Nfld. & Labrador

'Green communities' plan in proposed budget, but activists say climate action needed now

"We're in the midst of a climate change emergency."

'It's about restructuring the way we do business,' says Decarbonize N.L. organizer Brett Favaro

In March, hundreds of high school students converged on Confederation Building in St. John's to demand government action against climate change. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

While the Liberals in their proposed budget cite a continued approach to making communities "green," a group concerned about climate change is coming up with its own solutions, saying there's no time to waste.

At the Budget 2019 release earlier this week, before the provincial election was called, Finance Minister Tom Osborne presented the Liberals' fourth financial plan, with a section titled "Green communities," in which it documents plans to support development for green infrastructure.

That's a change from the speech from the throne earlier this month, when the phrase "climate change" was never mentioned.

Tom Osborne earlier this week tabled the fourth Liberal budget in his role as finance minister, a day before the provincial election was called. (CBC)

In Budget 2019, which was not passed before the provincial election was called, the Liberals outlined, for example:

  • $8.5 million for the Climate Change Challenge Fund Program.
  • $5.2 million to expand the home energy savings program for low-income households.
  • $2 million to enhance the electric vehicle charging station network.

Osborne said there's still a need for the use of fossil fuel, but wants government to "increase focus" on a greener economy and create "climate change actions."

Osborne touted the natural resources line that Newfoundland and Labrador oil is the "cleanest oil in the world," and creates thousands of jobs and generates billions of dollars in revenue.

We're in the midst of a climate change emergency.- Brett Favaro

But it's still oil.

Osborne said while people globally are still heavily reliant on oil and fossil fuels, N.L. will, while "fully understanding climate change is real," continue work to attract oil companies.

"I'd like to see at some point where every vehicle is electric, or every vehicle is hydrogen, but I don't think that's going to happen by 2030," Osborne said.

"At some point, we'll transition to greener energies, there's absolutely no doubt about it," he added, but oil companies are investing here, and that work will continue.

'Restructuring the way we do business'

But that's action down the road, not happening fast enough for fisheries scientist and environmental activist Brett Favaro and Iron and Earth East's Delia Warren.

"We're in the midst of a climate change emergency," Favaro said.

On Thursday, the two announced the inaugural Decarbonize N.L. conference, happening in St. John's on July 11 and 12.

"Climate change is the most important policy issue of our time," said Favaro.

"As people are running for office, we need to be asking them, 'What's your plan to fight climate change? Not just in an abstract sense, but what is your plan to get this province down 50 per cent on emissions by 2030 and creating opportunities and not leaving people behind along the way?'"

Decarbonization, Favaro said, is essentially looking at actions that people can take right away to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rather than focusing on what we shouldn't be doing.

"This conference is all about figuring out a solution for this province, how we can build that economy of the future that is aligned with what we know we need to do to avoid the worst future associated with climate change," Favaro said.

Delia Warren, of Iron and Earth East, and Brett Favaro, a fisheries scientist, are organizing the Decarbonize N.L. conference. (Kenny Sharpe/CBC)

"It's not just about sort of doing things around the margins. It's about restructuring the way we do business."

Favaro said public, business and political leaders will hopefully all take part in the conference, and he hopes the public will register on the event's website to provide feedback and suggestions.

"We need to have the engaged public. There's no plan right now to solve this, and this is what we're hoping will come out of this is," he told CBC's St. John's Morning Show, adding that at the end of the event, all the ideas will be put into an information booklet for people to review.

We really wanna focus on the ingenuity and the creative spirit that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have always had.- Delia Warren

"A lot of these are doable — and they're doable today. And the pace of action is really important because the faster we work on this, the faster we can position our province as a leader in these spaces."

Warren said her organization has a unique perspective on the issue, since Iron and Earth is made up of oilsands workers who want to build renewable energy projects.

"We like to focus on what we call a just transition, which is a way to move forward with decarbonizing the economy while ensuring well being [and] sustainable, well-paying jobs for the workers that are engaged in fossil fuel-dependent industries," Warren said.

"You see this all across Canada right now: there's some really strong  growth in green jobs, and we think it could be a great opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador just as it has been in the rest of the world."

What we can do, instead of what we shouldn't

Within the oil and gas industry, Warren said, there are already a lot of opportunities to decarbonize processes already in place, and that's something the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association has looked into with a visit to Norway.

"They have really found ways to decarbonize within the industry itself, so we really hope to get people from that industry around the table, as well, to engage in that type of discussion," Warren said.

"Decarbonizing the transportation grid, electric vehicles, is a huge focus for our province. It's something we really feel the provincial government can get behind."

The Liberals' proposed budget for 2019 includes $2 million to enhance the electric vehicle charging station network. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

Favaro added that the Decarbonize N.L. conference isn't trying to look at how to stop things from happening in the oil industry, which is a major emitter, but that's not necessarily the point.

"Let's say oil emissions are sacred and should never go down, let's say that's the position people take. Well then that's just all the more motivation that everything else needs to decarbonize," he said.

"Our transportation, our electricity, everything."

That's something Warren agrees this province could lead the charge on.

"Capitalizing on efficiencies, doing things smarter. We really wanna focus on the ingenuity and the creative spirit that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have always had and really use that to find solutions moving forward," she said.

A growing potential

Meanwhile, Osborne said at the budget release there is still a post-secondary education review underway, which will look at the program offerings at Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic.

Whether there is room for more green technology programs to meet industry demand will be determined in that review, which he said should be finished later this year.

Warren thinks that would be a smart move, to implement courses and training programs to get people here trained for an industry still developing.

"I think we really need to focus on our strengths as a province, which is expertise in the offshore and subsea, so I'd like to see programs developed focusing on that from a cleaner technology perspective," she said.

"So perhaps an offshore wind turbine technician program. We don't really have offshore wind in Canada right now, but it's something that's growing very rapidly — you see it on the eastern seaboard developing - and that could be a real opportunity to capitalize on that."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show


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