As floodwater remains in communities across Nova Scotia, the province has released a progress report on its efforts to address climate change.
The report, released Monday, details Nova Scotia’s accomplishments over the past year, including the largest-ever procurement of renewables, the establishment of an environmental racism panel, which will make recommendations to government, and more. While the progress report highlights efforts to cut down on the heat-trapping pollution that fuels climate change, it doesn't contain enough specifics to help communities adapt to the effects of a hotter planet, said Marla MacLeod, director of programs for environmental charity Ecology Action Centre.
To Timothy Halman, the province’s minister of environment and climate change, it “tells a story of optimism, grit and resolve by Nova Scotians to proactively respond to climate change, not let it defeat us, transform how we produce and use our energy, protect our environment and create a stronger and more inclusive economy.”
While MacLeod said it’s good to see the amount of detail in the report, the province’s actual progress on climate change has been mixed. At the same time, the province has faced the climate crisis head-on this year: hurricane Fiona, unprecedented wildfires and recent floods have all had a deep impact on the region, she said.
To measure Nova Scotia’s progress, the report lumped together policy goals from the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, passed in 2021, and the province’s climate plan put out last year. However, some key targets were glossed over, said MacLeod — notably, the Coastal Protection Act, which was passed in 2019 and has seen delay after delay.
Following Fiona, Halman said the act, which measures where it's safe to build new homes and buildings along the coast of the province due to sea level rise, erosion and flooding, would come into effect in the first half of 2023.
To MacLeod, the act is “Step 1” in terms of helping Nova Scotians adapt to the growing impacts of climate change, and that overall, the province is falling short on preparing communities.
“If we can't say, ‘No, you can't build in these areas that are about to be unsafe,’ how are we going to have the conversations that are that much harder?” she said. “Where we'll say, ‘This is a place that is going to continue to be a dangerous place to live and work, and we're going to have to move.’ That's a very hard conversation. And those conversations are coming.”
Nova Scotia is not alone in needing to quickly adapt to the heat, wildfires, floods and storms made more intense and frequent by climate change. In late June, the federal government released its final national adaptation strategy, committing more than $1 billion to these efforts. Doing so saves more money in the long run — according to the Canadian Climate Institute, between $13 and $15 is saved in direct and indirect benefits to the economy for every dollar spent on adapting to climate change.
Marla MacLeod of @EcologyAction said big questions with urgent answers remain: how will the province get off fossil fuels and and how will the province's plan help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change?
Another plan that was glossed over is the Atlantic Loop, said MacLeod. The energy corridor would connect Atlantic provinces with hydropower from Quebec and Labrador, helping them to wean off coal-fired power plants ahead of the federal government’s 2030 deadline to shut down such facilities. As of now, 37 per cent of power generated in Nova Scotia comes from coal.
Nova Scotia’s update says the province “continues to engage with Nova Scotia Power, the federal government, and our neighbouring provinces on the analysis of the Atlantic Loop and alternatives.”
However, MacLeod said talks about the plan have been riddled with “political squabbling.” In June, Premier Tim Houston criticized the federal government’s $4.5-billion investment in the project for requiring the money to be paid back.
Things like the Atlantic Loop “require a long lead time,” said MacLeod, so immediate action is needed.
She also points to the province’s goal of protecting 20 per cent of its land and water by 2030: while the protected areas strategy is due at the end of the year, key sites still haven’t been designated from the 2013 parks and protected areas plan, which said the province would preserve 13 per cent of the land in Nova Scotia.
The province has made some climate gains over the past year, but MacLeod said big questions with urgent answers remain: how will the province get off fossil fuels — one of the main drivers of climate change — and how will it help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change?
“We know what to do. We have the technology, we have the economic tools. We need political will and then with political will comes enough people to do work and enough money to make it happen,” she said. “Like we have to realize that it's going to be expensive to adapt to climate change. But it is necessary.”