On June 23, 2020, Halifax Regional Council unanimously passed their new climate action plan, ‘HalifACT 2050: Acting on Climate Together’.
The plan is focused on ensuring equity, creating thousands of jobs, reducing energy poverty, strengthening resilience and saving the municipality $22 billion over the course of the plan.
Crucially, the plan’s emissions reduction pathway—with targets of 75% below 2016 levels by 2030, and 95% below 2016 levels by 2050—is the most ambitious in Canada. These climate targets do something no provincial or federal plan does; they actually commit Halifax to doing its fair share to keep global warming below catastrophic levels of 1.5°C.
The plan was developed through more than two years of integrated consultations with dozens of stakeholders and community groups (CCPA-NS had representatives at the table). It involved public events, online engagements, surveys, workshops, one-on-one meetings, and numerous working groups. The resulting framework is still a work in progress, but it begins to reflect the different geographies, infrastructure, communities, and income levels across the municipality.
The 116-page technical report gives the breakdown for how the municipality can achieve these ambitious climate targets. The solutions are itemized by their impact on emissions reductions. First among them is a policy for deep energy retrofits of all existing residential and commercial buildings by 2040—a hugely important step that would create thousands of jobs, make people healthier and more comfortable in their homes, reduce energy bills for everyone, and reduce greenhouse gases by millions of tonnes.
Also included in the dozens of solutions: benchmarks for 1,500 MW of new solar electricity; 280 MW of new wind electricity; all new buildings to be net-zero energy by 2030; 100% of personal vehicle sales to be electric by 2030; huge improvements to active transportation and public transportation; and industrial energy efficiency to be improved by 75% by 2040.
This is now the plan of record in Halifax and, if implemented, will be completely transformational. The measures may sound far-fetched when compared to business-as-usual plans put forward by other levels of government but study after study after study has pointed to exactly this kind of ambition as possible, necessary and financially prudent.
This plan is significant, because a climate plan in line with climate science is painfully rare in Canada, something we have never seen from provincial or federal governments.
Canada’s federal government has a Harper-era 2030 climate target that is nowhere near Canada’s fair share toward keeping global warming below 1.5°C, and the process to set new, more ambitious targets was recently delayed.
Meanwhile, in October 2019, the government of Nova Scotia legislated the most ambitious 2030 climate target of any Canadian province—53% below 2005 levels. This was after months of protests, and more than 10,000 people in the streets for the Climate Strikes led by young people across the province. The disappointing reality is that this target is still woefully inadequate, not based in science or equity, and doesn’t fairly contribute to the liveable future that so many people have been mobilizing to ensure.
When it comes to action in the face of the climate crisis, there is a critical difference between doing something, and doing enough.
This is why Halifax’s climate plan is such a big deal: amidst the drought of climate ambition in Canada, this is a plan that is actually guided by climate science and looks at the problem head-on.
Of course, HalifACT 2050 is only a plan, and it has the same shortcoming that all plans do. Well-intentioned government policies get underfunded, swept away, and challenged politically all the time. Importantly, there are many details left to figure out, and we need to work to keep the plan funded and implemented in a way that benefits everyone.
With municipal elections coming in the fall, what better time to have an action plan to ask the candidates about?
We need to ensure that climate justice and a justice-based recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic are central to how the programs and projects of this plan are designed. We need to ensure that benefits, agency and funding are explicitly afforded to Black communities, Mi’kmaq communities, newcomers, low- and middle-income families, and others who have already suffered from the ‘normal’ impacts of environmental racism, poverty and injustice. The municipality’s Social Policy Framework is an important start.
The passing of this climate plan is a beginning, not an end. It is the beginning of holding regional council accountable. It is the beginning of other governments and utilities following suit. It is the beginning of centering marginalized voices in how we imagine a better future. It is the beginning of decades of exciting work that can create jobs and make Halifax a better, more affordable place to live.
It is the beginning of building a liveable future together.
Stephen Thomas is a Research Associate with Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Nova Scotia. He is the former Energy Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre and has been working in Energy and Climate Policy in Canada for the last decade.