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New Brunswick climate change plan a missed opportunity, environmental group says

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FREDERICTON - A plan to combat climate change in New Brunswick is a missed chance to set aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a provincial environmental group says.

The plan released Monday aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 75 to 85 per cent below 2001 levels by 2050. It also restates a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, which was set in the province's first climate change plan released in 2007.

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said she would have preferred to see the 2020 target aim to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 per cent below 1990 levels.

"We lack a little bit in our ambition on our target," said Corbett, adding that she believes setting higher goals to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings and homes in the province would create jobs in the construction and renovation sectors.

"The lack of ambition means we miss opportunities on economic development ... primarily in construction and energy efficiency."

Provincial Environment Minister Danny Soucy said the targets should be viewed as a minimum.

"So at least if we hit the 10 per cent, we're on the mark, and if we can do 12, 13, 20, 21, we'd be even better," Soucy said.

"It's a target, but it's a target we should be overshooting."

The plan highlights several areas of concern. Climate models predict that average temperatures in New Brunswick will rise three to 3 1/2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, and the plan says while that will result in longer growing seasons for agriculture, it will have adverse effects such as increased flooding and stress on cold-water fish species such as Atlantic salmon.

The sea level in New Brunswick is expected to rise by a metre by the end of the century, leading to deeper and more frequent coastal flooding, it adds.

"Coastal areas also face the risk of greater rates of erosion, water well contamination by sea water and permanent loss of low-lying coastal areas," the plan says.

It says that poses risks to homes, industries and tourist sites. The annual cost of damage to homes due to coastal flooding is expected to increase from $730 to $1,803 per New Brunswicker by 2050 — the highest rate in Atlantic Canada.

"Although no single event can be fully attributed to climate change, such trends are a clear indication that we are experiencing new normals in weather that can have costly impacts," Soucy said.

The plan includes a list of measures such as reducing industrial and vehicle emissions.

The government says it will promote electric vehicle use and will push for a shift towards the use of natural gas in medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the freight sector.

Corbett said she applauds the government for coming out with the plan and its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but she believes that the government is sending conflicting messages with its promotion of shale gas development and increased tree harvesting from Crown land.

Soucy defends shale gas development, saying it is cleaner than coal and other fossil fuels being used now in New Brunswick.

The plan says the province will integrate long-term climate change considerations into the management of provincial natural resources such as Crown forests, provincial parks and protected natural areas.

The province met its 2007 target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2012, the plan said.

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