Millions for climate action a good start, more needed: conservation groups

ST. STEPHEN – Millions of dollars in provincial funding will help however conservation groups say more needs to be done to maintain momentum.

The New Brunswick government recently announced a $47-million series of actions to address issues around climate change and its impact on the province. The actions include educational components as well as funding for specific climate mitigation projects like the Saint Andrews wharf.

Louise Comeau, director of climate change and energy solutions at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said that while the announcement is positive, it still needs to be put into context. Funding for the announced initiatives is coming from the climate change fund, which government created with money from the provincial carbon tax.

“The government is choosing to spend an awful lot of the money on things like reducing excise taxes on fuel and tax cuts,” said Comeau, relative to the size of the fund, and the smaller portion is going to climate action. “It should be the reverse.

“Forty-seven million is something and a very important something but it’s not even remotely close to what we need, especially on the adaptation side.”

Comeau is also concerned about the longer term because the provincial government recently announced it was signing onto the federal carbon tax program. That will mean rebates go directly to residents and the climate change fund may dwindle as a result. Premier Blaine Higgs admitted as much when he made the announcement, as reported in February by The Courier.

One aspect of the announcement that Comeau is pleased about is the hiring of climate educators in the school system.

“The education investments are absolutely worthwhile,” she said. “We need to train up our teachers. We need to have staff allocated to these functions in almost all departments because each of them has some responsibility for implementing some part of it.”

Funding for those positions shouldn’t be dependent on the climate change fund, she argues, saying they are necessary positions that should be included in the provincial budget. Funding the roles from the climate change fund puts the positions at risk if the government chooses not to continue to deposit into the fund.

Comeau would like to see a commitment from the government in the budget of $50 million a year, “to fund this work and continue to increase the investments we make.”

Stephanie Merrill, chief executive officer of the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, echoes Comeau on the $50-million goal.

“This really does need to be integrated and woven into the provincial operating budget,” said Merrill. “That would look like about $50 million a year.”

She feels that’s possible and is looking for answers as to “how we continue the momentum of funding really important and critical work.”

Merrill feels having government fund projects directly can be helpful because it can be targeted and strategic. She also feels the rebates and tax cuts can help by changing people’s behaviour and their carbon-consuming habits.

She said the breadth of actions the government is taking is all good, including work with the agricultural sector to improve conservation and foster best-farming practices for climate mitigation.

The trust has worked closely with government in the past to identify areas of importance for conservation and the move to allocate funding for the purchase of private lands is positive. She’s hopeful the trust will continue to be consulted in the government decision-making process.

“Private land makes up about 50 per cent land ownership, so private land conservation through acquisitions being conserved lands is a really important part of the big picture,” said Merrill, noting it can be more difficult because pieces of land are smaller and finding appropriate parcels can be more time consuming.

Merrill likes the commitment in the funding to renew a biodiversity strategy for the province, an item previously identified in the climate action plan. Working to understand the role of wetlands and other natural areas as ways to capture and store carbon will be helpful for groups like the trust in “how securing of land for conservation is related to greenhouse gas sequestration,” and protecting the most effective lands.