Bill will see Island adopt a more stringent carbon reduction target of 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030
The province’s legislators have responded to dire warnings from climate scientists and have made P.E.I. the first province to adopt legislation for more stringent carbon reduction targets than those of the Paris Accord.
The legislation amended the 2030 targets for reduction of greenhouse gases, adopted during the previous Liberal government, from 1.4 megatonnes of emissions per year to 1.2 megatonnes per year. This would represent a change from the current target of reducing the province’s emissions from 30 per cent below the 2005 levels to a 43 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.
The legislation, introduced by the Opposition Greens, passed with a vote of 18 to 6, with support from some Progressive Conservative members and the entirety of both Opposition Liberals and Greens parties.
On the government side, Sidney MacEwen, Brad Trivers, Bloyce Thompson and Matthew MacKay voted to support the bill. Government MLAs Jamie Fox, Cory Deagle, Darlene Compton, James Aylward, Ernie Hudson and Steven Myers voted against the bill. Premier Dennis King was absent for the vote.
The amendment follows an October 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that global warming should be kept below 1.5 C, a more stringent target than that adopted by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The IPCC report found that the target set in Paris would still result in higher risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and other effects.
Green MLA Lynne Lund introduced the amendment, which contained few details as to how the province would reach the new targets. The amendment has received more debate in the legislature this session than any other piece of legislation so far under the Progressive Conservative minority government.
Liberal leader Robert Mitchell said he voted in favour of the amendment based on personal belief.
"This was a vote on conscience. We, as a government, for the past number of years have been working very hard on this climate change file," Mitchell said.
Some Liberal members had spoken out critically during debates on the amendment last week and had questioned the lack of prior consultation. Nonetheless, Mitchell said the vote had not been a whipped vote, and all MLAs voted based on their conscience.
Environment Minister Brad Trivers said he voted in favour of the amendment because he recognized the urgency of reducing the Island’s emissions. But, he said staff in his department had suggested there were questions that still needed to be addressed about the costs of emissions reductions for Islanders.
"They raise concerns that you should really think about – what that's going to mean to the average Islander before you lower the emissions,” Trivers said.
Trivers had initially argued against the amendments, stating that the matter be brought before a standing committee before targets be adopted in the legislature.
But he said he changed his mind on Tuesday morning after meeting with Department staff.
Trivers also said that some within the PC caucus were concerned that adopting the emissions targets would mean locking the province into adopting a more stringent carbon tax.
Summerside-Wilmot MLA Lynne Lund, who introduced the amendment, said the bill did not necessarily mean further carbon pricing would be adopted.
She also said many focus too much on the costs of climate mitigation without looking at the benefits.
"We often forget to talk about the opportunity costs. There's an awful lot to be gained by being early adopters for clean tech and a low carbon economy,” Lund said.
“There's lots of opportunities and good paying jobs when we start investing in, for example, solar and wind."
The vote was preceded by an evening rally, organized in part by Green caucus members, of over 100 people in support of the bill.
The rally was attended by MLAs from all parties. It concluded with a speech by Environment Minister Brad Trivers.
Trivers initially faced heckles from rally attendees, after he suggested there would be costs to adopting the more stringent emissions reductions. Some individuals yelled “no there isn’t!”
Moments later, he elicited surprised cheers from the crowd.
"Islanders have always been leaders. They've always been leaders and they always will be leaders. And you will see me voting for this amendment," Trivers said.