P.E.I. needs to act immediately in order to meet its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target, according to the latest report from a special committee struck to find ways for the province to do that.
The fourth and final report from P.E.I's all-party Special Committee on Climate Change was tabled on the second-last day of the spring sitting of the legislature.
Among the 24 recommendations in the report which the committee now hopes government will turn into policy or law:
that the province implement "significant disincentives" toward the purchase and registration of vehicles with a high rate of fuel consumption;
that P.E.I. extend its legislated minimum crop rotation period from three years to four by the year 2025;
that the province invest in the construction and renovation of municipal and provincial buildings to bring them closer to net zero energy consumption;
that P.E.I.'s carbon pricing system be "enhanced to make it broader and therefore more effective in reducing emissions;"
that the province promote the addition of seaweed into cattle feed, shown to decrease methane emissions from the animals by 20 per cent.
"Nine years may seem like ample time, but the actions needed to reduce emissions at a provincial scale ... are not tasks that can be accomplished overnight," the report states.
P.E.I. has set a target in legislation to reduce overall emissions to 1.2 megatonnes (Mt) by 2030 — a full third below 2019 emissions of 1.8 Mt.
When the province set that more stringent target in 2019, it wasn't even on track to meet its previous goal of 1.4 Mt, said committee chair Lynne Lund.
"We're not on a great track so far," Lund said, "but the good thing is this report ... gives us a framework on how we can be successful moving forward."
Net zero energy consumption by 2030
Last fall the province added two more targets, including a pledge to reach what it calls net zero energy consumption by 2030, primarily by encouraging Islanders to switch from fossil fuel use to electricity for things like home heating.
The province also promised to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, ten years before a similar commitment from the federal government kicks in.
Lund said most of the province's efforts to reduce emissions so far have centred on making buildings more energy efficient and switching from oil to electric heat.
But she noted the two sectors responsible for the largest share of emissions on P.E.I. are transportation and agriculture.
"We cannot be successful in this without putting a serious effort into transportation and agriculture," said Lund, "so our committee's recommendations really focused in on those two areas first, really gave them a priority for efforts moving forward."
Mandate required for electric vehicles
Lund said the most pressing among the recommendations is for government to bring in a zero-emissions vehicle mandate, following the lead of provinces like Quebec and B.C.
That mandate would require auto manufacturers to offer a larger and larger proportion of electric or hybrid vehicles for sale in the province, eventually requiring all new vehicles to be electric.
P.E.I. currently offers a $5,000 provincial incentive for the purchase of an electric vehicle, and the committee is urging government to increase the pool of funding — currently capped at $500,000 — so more people can access those rebates.
But without a mandate requiring dealers carry EVs. the committee says those models could be diverted to provinces which do have a mandate, leaving fewer plug-in vehicles on dealership lots for Islanders to choose from.
On the recommendation for "significant disincentives" on the purchase and registration of vehicles with high fuel consumption, the report says those would be on the highest-emitting vehicles within each class, so for example heavy-duty trucks would only be penalized if they were among the worst-rated in that class for fuel efficiency.
The report says the inclusion of penalties as well as incentives to reduce emissions "is not done lightly, but the benefits of positive actions and choices can be undermined if actions and choices that needlessly and excessively increase emissions are permitted to continue without penalty."
Up to government to decide
The special committee was struck in 2019 following a motion sponsored by all three parties, with the mandate to develop recommendations on how the province can best meet its emission reduction targets.
Previous recommendations from interim committee reports have directed the province to develop an incentive program for zero-emission vehicles for the 2021 budget year — which it did — and called on government to figure out the relative costs of various carbon abatement options.
Ultimately it will be up to government to decide whether to follow some, all or none of the recommendations from the special committee.
In the legislature, Environment Minister Steven Myers said his department will release its own plan by the middle of June detailing how the province intends to reach net zero energy consumption by 2030.
A spokesperson for the department said Myers would talk about the final report from the special committee once his department's report has been released.
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