Canada aligning with U.K. to fight global growth in coal-fired electricity

OTTAWA — Canada is joining forces with the United Kingdom to push for a global crackdown on unabated coal-fired electricity.

Eliminating, or at least reducing, the world’s reliance on coal is a critical step in the Paris climate change accord’s efforts to prevent the planet from warming more than two degrees Celsius over with pre-industrial times.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is on a two-day trip to the U.K. and Ireland this week, pushing Canada as a global leader on climate change action.

Today she will be in Ireland to be a panellist at a climate risk conference in Dublin and tour Ireland’s Marine Institute in Galway.

During Wednesday’s stop in London she and Claire Perry, British minister of state for climate change and industry, announced plans to use their own national commitments to phase out coal power plants as a means to convince others to do the same.

In a statement, the two said Canada and the U.K. are both committed to phasing out unabated coal use at home — Canada by 2030 and the U.K. by 2025 — and they are inviting others to jump on board during the next United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany in November.

Unabated coal plants are those built without carbon capture or storage, which reduces their emissions significantly.

About 40 per cent of the world’s power is generated from burning coal and in Canada one-tenth of electricity comes from coal plants.

“All the models show you one of the key things that has to happen if we’re going to get anywhere close to our climate change commitments is that coal has to exit the energy mix as fast as possible and that means government intervention to cut it out,” said Rob Bailey, research director of energy, environment and resources at Chatham House, a British independent policy think tank.

McKenna was the closing keynote speaker at Chatham House’s climate change conference Wednesday but Bailey said he hadn’t yet heard about Canada and Britain’s plans.

“The devil is in the details of all these things, but that is exactly the kind of thing they should be doing,” said Bailey. ”I think that’s very positive.”

He said he’d also like to see Canada push for a coal phase-out commitment as part of the G7 talks, which Canada will host next spring in Charlevoix, Que.

Bailey said when U.S. President Donald Trump decided to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, he left a big leadership gap, noting without joint leadership of China and the U.S. under President Barack Obama, the Paris agreement would never have been possible.

Bailey said the next big step for Paris is that in 2020 the signatories are expected to resubmit their national emissions reductions targets, which have to get more ambitious if the two degree goal has any hope. He said if China and the U.S. stepped up with more ambitious plans others would have followed them.

Now it’s going to need a coalition of countries to take the U.S.’s place because no one nation on its own is as wealthy, powerful or influential as the U.S. The U.K. and Canada both have the kind of national climate change plans that give them authority on the matter internationally and Bailey said they now need to really use it.

“They need to build the tent,” he said. “The more rich countries and developing countries they can bring in on coal or other aspects of the climate agenda the better.”

He noted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s international position helps.

“You have a prime minister who is high-profile internationally, charismatic, dynamic,” he said. ”A lot of this does come down to personalities at the end of the day and that’s somebody who could potentially catalyze things if they invest the political time in a diplomatic effort.”

Urgewald, a German environmental organization, in June, released a list of 850 new coal-fired plants on tap to be built in 62 nations, including 33 which currently don’t burn much, if any coal, to make electricity. If they are all built it will increase coal-fired power production 45 per cent.

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