April 23, 2007

New Nova Scotia legislation seeks to reconcile environmental, economic goals

By: Mark Sabourin

With the country now entering a national debate about the economic cost of environmental protection, Nova Scotia is laying claim to the high ground. The province's new Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, introduced in the legislature on March 22 and given assent on April 13, sets an ambitious regime of environmental objectives for the province.

They are not legally enforceable, but the government's performance against them will be judged in the court of public opinion. The Act requires the government to make a public report on its achievements and failures every year, after seeking the advice of the Nova Scotia Round Table on Environmental Sustainability.

"If you're talking to a politician, the most important court they worry about is the public," says Mark Parent, Minister of Environment and Labour. He says ministers will have no room to "fudge or spin anything, because they're getting their assessment from this Round Table."

The Act states that the long-term environmental and economic objective of the province is to fully integrate environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. This is a fundamental principle for the government, says Parent, and the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act is one of several legislative and adminstrative tools the government will use to achieve those twin objectives. The Act sets a number of timelines, extending to 2020, at which point the province is to have one of the world's cleanest and most sustainable environments.

The province is charged with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10% below 1990 levels by the year 2020. By 2009, nitrogen oxides are to be reduced by 50% relative to 2000 emissions; and by the following year, sulfur dioxide emissions are to be reduced by 50% from sources existing in 2001. Also by 2010, the province is to meet Canada-wide standards for airborne and ground-level ozone, adopt emission standards for new motor vehicles, and reduce mercury emissions by 70% relative to pre-2001 levels.

The Act codifies the Nova Scotia's commitment to sustainability, requiring the development of a sustainability strategy for forestry, mining, parks and biodiversity by 2010, and setting 2009 as the date for the adoption of a sustainable procurement policy. By 2013, 18.5% of the province's total electricity needs are to be obtained from renewable energy sources.

Targets are also set for protected lands, water and wastewater management, redevelopment of contaminated lands, solid waste management and energy-efficient building construction.

Parent describes the objectives as "doable, but challenging." There's no point in setting objectives that are neither, he says.

Environmental improvement cannot be achieved at the expense of economic growth. The Act requires that all of the timelines be met while improving the province's economic performance to a level at least equal to the Canadian average.

"We don't see the environment as an enemy of the economy in any way. We see them as friends. The two of them have to grow together." Parent is a believer in the emerging green economy, and he believes that the greatest success in that economy will be enjoyed by those who get out "slightly ahead of the pack."

Meeting the Act's objectives will require the co-operation of all government departments, says Parent. Environment and Labour can't do it alone. Progress will be tracked by a new forum of deputy ministers, co-chaired by the deputy ministers of Environment and Labour and of Economic Development.

The Act and any regulations made under it will be reviewed every five years by the Nova Scotia Round Table on Environmental Sustainability, which will report within six months with recommendations for improvement.

Parent hails the Act as visionary. "It says, this is where we want to go as a province." Nova Scotia is no stranger to leading the country in environmental initiatives, being the only province to have reached the national target of 50% waste diversion in 2000. Parent says that experience alone has given the province much of the confidence it needs to take on these new challenges.

"In 1995, we had a hundred dumps burning garbage. We had a problem," he says. The province fixed the problem, "and ten years later we have an environmental industry that employs over 5,000 people with a payroll of $360 million."

With the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, he's looking forward to more of the same.

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