This opinion piece was originally published by iPolitics on March 21, 2022.
At a time of global conflict, disastrous climate change and the increased visibility of immense human sufferings, it can be easy to lose faith in progress.
We cannot lose faith that a better world is possible. The need for a future that is safe and sustainable for everybody on this planet should be all the more urgent at a time when we are reminded on a daily basis of the pain and loss caused by insecurity and destruction.
The last report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released just two weeks ago, warned that there is a “rapidly narrowing” window available to humanity to evade a climate catastrophe. Governments must heed the IPCC’s warning and take all available options now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save the health of the planet.
We are fast approaching Earth Day, a time when people around the world express their hope that we can make this planet a better place for all life. This year, Earth Day could be shrouded by a sense of suffering, pain, and loss.
But it doesn’t have to be. There are actions that our elected decision-makers must take urgently to address the climate crisis. One of these is following through on their commitment to ban the export of thermal coal. In the last election the Liberals promised to do this, but we’re still waiting for a roadmap of the next steps. Announcing this roadmap before Earth Day would be an important signal that they are taking this issue seriously.
Thermal coal is the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel – a 19th-century product that has no place in the modern world.
While thermal coal is being phased out as a source of energy in Canada, we continue to export millions of tonnes of thermal coal each year, including American coal, for sale in other countries.
Canada’s continued role as an exporter of U.S. and Canadian thermal coal undermines this country’s ability to become a climate leader and build a brighter future.
Port authorities’ data shows that Canada exports between 10 and 13 million tonnes of American thermal coal each year through the Port of Vancouver, and 5 million tonnes of Canadian coal through the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
Burning coal is one of the most significant driving factors of climate change. A report by the IEA found that coal was the “single largest source of global temperature increase” in 2018. The same report found that coal-fired electricity generation accounts for 30 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
According to the UN Environment Program, global coal development must decline by 11 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030 in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C. In other words, action must be taken now and bold leadership is needed.
Not only does coal burning contribute to rising emissions, but it also destroys people’s health. Air pollutants from coal plants have been linked to chronic heart and respiratory disease and a host of acute ailments. Burning thermal coal is responsible for more than 800,000 premature deaths globally.
And the impact of coal is not just felt in other countries. The continued extraction of coal from Canadian mines for sale abroad has a direct impact on communities here, especially on Indigenous Peoples. Open pit coal mines can be devastating to water sources and traditional food sources that have been depended upon since time immemorial. The extraction of coal in Canada often takes place in contravention to the principle of free, prior and informed consent under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Canada, to its credit, has taken a lead on the global stage through its involvement in the Powering Past Coal Alliance. It has banned any new thermal coal mining and is putting an end to its burning coal for electricity at home. The federal government has even committed to sealing the deal, having promised to ban the exports of thermal coal during last year’s federal election and recommitted to this promise at COP26. This was even echoed in the mandate letters to members of cabinet.
But in the wake of the IPCC report, it becomes clearer that the sooner governments take action on the climate emergency, the better the chances are for the entire world to avoid disaster and needless human suffering.
There is no time to waste. To prove that Canada is serious about being a true climate leader, the federal government must formalize a ban of thermal coal exports by the end of their current mandate.
If we can’t take the relatively easy step of banning thermal coal exports, what does this mean for more complex decision-making needed to fight the climate emergency?
The federal government must put the steps in motion to implement this ban as quickly as possible. By Earth Day, they must announce their roadmap for banning thermal coal exports.
In a world in crisis, we still have the power to build a brighter future. The federal government must lead from the front and ban the export of thermal coal by 2023.