Halifax asks how drastically it needs to change to tackle climate change

The municipality is working on a new plan to develop goals for energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions for the coming decades, as well as strategies to reach those targets.

Municipality admittedly 'not great' at hitting its current emissions reduction goals

The road to Lawrencetown Beach was closed during a powerful January storm. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Halifax is planning to "future-proof" its municipal operations and replace its outdated climate change plan.

The municipality is working on a Community Energy and Climate Action Plan to develop goals for energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions for the coming decades, as well as strategies to reach those targets.

As part of the plan, the municipality issued a tender Tuesday for a consultant to create projections of energy consumption, sources and emissions up to 2050 in multiple sectors, including transportation, water and waste, residential, commercial, industrial and land use.

Those models must include scenarios for low, medium and high emissions reduction targets as well as the status quo.

The projections will help the municipality understand what it will take to meet climate change goals, said Shannon Miedema, the municipality's energy and environment manager.

"We're talking about transformative change.... Where would we even start? What would it take? How drastically would we need to change the way we essentially function?"

Flooding closed the Bedford Highway during a storm in 2014. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

The Community Energy and Climate Action Plan combines two previous plans — the Community Energy Plan and the Corporate Plan to Reduce GHG Emissions 2012-2020.

The municipality's current target is to reduce emissions within the corporation — including buildings, outdoor lighting and all fleet vehicles with the exception of Halifax Transit — to 30 per cent below 2008 levels by 2020.

Miedema said the municipality is doing "not great" at achieving that goal, having only reached about a third of the target so far.

"I don't think we're going to hit it," she said. "And the problem is, we're a growing city and so we've built some really large facilities, and even though we've built them arguably green, or greener, or more sustainable than just the standard building, they still consume a lot of energy.

"Even if you're shaving energy here and there on retrofits or lighting replacements and different projects, when you're building a big shiny new library or a big four-pad [arena], you're still increasing your emissions."

Around 1,200 people were forced from their homes in 2009 during a Halifax wildfire. (CBC)

The risks of failing to adapt to climate change are great. The municipality faces hazards include sea-level rise, flooding, high winds, storm surges, wildfires, diseases and invasive species, Miedema said.

"Climate-related emergencies are becoming more frequent, more extreme and therefore there's more need to prepare," she said.

The municipality has already taken some steps to prevent climate change-related damage, including planning restrictions for new developments that take sea level predictions up to 2100 into consideration. But there's a lot more work to be done, Miedema said.

"We have a lot of infrastructure that may be in the path of these hazards."

Pepperell Street was flooded in Halifax during a storm in 2015. (CBC)

As part of the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan, the municipality organized its first large consultation meeting with 70 external stakeholders last week, but the meeting was cancelled due to a widespread power outage.

Several public consultations will be conducted as the plan is developed.

Miedema said the municipality hopes that by engaging companies, institutions and residents, it will spur change.

"As a municipal government, we can't force anybody to do anything. All we can do is encourage," she said. "We want to be the motivating factor for community engagement around this, but we know we can't do it alone."

The group aims to present the plan to Halifax regional council in March 2020.

About the Author

Frances Willick

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Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca