Op-Ed: A transition to net-zero is within reach for Nova Scotia

Op-Ed: A transition to net-zero is within reach for Nova Scotia

World leaders, diplomats, business representatives, and environmentalists from almost 200 countries are gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP26. Countries, including Canada, have set ambitious targets to achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2050 to limit global warming to well below 2 C, preferably to 1.5 C. 

Here at home, the recently introduced Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act recognizes climate change as a global emergency requiring urgent action and sets 28 goals, including a commitment to achieve net-zero by 2050.

Some have called COP26 the last best hope to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. Nova Scotia is expected to experience more frequent and intensive storms, rising sea levels, storm surges, coastal erosion and flooding. The continued increase in global temperatures will reduce biodiversity and degrade our forest and marine ecosystems.

While Nova Scotia has made progress in reducing emissions — down 30 per cent since 2005 — a challenging path lies ahead and there is no single action that will get us to net-zero.

While Nova Scotia has made progress in reducing emissions — down 30 per cent since 2005 — a challenging path lies ahead and there is no single action that will get us to net-zero.

Accelerating progress toward net-zero will require a holistic approach in which energy efficiency, the shift to clean electricity generation, widespread electrification, and the adoption of renewable energy outside of electricity all happen together. This integrated approach requires systems that predate the climate emergency, like the institutional and regulatory framework for planning, producing, and distributing electricity, to align with the soon-to-be legislated goal of net-zero.

Recently, EfficiencyOne, in collaboration with Ralph Torrie of Torrie Smith Associates, authored a white paper, 2050: Net-Zero Carbon Nova Scotia, to promote discussion of the strategies, technologies, and solutions available to the province to address these challenges. It identifies five strategic actions that must be taken:

  1. Continue to invest in aggressive energy efficiency programs;
  2. Adopt new building codes and standards for zero-emissions buildings;
  3. Accelerate the adoption of heat pumps for space and water heating;
  4. Fast-track the deployment of electric vehicle chargers in buildings, and increase electric vehicle purchases;
  5. Grow building-level distributed renewable energy and storage.

These actions focus on technologies that are commercially available today and can be rapidly scaled up. This is no small challenge and will require new partnerships, innovative financing, the growth of local businesses and supply chains, training to expand Nova Scotia’s workforce, and the education, engagement and support of all Nova Scotians. At the same time, research, development and commercialization efforts will be required to bring on the next generation of technologies needed to maintain the momentum toward net-zero and to tackle the decarbonization of sectors where technological options are still in development.

Most importantly, the transition to net-zero must be just and equitable. To succeed, the transition must include opportunities for everyone to prepare for and benefit from what’s ahead. Programs must include services for low-income homeowners and renters, Mi’kmaw communities, small business and all commercial and industrial business. Training and employment strategies must target the unemployed and disadvantaged so that the great potential to drive economic and community renewal can be realized. And the economic transition must be seen as an instrument for continued reconciliation with the Mi’kmaq and even with the land itself.

The good news is that the actions necessary to make emission cuts can benefit Nova Scotians in every community and in every walk of life. Mobilizing an effective response to climate change through a transformation of our buildings, transportation and energy systems to net-zero is not a threat to the economy; on the contrary, it is the key to continued health, sustainable prosperity, and a strong, green economy for Nova Scotia.

William (Bill) Lahey is founding chair of the EfficiencyOne board of directors and president and vice-chancellor of the University of King’s College. Stephen MacDonald is president and chief executive officer of EfficiencyOne, the non-profit operator of Efficiency Nova Scotia.

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