Premier Stephen McNeil marked the first day of the fall legislature by calling an emergency climate debate on climate change.
The move came on the same day that the Liberals introduced a bill to ban single-use plastic bags in the province. The debate also comes a day before thousands of Nova Scotians are expected to hit the streets as part of the Global Climate Strike movement. The public consultation process to update the province’s 12-year-old Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (EGSPA) is scheduled to end Saturday.
All of this, the premier said, moved him to engage the entire legislature for solutions to a permanent problem facing the province and the world.
“It’s been an issue of global importance and all legislatures have been asked to have this debate and we felt it was important to have it on our first day (of the fall sitting),” said McNeil.
“My hope is that with constructive ideas all members of this House can support what the next bill looks like in protecting the environment and growing the economy of Nova Scotia.”
While the premier was not specific about targets he’d like to see in the new bill he did pledge the EGSPA would be updated and tabled at the legislature at some point during the fall sitting. The act effectively expires at the end of this calendar year.
Earlier in the day Environment Minister Gordon Wilson proposed legislation that once passed will ban single-use plastic checkout bags in a year. The year will allow retailers to prepare for the legislation.
The proposed legislation will also allow government to regulate other single-use plastic items in the future.
Wilson called the coming law a step in the right direction for the province, saying the ban will “help keep plastic out of our landfills, our waterways and our environment.”
Once the ban is enacted, retailers will still be allowed to use single-use plastic bags for meat, fish and bulk items. Exemptions will also apply to food banks and charities.
Voters will be looking to see whether the updated EGSPA will take a hard line on greenhouse gas emissions in the province. More than half of the power in the province is coming from coal-fired generators.
If the province is to play its part in limiting global heating to the 1.5 C scientists say is necessary to escape the worst impacts, the province needs to reduce emissions to half of what they were in 1990, and it needs to get that done by 2030.
That’s exactly what NDP Leader Gary Burrill has been pushing for and those figures are included in the party’s Green Jobs Act. The party has been lobbying the government to adopt the bill. Burrill said he was pleased that the premier called the debate, but questioned when talk would turn to action.
“This province needs to be moving toward renewables and a major expansion of a retrofitting program,” said Burrill, who credited community environmental groups for pressuring the province into proposing the plastic bag ban.
Tory leader Tim Houston was also in support of the debate as well as the proposed plastic bag ban and updating the EGSPA, but he stopped short of saying what the province’s emissions goals should be.
Houston also criticized the premier for dragging his heels on updating the act and suggested that he was forced to call the debate given Friday’s planned demonstrations.