PEI

COVID disrupts P.E.I. climate change plans, but could bring silver lining

The COVID-19 pandemic forced P.E.I.'s climate change secretariat to delay some new programs in 2020, just as it was gearing up to find ways to meet the P.E.I. government's new emissions targets.

Climate change secretariat now looking for ways to meet 'ambitious' targets for 2030 and 2040

The climate change action plan now has to meet new emissions targets by 2030 and 2040. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic forced P.E.I.'s climate change secretariat to delay some new programs in 2020, just as it was gearing up to find ways to meet the P.E.I. government's new emissions targets. 

Todd Dupuis and Erin Taylor from the secretariat appeared before the special committee on climate change, giving an update on the five-year action plan.

In October, government announced that P.E.I. has the goal of becoming the first province to reach net-zero energy by 2030 and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

"We have a couple of new targets, both very ambitious targets," said Dupuis, executive director of climate change and environment for P.E.I.

"We have a new 2030 target, as of about a year ago, and we have a brand new 2040 target, which is a very ambitious zero greenhouse gas target."

Todd Dupuis, right, and Erin Taylor giving an update to the special committee on climate change. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

In 2019, the Green Party introduced and passed a bill to lower P.E.I.'s 2030 emissions target from 1.4 megatonnes to 1.2 megatonnes.

Dupuis said the climate change secretariat has put together a five-year action plan, but that was based on the previous targets. 

"The decision going forward is to go back and look at what we can do to get us on a more direct pathway to these new targets," Dupuis said.

The province's five-year climate action plan covers 2018-2023 and provides a framework for adapting to a changing climate as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Government of PEI)

"We'll go back within the climate change secretariat, which has all departments involved, and we'll start looking at initiatives going forward, where the low hanging fruit is, what sectors need to be tackled," he said. 

"Transportation, for example, which is about half our emissions, is an obvious focus. And we'll start putting programs together, hopefully to get emissions down."

COVID delays

COVID-19 did have an impact on the climate change secretariat's plans for 2020. 

New climate change interns were about to be hired when the pandemic sent government workers home in March, and that program will now start in the new year.

A joint project with UPEI teaching professionals about climate change was put on hold, and then moved online.

Dupuis said there will be 100 new electric vehicle chargers added in 2021. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Another new program connected to agriculture was also postponed because of uncertainty in the spring.

"It's not good to lose a year, because every year counts, especially when you have ambitious targets," Dupuis said.  

"Nobody wants to lose a year, but this is uncertain times. COVID caught everybody by surprise and as a result, some things got delayed, but I'm not too worried that we won't make it up in the long run." 

Dupuis pointed out that most of P.E.I.'s greenhouse gas emissions are transportation related. (Government of PEI )

Dupuis said there was, in fact, a silver lining to COVID.

He predicted greenhouse gas emissions on P.E.I. will be down "considerably" in 2020. 

"Nobody was driving, everybody was working from home," Dupuis said.

"I think what's going to happen going forward, now that we proved that we can work from home, a lot of people are going to stop driving to work." 

Dupuis said the idea in 2020, is to get more people into electric cars as a 'proof of concept.' (Government of PEI )

Dupuis pointed out that most of P.E.I.'s greenhouse gas emissions are transportation related.

"Both the federal and provincial government had made some promises with respect to keeping some of their staff home," Dupuis said.

"Which is going to pay dividends when it comes to climate change in the long run."

All electric by 2040

Dupuis said electric vehicles will become increasingly more important as the province looks for ways to meet the emission targets, especially the zero greenhouse gas target in 2040, 20 years from now.

"In 20 years, Islanders keep their cars about seven years, that's about three cycles of cars," Dupuis said.  

"We expect by 2040, that all the cars will be electric on the road." 

In 2018, the province's new climate change action plan set targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for the first time, but in 2020, there are now new targets. (P.E.I. government)

Dupuis said the idea in 2020 is to get more people into electric cars as a "proof of concept." 

"We want to see these on the road, so anybody who's on the fence that's looking at another car, can see that they do work," Dupuis said.

"We'll probably focus on trying to get some people in electric cars and putting the infrastructure in place for all of these cars to be charged."

Dupuis said that by 2040, all the vehicles will be electric on P.E.I. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Dupuis said the Island will have about 100 new chargers in 2021.  

"Build the infrastructure to make it easier for people to charge their cars and try to nudge them to move away from these big gas guzzlers," Dupuis said.

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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