Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson responds to a question in the House of Commons on Nov. 19, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada can’t ‘power past coal’ and keep exporting it, environment group says

Canada can’t ‘power past coal’ and keep exporting it, environment group says

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says there is no path to eliminating greenhouse-gas emissions that doesn’t include phasing out coal power, but critics say Canada’s leadership is tainted as long as this country keeps exporting thermal coal.

Wilkinson co-hosted a virtual summit Tuesday for the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Canada created the group with the United Kingdom in 2017 to pushing the world to eliminate coal as a source of energy. The alliance says wealthy countries should be off coal by 2030, and the rest of the world by 2050.

Coal is the single biggest source of global greenhouse-gas emissions, accounting for about 38 per cent of total emissions in 2018.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told summit participants that the whole world needs to be off coal by 2040, or the global warming fight will be lost.

“If we take immediate action to end the dirtiest, most polluting, and the more and more costly fossil fuel from our power sectors, then we have a fighting chance to succeed,” he said in his speech.

He said in almost every country, building new renewable power sources, like wind and solar, is now cheaper than building a new coal plant.

The alliance has grown from 18 countries and a handful of subnational governments and businesses when it began in 2017, to more than 36 nations, and 120 members in total.

Wilkinson said more governments are realizing that eliminating coal “is the first and perhaps most important step” toward reaching the goals of the Paris agreement to keep limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

“We cannot achieve those goals or create a livable future for our children and our grandchildren with coal-fired power continuing on,” he said.

Canada cut its coal-power habit by more than half in the last two decades, largely because Ontario phased out its coal plants entirely. Coal maxed out its share of electricity in Canada around 2000, when it accounted for about one-fifth of power sources. In 2018, that had fallen to eight per cent, and only Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia still rely on it.

Canada requires all coal power to be gone or equipped with carbon-capture technology by 2030. Alberta is on its way to closing or transitioning it coal plants to natural gas by 2023. The other provinces are in various stages of the transition, with individual agreements with Ottawa on how it will happen.

But as Canada is moving to strike down coal pollution at home, it’s still exporting millions of tonnes of coal to produce power overseas, mostly in South Korea, Japan, Chile, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.

Julia Levin, the climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence, says Canada’s leadership in the alliance is in doubt if it curbs coal use at home only to sell it to other countries.

“There is no role for hypocritical leadership,” said Levin.

Environmental Defence estimates Canada exports between 17 million and 20 million tonnes of thermal coal to make electricity each year, which would produce between 37 million and 44 million tonnes of greenhouse gases when burned.

Canada’s exports also now include millions of tonnes coming up from Wyoming, Utah, and Montana, after ports on the U.S. west coast began barring thermal coal exports from their docks.

Wilkinson ordered a strategic review of thermal coal exports in 2019, and told The Canadian Press in a recent interview the question of phasing out thermal coal exports in line with closing Canada’s own coal plants remains “under review.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

coal mine

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Instructor Brandt Trimble leads an outdoor spin class at RYDE RD. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Fitness facilities continue to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

‘It’s really frustrating to be one of the targeted businesses’

Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins (Photo contributed)
Federal budget strangles job growth, says MP Blaine Calkins

‘It is most certainly not a balanced budget’

Kids at Lotsa’Tots West Day Care in Red Deer act out how a caterpillar moves with co-owner and instructor Shireen Sewcharran-Wiebe. Child care providers are hoping Alberta’s provincial government will help fund the national child care program announced this week. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alberta day care providers hope Alberta will get onboard with national child care program

Some question whether the UCP’s ideology will stand in the way

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Jason Nixon, minister of Environment and Parks after being sworn into office, in Edmonton on Tuesday April 30, 2019. Town council from the largest municipality in Nixon's constituency is concerned over the province's consultation plans for open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Town of Rocky Mountain House wants better coal consultation

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE, Alta. — Town council from the largest municipality in… Continue reading

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was in Red Deer on Friday to provide an update on the province's COVID-19 response in schools.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Alberta government aiming for more financial literacy learning in junior and senior high schools

Government providing grants to organizations who will help design financial literacy programming

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks at a television screen as he listens to United States President Joe Biden deliver a statement during a virtual joint statement following a virtual meeting in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘We hope to help a little more’: Biden says he spoke to Trudeau about more vaccines

WASHINGTON — Canada can look forward to an unexpected shot in the… Continue reading

The Mission Correctional Institution in Mission, B.C. is pictured Tuesday, April 14, 2020. A new federal study found that people released from prison were much more likely than the general population to have trouble finding gainful employment, even over a decade after returning to society. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Ease employment hurdles for former prison inmates, federal study urges

OTTAWA — A new federal study found that people released from prison… Continue reading

Governor of the Bank of Canada Tiff Macklem holds a press conference at the Bank Of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Bank of Canada keeps rate on hold, sees brighter economic outlook

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada is keeping its key interest rate… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. Tam says new information on COVID-19 and variants prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to suddenly cancel its planned update on who should get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
AstraZeneca advice from national panel delayed by new data on COVID-19 and variants

OTTAWA — Canada’s chief public health officer says new information on COVID-19… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks at a television screen as he listens to United States President Joe Biden deliver a statement during a virtual joint statement following a virtual meeting in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pressured to adopt tougher emissions target for Biden climate summit

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under pressure to step up… Continue reading

Passengers from Air India flight 187 from New Delhi wait for their transportation to quarantine after arriving at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
ICU pressures mount as COVID fells younger people; Ottawa mulls India travel ban

TORONTO — Amid mounting pressures on critical care in hospitals and concerns… Continue reading

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Three confidence votes to determine fate of minority Liberal government

OTTAWA — A pair of proposed changes to the federal budget put… Continue reading

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland talks with parents during a virtual discussion on child care in Ottawa, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Freeland is calling for patience and “flexibility” in response to questions about the government’s criteria for reopening the economy and border. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Freeland urges patience as business looks for answers on reopening border, economy

OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is urging Canadian companies to… Continue reading

Most Read