Opposition laments New Brunswick's slow progress on climate change goals

·3 min read

New Brunswick's Green Party leader says that while the province has made some progress on meeting climate change goals, it's largely the result of years-old measures and new steps will be required to hit future targets.

"We've got a ways to go," David Coon said in an interview Thursday.

The province released a Climate Change Action Plan progress report comparing goals set in a 2016 plan to what has been accomplished.

Thursday's report, and an accompanying news release, tout progress on 118 steps to lower greenhouse gas emissions by certain years and transition to a low-carbon economy.

"New Brunswick has embraced its role as being part of the solution to the global challenge of climate change," Gary Crossman, the province's environment and climate change minister, said in the news release.

"We will continue our work to make New Brunswick an environmentally sustainable province."

Jacques Poitras/CBC News file photo
Jacques Poitras/CBC News file photo

But Coon said reductions in emissions so far can be traced to programs or initiatives started years ago.

"There's been a number of studies going on, but not a lot of new initiatives at all," Coon said.

Francine Landry, the Liberals' critic for environment and climate change, said the report does show there have been some positive steps, but more has to be done.

"This is action that will protect the future of our planet, so we cannot just do the bare minimum," Landry said in an interview.

Landry said she plans to take a deeper look at the report to compare what it says has been accomplished to what was outlined in the 2016 plan, a time when the Liberals were in power.

The 2016 plan calls for the province to reduce emissions to 14.8 megatonnes in 2020, 10.7 megatonnes by 2030, and five megatonnes by 2050.

Emissions were 13.2 megatonnes in 2018, the most recent available figure from Environment and Climate Change Canada. That's down from 20 megatonnes in 2005.

"As such we have surpassed our 2020 target and are on our way towards our 2030 target," the report states.

The 2016 plan set out specific goals, such as 2,500 electric vehicles on the road in New Brunswick by 2020. The progress report doesn't say how many are actually now on the road. There were 429 electric vehicles registered in the province at the end of 2019.

CBC
CBC

The 2016 plan also laid out more significant goals, such as ending power production from burning coal.

The federal government's climate plan requires phasing out burning coal as a power source by 2030.

However, New Brunswick is seeking an agreement with the federal government to keep burning coal at the Belledune Generating Station. The report issued this week suggests continuing to burn coal while making "equivalent or better" emissions reductions, rather than phasing out coal.

"This will result in a significant cost avoidance to electricity ratepayers while at the same time ensuring GHG emissions reductions," the report states.

Mary-Anne Hurley-Corbyn, a spokesperson for the province's environment department, said in an email that negotiations with the federal government are ongoing.

"It's problematic," Coon said of the effort to keep burning coal.

"We need to make that transition over the next 10 years to a renewable-based energy system and to replace coal and the other fossil fuels and enable us to wind down the plant when it reaches the end of life."

He said there should be more reliance on hydro power from Quebec or Labrador, which would require new transmission lines. He said the government should also address power demand with a greater emphasis on energy efficiency programs.

Coon said that while the 2016 plan calls for more public transit, there have been cuts to transit in several cities and COVID-19 has also brought cuts to rail and inter-city busing.

"We've got less public transit than we had," Coon said.