Spend more of New Brunswick's climate-change money on infrastructure, MLAs told

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Sabine Dietz of CLIMAtlantic Inc. cited, among other needs, the shoring up of essential transportation links across the Chignecto Isthmus, the only land link between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Submitted by Sabine Dietz - image credit)
Sabine Dietz of CLIMAtlantic Inc. cited, among other needs, the shoring up of essential transportation links across the Chignecto Isthmus, the only land link between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Submitted by Sabine Dietz - image credit)

New Brunswick MLAs have been urged to devote more climate change funding to adapting local infrastructure to extreme weather and to bring in tougher rules to restrict development in high-risk areas.

Members of the legislature's standing committee on climate change were told Thursday that adaptation needs to be a higher priority in the province's next five-year climate plan.

About one-third of the actions in the last plan were about adaptation — "not very many," according to Sabine Dietz, the executive director of CLIMAtlantic Inc., a new research institute focusing on climate change in Atlantic Canada.

She also noted that fewer than 30 per cent of projects that received money from the province's climate change fund and environmental trust fund were for adaptation.

'Not as sexy' as other approaches

Yet examples of extreme weather last year in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador show that the risk of costly and fatal impacts is real.

"Adaptation is not as sexy as electric cars, not as sexy as solar panels, and there is no win," Dietz said. "There is no clear win, where we can say we've reduced emissions by so-and-so many tonnes. So it is a hard thing to measure but we do know the impact can be severe."

Marion Tétégan Simon, the research director at the Shippagan-based institute Valorēs, also called for more funding for adaptation.

"It lets us undertake prevention that is less expensive, rather than react to climate change," she said.

Valorēs works with communities in the Acadian Peninsula vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather linked to climate change.

This year the Higgs government is devoting $36 million of carbon tax revenue to a climate change fund.

But most of that money is not funding adaptation projects. The biggest amount, $10 million, is paying for research into small modular nuclear reactors that do not emit greenhouse gases.

Dietz also called for a comprehensive climate-change risk assessment for the province. Some municipalities and industries have done them, but New Brunswick as a whole should have one as well, she said.

"We have no comprehensive description or overview of where our risks lie," she said.

"We know our Northumberland Strait coastline is at very high risk of coastal flooding and storm surges. What about drought? What about post-tropical storms? What about the agricultural sector, or forestry?"

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

Earlier in the day, the executive director of the government's climate change secretariat acknowledged there's "a growing trend, a push" for a province-wide assessment, but he didn't commit to it.

"This is not something that we've necessarily completed within New Brunswick, but it is something that could possibly help us in terms of identifying priority areas for further action," Jeff Hoyt told the MLAs.

Dietz said the province has to be straightforward with the public about the risk of extreme weather and should go as far as to ban development in high-risk areas.

"When we don't identify clearly those high-risk areas and people continue to develop and build, we're actually putting municipalities, we're putting individuals, we're putting the province at risk — not just from being sued, but this is about lives," she said.

Dietz said the COVID-19 experience could help people and governments better cope with climate change.

"We've learned a lot about how we look at risk, how we manage risk, what our risk tolerance is, and that can be, in my opinion, applied to how we deal with climate impacts."

Pandemic offers lesson

But she said the pandemic also illustrates the kind of disruption that can happen when governments don't act fast enough.

She said the federal and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia governments need to get moving on shoring up essential transportation links across the Chignecto Isthmus, the only land link between the two provinces.

The area's system of dikes is considered vulnerable to flooding from the Bay of Fundy.

"It's urgent. Get on with it," Dietz said. "We've seen what supply chain disruptions can do. We're already living with them."

Hoyt told the committee that the province will complete only 75 per cent of the 188 "actions" in the original climate change plan released in 2016.

The completed actions include some major achievements, such as exceeding the province's 2020 target for emissions reductions and implementing a carbon-pricing regime for consumers and industry.

More committee meetings are scheduled for Friday and over three days next week.

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