Originally published in the Chronicle Herald on April 22, 2022
Budgets reveal what governments truly care about, and in the past month, we’ve seen budgets from the federal, provincial and municipal governments. They give us a chance to see if government promises hold any weight, or if they are merely seeds that will never grow.
We are grappling with ecological emergencies that threaten our planet’s liveability. With the majority of Atlantic Canadians highly concerned about climate change, we know that urgent action is essential. We expect our leaders to present budgets that address the root causes of the ecological crises that are leaving our communities and biodiversity devastated by an increasingly unstable climate.
Digging into the recent budgets, we looked for three things: Are the investments sufficient for the promises made and the scale of the problem? Is there an end to funding for the things that set us back, such as fossil fuels and mining? Does consideration for equity and the environment cut across the budget, demonstrated, for example, by linking the environment to workforce investments?
All in all, we were disappointed. While Halifax Regional Council took bold steps to address the climate emergency, both the federal and provincial governments came up short.
Feds rely on unreliable tech
While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report in a darkening series of updates, Ottawa undermined its own commitment to phasing out fossil fuel investments by doing the exact opposite.
The budget invests $2.6 billion over five years in tax credits for carbon capture and storage technologies — inefficient, difficult-to-scale and largely unproven technologies used to prop up production of oil and gas.
The federal government is betting on dubious technology created by the very same industries that are largely responsible for the climate crisis. Instead, the federal government should have invested more in proven climate solutions such as retrofits to buildings, shifts to renewable energy, and electrification of transportation.
Although the federal budget did contain some significant investments in retrofits, as well as nature protection and plastic reduction, those efforts were overshadowed by Ottawa’s unwillingness to recognize that continued oil and gas extraction is incompatible with a liveable future on this planet. Canada needs to transition to a green economy.
Province’s plans outstrip funds
In November 2021, the Nova Scotia government set 28 ambitious goals in the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act (EGCCRA). Unfortunately, only a handful of these goals have identified budget amounts, and these do not reflect the same level of boldness contained in the act.
We’re in a climate emergency, and we have seen from the global pandemic response that we can act quickly and cooperatively in an emergency. If the government were serious about reaching the goals in EGCCRA, we would have a budget that reflects a truly transformational change for our environment and our economy. Yet even in this moment of possibility, the government instead opted for minor adjustments to the status quo.
Signs of hope in HRM
At the municipal level, there are hopeful signs that Halifax Regional Council is taking action on the climate emergency it declared in 2019.
Council has increased funding and resources for HalifACT 2050, Halifax’s climate action plan, and has instituted what appears to be the first climate action tax in Canada. After steadfast community campaigning, council resourced HalifACT by introducing a three per cent property tax dedicated to climate action. The tax is expected to supply $18 million a year, to first fund projects like electric buses and energy retrofits. Despite limited resources and scope, it’s inspiring to see this level of government show leadership with the strongest budget commitment to climate action.
However, nature protection is still being overlooked in the municipal budget. Implementation of the Halifax Green Network Plan continues to be stalled, with no additional resources being committed to it or associated work on wilderness corridors, wetlands and strategic parks planning. The lack of funding for this plan continues to put development above environmental protection, at the expense of nature and complete communities.
Tweaks aren’t enough
As the days get warmer, let’s keep the heat on our elected officials. Tweaks are no longer enough: we need a profound shift in thinking and investment to avoid even higher costs and harms in the future.
At this point, every day is Earth Day. Let’s do all we can to hold our leaders accountable to a strong vision for a just and sustainable future. Contact your representatives and tell them to put their money where their mouths are.
Marla MacLeod is the director of programs with the Ecology Action Centre, which marked 50 years of action in 2021.