Last week, Nova Scotia joined other provinces with climate plans aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and cancel them out altogether by the middle of this century. In many ways, the province’s plan is in line with goals mapped out by other regions, but critics have been clear: Nova Scotia’s road to net-zero emissions still has many hurdles.

Liberal environment critic Iain Rankin, Green Leader Anthony Edmonds and Susan Leblanc, the NDP’s environment and climate change spokesperson, described Nova Scotia’s plan as “vague.”

Rankin said climate plans from both B.C. and Quebec come to mind in terms of forward-thinking environmental policies. Nova Scotia is behind in some significant ways — notably, how it will get off coal, he said. The province is one of four that still has coal plants, and uses the fossil fuel for over 50 per cent of its power generation. Rankin notes the province has pushed the closure dates of two coal plants, saying it doesn’t have clean electricity lined up to replace the power source.

“There's a big hole in the plan where they don't really show how they're going to get off coal, and that's the biggest assumption in the GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction forecasts,” he said.

Graphic from Nova Scotia's climate plan

Edmonds stressed that although the plan had a good direction and tone, Nova Scotia fell short of other provinces in a few categories, including transit.

While B.C., for example, has a specific climate goal attached to transit — increasing the share of trips made by walking, cycling and transit to 30 per cent by 2030 — Edmonds said the goal laid out in Nova Scotia’s plan to address transportation lacks that “cohesive vision.”

For instance, No. 40 of the province’s 68 climate goals laid out in the plan says: “Electrify public transit across the province by partnering with municipalities and the federal government.” Yet the document fails to say how. It notes only that “about 41 per cent of Nova Scotians live in rural communities and depend on their cars to get to work, school, medical appointments.”

Edmonds said the plan highlights a disconnect from the climate risk report released earlier in the week and a broader theme of not addressing the ways climate change is felt more deeply by marginalized groups, such as Mi’kmaq and low-income people.

Liberal environment critic Iain Rankin, Green Leader Anthony Edmonds and Susan Leblanc, the NDP’s environment and climate change spokesperson, weighed in on Nova Scotia's new climate plan.

“It doesn't seem to me that there's a really good cohesive vision for systemic change [in the plan], but rather a series of individual measures (such as EV measures) targeted at specific things, and particularly focused on individual action, which is good, we do need that,” he said.

“... But unfortunately, often those sorts of measures are really targeted at people who have more financial means and more agency.”

Leblanc added there are no immediate solutions for people living in energy poverty, which they experience when a disproportionately high percentage of their income goes to home energy bills. The province has one of the highest energy poverty rates in Canada. Instead, Nova Scotia’s home heating oil and retrofit goals are too far in the future, she said.

A need for clearer guidelines and targets

Although the province has a clear goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, Leblanc said if the province is committed to actually achieving those targets, it should create “goalposts” along the way.

“You know, those are good goals. You know, some might say, they need to be stronger than that,” she said.

“But even if those are the goals, which they are, if we're going to wait until 2030 to see how we're doing, we could find ourselves in 2030 having not met our goals.”

She also noted a lack of clarity around how much the government is prepared to spend on the plan. At a press conference on Wednesday, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Timothy Halman said the plan was “in the millions and millions of dollars.”

The climate plan was released a week after the province’s industrial approval that allows Canada’s only underground coal mine, the Donkin coal mine, to operate until 2029. Leblanc said “coal needs to stay in the ground at this point” but that it needs to be paired with more investment in renewable energy and clean jobs. Edmonds called the approval “rearward-looking.”

“It certainly is hard to reconcile the language around the need to phase out coal while producing coal; it's problematic for the government. Having said that, there is a need for metallurgical coal to create things like steel, and materials that go into sustainable projects,” said Rankin.

“So it's a challenge that we have in front of us right now. And I think there are other ways that we can mine material in the province ... that (aren’t) impactful to the environment.”

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