Nova Scotia

'Your plan isn't good enough': Advocates say emissions bill is insufficient

Presenter after presenter told the legislature's law amendments committee that Bill 213 doesn't go far enough fast enough to address climate change.

Presenters say government's environmental goals don't act fast enough

Julia Sampson is one of the organizers of climate strikes in Nova Scotia. She was one of the witnesses at Monday's law amendments committee. (Robert Short/CBC)

Julia Sampson was at Province House on Monday to remind MLAs that they hold her future, and the future of all of Nova Scotia's youth, in their hands. 

"You are deciding whether or not you will fight for my ability to live, to grow old and to have children. And right now, your plan isn't good enough," she said.

The 17-year-old Citadel High School student was one of 40 people who presented to the legislature's law amendments committee on Bill 213, the Sustainable Development Goals Act, which sets out updated environmental goals and emissions targets.

Almost uniformly, presenters Monday said the bill doesn't go far enough and it doesn't act fast enough.

"We need guts. Greta has thrown down the gauntlet," said Geoff LeBoutilier, referring to climate activist Greta Thunberg.

A need for more education in schools

There were concerns the majority of the goals would be left to be developed in regulations, rather than being enshrined in law. The primary goals that are written in the bill — updated emissions reduction targets and a plan to reach a net-zero carbon footprint by 2050 — aren't good enough, committee members heard.

Presenter after presenter called for the net-zero goal to be changed to 2030, and for the emissions reduction target to be changed from 53 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 to 58 per cent, which they said is more in line with what would be considered the province's fair share in the effort to keep warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees.

It was noted multiple times the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's goals are too conservative, and are based more on finding consensus among governments than doing enough to truly address a crisis.

Sampson, who is among the young people who have been organizing climate strikes in the province, noted that she and others have been forced to educate themselves about climate change because there simply isn't enough information being shared in their school system.

Darlene Gilbert holds up a glass of water during her testimony at the legislature's law amendments committee. She criticized the government for promoting industrial projects while also attempting to address climate change. (Robert Short/CBC)

"I think climate education should be included in every single one of our subjects. It goes with everything in our everyday life, but first of all we need to be learning about it in science," she told reporters following her presentation.

"I shouldn't be taking my free time to educate myself about the most important issue of our generation."

Darlene Gilbert, one of the protesters fighting the creation of natural gas storage caves by Alton Gas near the Shubenacadie River, told the committee it is hypocritical for the government to be talking about environmental sustainability and doing right by the planet while permitting such heavy industrial projects.

She specifically called out Hants East MLA Margaret Miller, the former environment minister, in criticizing the government's approach to First Nations consultation.

"We're all born from the water," she said. "We carry water. We need this water to live."

Other presenters echoed this theme, calling for the government to stop promoting and supporting the coal industry, gold mining and to honour the legislated promise of closing Boat Harbour by Jan. 31, 2020.

Minister says public will get its say

Robin Tress, of the Council of Canadians, said when the government begins its consultation efforts on the bill's regulations and a new climate change strategy, it should exclude corporate voices from that process.

"Corporate interests are what got us into this mess, and they cannot be allowed to muddy the waters of our urgent action on the climate crisis that this bill is trying to represent."

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson said that for now, the targets written in the bill would remain as they are, although he noted the legislation requires a review after five years.

"I do believe that we have what I would call extremely aggressive goals here," he told reporters at Province House.

"I feel that the numbers we have are based on science."

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson says the public will continue to have its say throughout the consultation portion required in Bill 213. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Prior to the bill being sent back to the House, Liberals MLAs voted down a New Democrat amendment that would have increased the emissions reduction target from 53 per cent to 58 per cent below 2005 levels. Liberal members also voted down a Tory amendment that would have renamed the bill the Environment and Sustainable Development Goals Act.

"I do feel that as the act goes forward, any time it's cited, it should refer that it's not just sustainable development, but that it reflects the environmental aspect of that," said Sackville-Beaver Bank MLA Brad Johns, who proposed the amendment.

Wilson said people in the province should be proud of the environmental progress Nova Scotia has made so far, as well as the progress promised in the legislation.

He said passage of the bill is only the beginning and Wilson pledged the public would continue to get its chance to provide input throughout the consultation process to develop the rest of the goals.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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