Open letter: Proposed Amendments to the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act

November 4, 2021 

The Honourable Tim Halman 
Department of Environment and Climate Change
Barrington Tower- 1894 Barrington Street, Suite 1800
P.O. Box 442
Halifax, NS -B3J 2P8

Sent Via Email: Minister.Environment@novascotia.ca

Re: Open Letter – Proposed Amendments to the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act

Dear Minister Halman, 

I had the privilege of representing the voice of social workers and our commitment to climate justice, ending environmental racism and fighting for greater equality at the Law Amendments Committee on November 1, 2021, to speak to the need for amendments to the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act. 

Social workers across the globe are committed to fighting climate change by advocating for climate justice. The NSCSW is committed to working with your government to ensure that marginalized communities can share fully in the benefits of the transition to a green economy and aren’t overburdened with the brunt of adjustment. We are committed to ensuring that no one should is left behind.

To this end I offered the following amendments to the Act.

Section 5:  

5 (1)(d) support the well-being and quality of life of all Nova Scotians (add to this) by reducing inequality and ensuring climate justice is integrated across government departments.

Added as well should be:

5 (1)(e) establish, adopt, and support an interconnected approach to end environmental racism. 

Section 8:

8 (1) The Government shall create a strategic plan that addresses.

(d) clean inclusive growth (add to this) rooted in climate justice and the reduction of inequality.

Added as well should be:

(f) ending environmental racism in all its forms. 

And:

(g) a green jobs strategy focused through an equity lens to ensure that the benefits of the expected growth in permanent, full-time, high-wage green jobs are widely shared.

So far, your government seems reluctant to accept proposed amendments to this legislation, so please allow me to unpack why these changes are crucial to the Act and mandate of your government.

The principle of climate justice is crucial to the goals of the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Actas it grounds climate policy in a clear focus on the social and economic effects of climate change, and acknowledges that climate change affects people differently, depending on their position in society. Climate justice must be a clear goal within in any climate policy and strategy, as the most vulnerable must not bear the burden of the transition away from a carbon economy. 

We know that Nova Scotians on a low income cannot afford many of the measures proposed such as electric cars, or retro-fitting homes and that some groups are more vulnerable to the most serious effects of climate change — for example, women, children, seniors and people living in resource-dependent communities. To this respect I was pleased to see a provision in the Bill which set targets for energy efficiency programing for low-income and marginalized Nova Scotians. 

However, it is important to note, that while energy poverty is one of the adverse effects of the climate crisis; it is far from the only one. For instance, climate change affects the health of vulnerable individuals, threatens food security and affordability, jeopardizes sources of income as resource extraction sectors are challenged, threatens housing security and affordability, affects transportation and social isolation, and puts at risk access to clean drinking water. In other words, climate change negatively affects the social determinants of health, which has broad ripple effects on health and mental health outcomes including the rise of eco-anxiety

There are several sectors of the economy where green measures could negatively affect disadvantaged workers and intensify existing inequalities. Likewise, the sectors that are likely to thrive (such as utilities) are those where women, racialized communities, and immigrants are underrepresented. A focus on climate justice would demand policy for affected workers with income support and skills retraining and makes active infrastructure investments in communities as they undergo the transition to a cleaner economy. The current lack of a robust social safety net creates greater anxiety related to the climate crisis, increases despair, and decreases trust in government services and agendas.

A clear goal of climate justice is also to redress environmental racism which refers to the disproportionate location of industrial and other environmentally hazardous activities near to communities of colour and the working poor. Environmental racism is also characterized by the lack of organizational and political power that communities hold for advocating against these big industrial polluters. Environmental racism has many negative consequences; most notably it creates health inequities across racial dimensions. Communities affected are left to suffer a myriad of negative results, such as a lack of fresh air, clean water, access to unspoiled nature, dwindling property values, and the resulting mental and physical health effects, which work to perpetuate historical oppression. The health risks associated with contamination and pollution include:

  • Cancer
  • Upper respiratory disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Reproductive morbidity
  • Temporary liver dysfunction
  • Seizures

Section 17 of the Bill states your government’s goal with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion is to initiate ongoing work with racialized and marginalized communities to create a sustained funding opportunity for climate change action and support for community-based solutions and policy engagement. The language of diversity, equity and inclusion can ‘whitewash’ the more troubling and insidious reality of racism and white supremacy in our policy. Particularly environmental racism, which is a form of state sanctioned structural violence. These must be named truthfully in order to see progress on solutions. If environmental racism is a priority for your government, then this goal needs to be stated strongly in the objectives of the Act and be treated with a sense of urgency. We have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that environmental racism is ended and ended quickly it must be embedded to any reasonable fight against climate change.

To be successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning the economy away from fossil fuels there must be a clear focus on rising inequality.  Income inequality is a serious and growing problem in Nova Scotia. A report that the NSCSW produced with our partners at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that Nova Scotia has seen a steady trend of widening income inequality. In 2018 top incomes in Nova Scotia grew to 16.3 times the income shares of the bottom 10 precent (growing from 11.1 in 1988.) This should be of great concern to any political decision makers, particularly as governments are leading us through this great transition. Rising inequality and the continued class divide between the rich and the poor has allowed the voices of the most vulnerable to go unnoticed; has eroded trust and has increased anxiety and illness for all. 

This lack of trust appears to be growing. Engage Nova Scotia recently produced data demonstrating only 27.1% of Nova Scotians trust the provincial government. This erodes the social solidarity required to tackle these large issues as it pits Nova Scotians against one another, fighting for resources perceived to be scarce rather than working together in solidarity towards the common good. Inequality undermines trust that we’re all in this together. It’s hard to rally the public if many believe the rich are merely buying their way out of making change, fortifying their homes, walling their communities or purchasing carbon offsets in the hopes that others will lower their actual emissions. Without a focus on inequality, we will splinter out vulnerable groups and continue to radicalize those who are left behind. 

Let’s keep in mind fairness as well. Greenhouse gas emissions are highly unequal where the wealthiest 20% of Canadians are responsible for almost double the GHG emissions of the poorest 20%. If climate legislation like the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act doesn’t focus on inequalities then ultimately, they will make things worse for all ready vulnerable people those who have done the least to contribute to the problem. 

While inequality makes tackling the climate crisis harder, the reverse is also true. Greater equality helps to galvanise climate action; look at the jurisdictions with greater equality such as Denmark, Norway, Germany and Sweden they have has success implementing strong climate policies and with positive outcomes.

The proposed amendments are crucial to fighting climate change; they are about creating a fairer, more equitable and equal green society. Post-second world war, social workers were an integral part of producing the Marsh Report. The Marsh Report called for the establishment of a broad range of social assistance, social insurance, and public welfare programs. It created the social infrastructure to take on the monumental task of transition from a war-time economy to our modern society. 

Today social workers are calling for a revisioning of the Marsh Report: a substantial social safety net to tackle the climate crisis and transition to a post carbon economy. If we are to meet our ambitious goals of reducing GHG emissions focusing on inequality must be a part of the solution we need a strategy that puts at the centre vulnerable people with a focus on, a housing strategy that ends homelessness, a commitment to living wages and an introduction of the next generation of social programs:

  • universal public eldercare, 
  • childcare, 
  • public pharmacare, 
  • dental care, 
  • tuition-free post-secondary education, and
  • free robust public transit programs. 

To build the social solidarity required for this transition we must socialize these costs and remove them from the affordability- and eco-anxieties of Nova Scotia families. 

By tackling inequality, we are also tackling the climate crisis. For instance, Nova Scotia needs at least 33,000 public, co-op or not for profit affordable housing units to meaningfully address the housing crisis. Units can be built and/or acquired to meet the retrofit standards. Not only would this lessen the burden on people who are struggling to find affordable housing, but it would also create thousands of good-paying union green jobs and make thousands of homes greener.

This will also lead to a greener economy, as the green economy is the caring economy. 

Finally, ending environmental racism is a crucial goal for social workers, and we hope it is for the government as well. We cannot meaningfully commit to reconciliation or to ending anti-black racism without ending the policies and practices that perpetuate colonialism and the legacy of enslavement. If any government is committed to ending racial discrimination and addressing white supremacy in our current systems, then ending environmental racism must be a clear goal. 

I am happy to follow up with in person meeting should you be interested. 

Sincerely,

Text

Description automatically generated
Alec Stratford, MSW, RSW, 
Executive Director/Registrar
NSCSW 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

mail_outline