Greens push for more ambitious emissions target for P.E.I.

A short bill introduced by the P.E.I. Green Party has sparked one of the longest debates of the current sitting of the legislature.

After hours of debate, party looks for votes needed to 'demonstrate leadership'

Green MLA Lynne Lund, centre, is sponsoring a private member's bill which seeks a more ambitious target for the reduction of P.E.I.'s greenhouse gas emissions. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. )

A short bill introduced by the P.E.I. Green Party has sparked one of the longest debates of the current sitting of the legislature — more than three hours and counting — as the party seeks a more ambitious target for the province to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Green MLA Lynne Lund, who sponsored the private member's bill, said P.E.I. is just a "small part of the story" when it comes to reducing global emissions, but it could demonstrate leadership on the issue.

"I think that we can set ambitious targets and then we can challenge our neighbours to meet us there," she said.

"I think that's the only way climate change is ever going to be addressed is if everyone digs in, demonstrates what's possible and then challenges their neighbours to join them."

Responding to 'best science'

P.E.I.'s current target is to reduce emissions from the 1.8 megatonnes measured in 2015 to 1.4 megatonnes by the year 2030.

Lund says that commitment was made with the understanding, based on the Paris Climate Accord, that global warming had to be limited to two degrees Celsius.

But last fall the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded the Paris targets were insufficient, warning a single degree of added heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems.

Green MLA Lynne Lund said P.E.I. has an 'opportunity to demonstrate leadership.' (Ken Linton/CBC)

The Green bill simply seeks to delete the words "1.4 megatonnes" from P.E.I.'s Climate Leadership Act and replace them with the words "1.2 megatonnes."

Lund says the new target would better represent P.E.I.'s share of the overall reduction in emissions needed, and "bring our targets in line with what the best science is telling us."

Looking for support from PCs, Liberals

The PCs have formed a minority government in P.E.I.'s legislature with the Greens and Liberals in opposition.

Any two parties have the combined votes to pass a bill, although the parties have all said they won't whip votes.

Assuming her bill has the support of all eight Green MLAs, Lund has been through the hours of debate trying to win over the five PC or Liberal votes she needs for her bill to pass. And it seems some may be willing to support the bill. 

"I think it's high time, probably long past time that we actually put reasonable, concrete action into place to actually get to those [emissions] goals," said Premier Dennis King. "So I can't speak for the rest of my colleagues but I'll have a hard time not supporting this."

'You have to understand the costs'

Other PC MLAs however, including the province's environment minister, said they couldn't support the change. 

"I don't believe it's up to us necessarily to tell Islanders this is the target we're going to set," said Brad Trivers, minister of environment, water and climate change.

"We owe it to Islanders to have that really detailed discussion about what it means when we're setting targets like that … you have to understand the costs involved."

Environment Minister Brad Trivers said he likely will not support the bill. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. )

Trivers said he would like to see the issue of P.E.I.'s emissions target sent for discussion with a provincial standing committee, something that would require unanimous consent from the legislature.

Without that, Trivers said "he probably won't be supporting" the bill.

Will carbon pricing work?

Meanwhile, Minister of Fisheries and Communities Jamie Fox drew on his history as a gas station operator to conclude that carbon prices won't reduce emissions on P.E.I.

"Anytime fuel went up, consumption never dropped in this province. In fact in 2008, fuel hit $1.40 … consumption and quantity actually increased dramatically," Fox said.

"I'm wondering how this is going to help or work in a rural province when we depend so much … on moving our goods to market and so on?"

Minister of Fisheries and Communities Jamie Fox questioned whether carbon pricing would be an effective method of reducing emissions on P.E.I. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. )

Lund responded that carbon pricing is not meant to be the only "tool in the toolkit."

"It's important that with that we have other policies that compliment it," she said. "That way you have a price signal … that will encourage people to make other choices if the incentives are there with it."

'Top priority' for Greens

Liberal MLA Robert Henderson voiced support for the bill, saying there would be a cost to climate change whether the province acts or not.

"I've been the minister of agriculture and I've seen what the impacts are on trying to grow a crop in this province when you get extreme weather conditions," he said. "I'm certainly not an expert to know what actually causes all these things, but I'm a believer in science."

Liberal MLA Robert Henderson has voiced support for Lund's private member's bill. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. )

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said passing the bill is the Greens' "top priority" for the current sitting, and Lund said she's determined to see debate through to the end to bring the bill for a vote.

But she said any target "is only a number until you go a step further."

She's suggested the province strike a special committee on climate change "to speak with witnesses to compare our options to actually value that carbon abatement prices of the various options at our disposal and then figure out what's the most cost effective way to meet our targets."

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About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.