting in Canada, emitting six tonnes per capita a year, while households in British Columbia emit three tonnes a year”. 

Roberts said when you add in what industry and transportation contributes to our carbon footprint, Nova Scotia lands squarely in the middle of the Canadian pack. 

Jason Hollett, Nova Scotia’s Executive Director of Climate Change

Jason Hollett is the associate deputy minister in charge of the province’s strategy to fight/adapt to global warming at the Department of Environment and Climate Change. In his response to Roberts, Hollett noted that the province’s reliance on coal-fired electricity, housing stock that is older than in most provinces, and a large percentage of homeowners who heat with oil make it challenging to reduce GHG emissions at a faster clip.

“The data doesn’t lie and there is more to be done,” acknowledged Hollett. “I think that speaks to recent policy announcements on closing coal plants by 2030, our 80% renewables target, rebates for electric vehicles, and the supports we are putting in for low-income Nova Scotians to reduce energy consumption in their homes”. 

That said, Dartmouth South MLA Claudia Chender wanted Hollett to explain how those policies square with the province’s support for Pieridae Energy’s proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) megaproject for Goldboro. Projected GHG emissions from the $23 billion energy development would make it impossible for the province to meet targeted reductions for 2030, according to Chender, who said the project is also out of synch with a recent report from the International Energy Association. 

“We are absolutely aware of the (Pieridae) project and aware of its potential for GHG emissions,” said Hollett. “From our perspective at Environment and Climate Change, we are regulators that create the policy framework to achieve these targets in the face of whatever pressures come up over time. So we have to make sure the policies are fair and flexible. That 2030 target is legislated, so if we were to see a new industrial development, we need to develop an approach to make sure we can still meet those targets.”

But so far neither Pieridae nor the Rankin government has presented anything resembling a plan to accommodate a project with the potential to exceed the 2030 emissions cap by as much as one-third.

Emera’s Brooklyn Energy biomass generator new Liverpool. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Hollett was also asked if the Environment Department is considering “a fresh re-assessment” of biomass as a renewable fuel given concerns that burning wood to generate electricity is not truly “green.” With the closure of the Northern Pulp mill and the delivery date for renewable hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls still uncertain, the government changed the rules to allow much larger quantities of biomass to be burned at Emera’s Brooklyn facility until the end of 2022.

“We take direction from the federal government and the federal government takes direction from international work on the classification of renewable energy,” said Hollett. “There are multiple influencing factors on the use of biomass as a policy. It’s currently considered carbon-neutral. I think there are some important questions around sustainability and harvesting that need to be considered as part of that and we will continue to follow that international work as it develops.”

Meanwhile, it’s “burn baby burn.”

Climate facts

In his opening remarks to the Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, Hollett outlined the situation facing Nova Scotia.

Temperature: Since 1948, average annual temperatures in Atlantic Canada have increased by about 0.7 degree Celsius. We are experiencing warmer summers and autumns, more heat waves in summer, and less snow in winter. 

Rain: Since 1948, the average amount of rain we see a year has risen by 11.3%, with the highest increases in summer and fall. When it rains, it comes less often in light, frequent bursts, but now in more intense, heavy downpours after longer dry spells. This puts Nova Scotia at enhanced risk of both flash flooding and other flood risks, as well as more droughts.

Sea Level: We expect to see between one and 1.5 metres of rising sea levels in Nova Scotia by the end of this century. In combination with winds and storms, this can worsen coastal erosion, coastal flooding and lead to the permanent submergence of land.

Wind: Warmer ocean temperatures create energy for storms. Nova Scotia will also become windier, which will impact our forests and trees, our power and telecommunication connections as well as our homes and public infrastructure.

In response to these changes, Hollett says his department is working on a comprehensive risk assessment plan for the province while assisting each government department to identify necessary actions to adapt to climate change. 

In 2019, the Liberal government passed the Sustainable Development Goals Act which committed to producing a Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth. 

“We were about to begin public engagement in March 2020, when the pandemic hit,” Hollett told the committee in his opening remarks. “For obvious reasons, we had to delay. We intend to begin virtual public engagement very soon.”

Brad Johns, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Sackville-Beaverbank, questioned whether the pandemic may have been a convenient excuse for not acting with more urgency. A formal public engagement process is required before the government can actually enact regulations to put words into action.

“We still are waiting for the regulations under the Coastal Protection Act and we are still waiting for regulations under the Sustainable Development Goals Act,” noted Johns. “I notice other departments have managed to hold consultations through the pandemic, so is it accurate to say the Department of Environment and Climate Change hasn’t held public consultations on anything?”

Yes and No, was the diplomatic reply. While there has been no formal consultation with the public, Hollett said the government has been talking to environmental groups, businesses, large carbon emitters such as Nova Scotia Power and Heritage Gas, and farming and forestry associations as the regulations are being drafted. And yes, public engagement was completed with respect to legislation governing Protected Areas. 

In closing, Hollett told the committee he remains hopeful about the future — glass half full — thanks to what he calls the “engagement” of ordinary citizens who continue to demand more aggressive action on tackling climate change.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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