New Brunswick

Province punts 2 major decisions in new climate action plan

The Gallant government has unveiled its climate change action plan but is putting off two major decisions that could carry heavy political risks.

Gallant government won't say if New Brunswick will impose a carbon tax or adopt a cap-and-trade system

Premier Brian Gallant had his entire cabinet behind him as he unveiled the province's new climate change action plan on Wednesday. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The New Brunswick government has unveiled its climate change action plan but is putting off two major decisions that could carry heavy political risks.

The plan released Wednesday morning accepts a legislative committee's recommendation to put a price on carbon, but doesn't say what form it will take.

"The one where we do ask for a bit more time to make sure that we get it right is how we are going to put a carbon-pricing mechanism in place here in New Brunswick that helps our economy and our efforts to combat climate change," Premier Brian Gallant said at a news conference.

The two main options are a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade regime for emissions. That would see emitters who exceed the cap buy credits from emitters who stay below the limit, a system that would limit overall emissions.

The plan also accepts the committee's recommendation to phase-out burning coal to generate electricity but doesn't include a decision on what will happen to the coal-fired NB Power generating station in Belledune.

In fact, the plan hedges on the committee's suggested phase-out target of 2030.

It says the government will set that date "if adequate support can be found to minimize impacts on energy costs and the local economy."

But it also raises the possibility of stretching out the coal phase-out to 2040 through an agreement with the federal government.

The Trudeau government is requiring a 2030 phase-out, but other provinces, including Nova Scotia, have negotiated deals with Ottawa that let them burn coal longer if they make equivalent emission reductions elsewhere.

The all-party committee of MLAs recommended the phase-out of all fossil fuels, which would include coal and natural gas.

But the government plan says it will "focus on phase out of coal" and refers to continuing to use natural gas. The Liberals have said they're looking at having NB Power's coal-fired Belledune generating station converted to gas supplied by Enbridge.

The plan includes a goal to reduce carbon emissions to 35 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. That's at the lower end of the 35-45 per cent range adopted by the conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

The committee had recommended the government choose 40 per cent as the target.

PC environment critic Brian Kierstead told the legislature "everybody wants to do their part" in reducing emissions, but he said New Brunswick deserves recognition for reductions that have already happened over the last decade.

He called on Gallant to strike a deal with Ottawa that takes those reductions into account. "We are hoping he will stand up for New Brunswickers," Kierstead said.

While the opposition PCs signed on to most of the recommendations in the committee report, they opposed the idea of a carbon tax — though Kierstead told reporters it might be more acceptable if other taxes were cut by the same amount at the same time.

Green party praise

Green party Leader David Coon was emotional when he praised on the plan in the legislature.

Green Party Leader David Coon got emotional at point as he commended the climate action plan announced by Premier Brian Gallant 2:24
"It gives hope to our young people," Coon said, his voice cracking, "hope that is really positive."

Louise Comeau of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick also applauded the plan, which she said is on a par with those of other provinces.

"This plan rests with the best in the country," she said. "It is very good — if it's fully implemented and that of course is what our work needs to do."

Many of the decisions in the plan are commitments to do a lot of talking about climate change, including:

  • Creating a cabinet committee on climate change to "oversee" implementation of the plan.
  • Requiring ministers to consider the climate impact of all decisions.
  • Developing "energy management plans" for government departments so the government can be "carbon-neutral" by 2030, including by expanding the use of electric vehicles.
  • Teaching students in provincial schools about climate change. 
  • Reporting to the legislature every year on progress. 
  • Develop climate change adaptation and mitigation plans.

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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