Our provincial government’s environmental leadership can be described as patchy at best.
Granted, there have been a few moments of decisiveness, including rightly holding firm on the decision requiring Northern Pulp to close Boat Harbour, the passing of a Coastal Protection Act and setting a new, more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target. These actions, however, are undermined by gross inaction on other vital pieces of policy, practices and legislation.
The Department of Environment’s just-announced delay of the Sustainable Development Goals Act (SDGA), originally slated for legislative approval by the end of 2020, is a disappointing case in point. Similarly disappointing is the lack of recovery plans for endangered species like the mainland moose. And there are many others: the Biodiversity Act remains unpassed; a commitment to protect at least 13% of Nova Scotia is not yet met (and lags behind more ambitious national targets); and the Lahey Report’s recommendations on forestry practices reform remains completely unimplemented. All were election commitments made by the McNeil Government.
These initiatives are in various states of limbo, held back by a lack of political will in some cases and stakeholder consultation in others. But ultimately by a lack of collective urgency and a vacuum of leadership overall.
This swims against the tide of scientific evidence and Nova Scotians’ profound desire for action. It is hard to miss the seemingly daily reports of the ravages to our society and natural world.
In the last year alone, devastating wildfires burned unabated on several continents, polar ice sheets and glaciers reached new records in their rapid melt, and thousands of plant and animal species were lost to ecosystem collapse. Here in Nova Scotia, rising sea levels brought continuing coastal damage; and climate change produced summer drought conditions, crop failures and habitat losses, along with increasingly powerful and destructive storms.
The last year also heralded record-breaking environmental activism around the world with weekly youth-led climate strike marches. More than 10,000 people marched in one such rally in downtown Halifax last fall. This year’s marchers, subdued in number by pandemic caution, were nonetheless boisterous in their condemnation of those in positions of power at all levels for their inaction.
Some would say the pandemic knocks everything else off a government’s agenda, but COVID-19’s impacts only place further strain on communities everywhere grappling with pre-existing crises of rising inequities, worsening climate change, biodiversity destruction, and environmental racism. Now is exactly the time for government to engage Nova Scotians on solutions and to act on its obligations.
Recent municipal elections, the Liberal leadership race, and a looming provincial election remind us that leaders come and go – and their time to act is short and precious.
To those soon exiting, a demand: Finish what you started and do what you promised. Announce the process and dates for widespread public consultations on the SDGA as promised for early next year. Bring the Legislature back to work to complete and pass the other vital pieces of environmental legislation. Fully implement the Lahey Forestry Report on the ground, designate all remaining areas in the Parks and Protected Areas Plan and immediately put in place effective recovery plans for endangered species. Nova Scotia’s sustained prosperity relies on a long-term commitment to a green and just recovery, supported by action that ensures we are innovators and leaders in the new economy.
For those new and soon-to-be at the table, an appeal: Be bold, collaborative and transformative. The converging climate and biodiversity crises need your leadership. Legacy is an accounting of one’s decisions and actions impacting the present and future. Choose to be remembered as leaders who finally set our province on the right track to a green and sustainable future.
Maggy Burns - Executive Director, Ecology Action Centre
Photo Caption: Northern Pulp Mill in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.
Photo Credit: Gerry Ferrel
The above op-ed appeared in the Chronicle Herald on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020