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Canada’s coal exports rise again in 2023 as government’s promised ban remains elusive

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OTTAWA –

Canadian thermal coal exports grew another 7 percent last year, reaching the highest level in nearly a decade.

The boom in exports of the type of coal burned to generate electricity comes as Canada leads the battle to end the use of coal as an energy source around the world, including at home.

The Liberals also promised three years ago that all thermal coal exports from Canada would cease by 2030, but exports have increased by almost 20 per cent since that promise was made.

Statistics released this month by the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert show 19.5 million tonnes of thermal coal were exported through their terminals last year.

That’s up from just over 18 million tonnes in 2022 and is nearly double the amount Canada exported in 2015, when the Liberals took power.

In 2022, more than half of Canada’s exports were coal produced in the United States, primarily in Wyoming and Montana, and shipped by rail to Vancouver and then across the Pacific. Most U.S. West Coast ports will no longer allow thermal coal exports, said Fraser Thomson, an attorney at Ecojustice.

Thomson said the Canadian government must step in and keep its promise to stop both exports of Canadian products and coal coming from the United States through Canada.

“There’s really no time to waste,” he said.

“They promised it in 2021 and we have seen the price of inaction. Coal exports continue to rise, this problem is getting worse and it is not going to solve itself. This requires definitive action , and the federal government is the government that can do it.”

Coal is considered the dirtiest fuel for generating electricity in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. When burned, it produces almost twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas to produce the same amount of energy.

Global coal consumption increased in 2022, partly due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which led to a surge in gas prices. The International Energy Agency said in its most recent forecast that it believed demand for thermal coal may have peaked in 2023.

China accounts for more than half of global thermal coal consumption, and India almost 15 percent.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said last month he planned to announce a plan to phase out coal exports later this year.

NDP MP Laurel Collins, tired of waiting for Guilbeault to act, introduced a private member’s bill in February aimed at forcing an end to coal exports. The bill has not yet been debated.

She said Friday she was exasperated by the continued increase in coal exports.

“Even after I filed my motion, they just kept repeating the same thing they’ve been saying for years now, that they intend to phase out thermal coal exports and yet the facts refute their claims. No action has been taken.”

Collins said some workers whose jobs depend on coal need a transition plan and time to adjust to different industries. If the government does not act quickly, there will not be enough time for this adjustment and workers will suffer the consequences.

She also said Canada has been hailed as a leader in the fight against coal power, yet continues to export the problem.

Canada and the United Kingdom also launched the Global Powering Past Coal Alliance seven years ago to encourage all countries to reduce the use of coal as an energy source.

Domestic consumption of coal-fired power in Canada has fallen dramatically, helped by Ontario’s decision to close all of its coal-fired power plants. The last one in this province closed its doors in 2014.

Alberta’s last two coal-fired power plants will switch to natural gas this year.

Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are the only other provinces that rely heavily on coal, but regulations force them to shut them down, switch to gas or equip them with emissions capture technology by 2030.

Despite all this, Thomson said Canada continues to ship coal overseas.

“When the Liberals banned the burning of coal in this country, the idea was that the coal mines that supplied these power plants would be shut down and that industry would eventually transition,” he said.

“What we have seen since then is that domestic coal production has tripled, and the government seems to be doing nothing about it despite promises to tackle it.”

Almost all thermal coal produced in Canada comes from coal mines in Alberta and is exported, primarily to Asia, from ports in British Columbia.

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