Halifax is set to surpass the goals of its climate action plan, which was a winner on three fronts: it secured a crucial source of funding for its initiatives, won buy-in from residents through early and ongoing consultation, and integrated its vision into other municipal priorities, recognizing that climate solutions can’t operate in a vacuum.
In June, 2020, the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) “approved a climate action plan that quickly became one of the most ambitious in Canada,” writes [pdf] the Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement in a recent case study. “Better known as HalifACT, the plan is premised on the twin goals of becoming net-zero by 2030 and to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050.”
Three years later, Atlantic Canada’s largest municipality is on track to exceed its 1.5°C-compatible emissions target by 2028.
HalifACT has received kudos from around the world for its climate leadership. In 2022, it was put on a Cities A List by CDP, the non-profit formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project that assesses the emissions performance of investors, companies, cities, states, and regions.
One of the plan’s funding mechanisms, HRM’s Climate Action Tax, has earned considerable praise. The tax is generated through a dedicated 3% property tax increase set to last 10 years. The roughly C$18 million raised each year funds key initiatives like energy retrofits, electric vehicle procurement, and net-zero buildings.
“Various HalifACT capital initiatives have already received funding totaling $20.7 million as part of the 2023-24 budget,” Tamarack notes.
In addition to providing direct capital to dedicated projects, the tax also helps leverage climate action funding from the private sector and federal and provincial governments, an important factor in HalifACT’s long-term success.
Public buy-in for the tax hike owed significantly to “resident mobilization as well as to the leadership of HRM’s Finance Department,” which worked hard to convince locals that investing in climate action makes sound economic sense, delivering cost savings while creating jobs. Tamarack says the city also pursues inclusive engagement via a nimble blend of community consultation and awareness-raising.
HRM contracted environmental consultants Sustainable Solutions Group to advise on mitigation and adaptation planning, but the municipality also maintains connections to “a vibrant network of over 100 groups active in the climate space,” Tamarack says, including all levels of government, utilities, industry, non-profits and advocacy groups, academic institutions and educators, Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities, Acadian groups, and youth.
The third key to HalifACT’s success is that it routinely integrates its plans and priorities with other city programs. “Successfully adopting a ‘multi-solving’ approach to a systemic crisis such as climate change, while potentially daunting at first, has the potential to generate many co-benefits and wins along the way,” writes Tamarack.
So far, Tamarack reports that work has begun on 30 of the 46 initiatives in the HalifACT plan. But only five are “on track and adequately resourced so far,” demonstrating that “work remains to be done to adequately meet staffing, funding, and implementation needs in the years to come.”