The federal government will no longer approve new thermal coal mines or mine expansions, after Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson released a policy statement pinpointing coal as a source of greenhouse gas emissions and other “unacceptable environmental impacts”.
The statement specifically identifies the proposed Vista coal mine expansion in Alberta as a project that will be affected by the policy.
“New thermal coal mining projects or expansions are not in line with the ambition Canadians want to see on climate, or with Canada’s domestic and international climate commitments,” Wilkinson said Friday, on the eve of the annual G7 summit in the United Kingdom. “Eliminating coal-fired power and replacing it with cleaner sources is an essential part of the transition to a low-carbon economy, and as a result, building new thermal coal mines for energy production is not sustainable.”
The Environment and Climate Change Canada release says the policy will eliminate 12.8 million tonnes of carbon pollution and prevent 260 premature deaths, 40,000 asthma episodes, and 190,000 days of “breathing difficulty” in 2030.
“Canada produced 57 million tonnes of coal in 2019, of which less than half—47%—is thermal coal used to generate electricity, with the remainder being metallurgical coal used for steelmaking,” Bloomberg Green reports. “Coal-fired electricity supplies less than 10% of the country’s needs and the government has previously said it will be phased out entirely by 2030. Ninety-five percent of Canada’s 2019 coal exports were metallurgical coal.”
Bloomberg adds that “a much larger source of carbon emissions comes from the country’s oil sands production, which requires vast amounts of energy to extract bitumen from open-pit mines.”
But climate groups still welcomed the federal announcement.
“Today’s news sounds the death knell for thermal coal mining in Canada,” said Ecojustice lawyer Alan Andrews. “It means coal companies that want to build new mines or expand their operations—as is the case with Coalspur’s Vista mine—must pass an impact assessment and demonstrate how a project’s benefits will outweigh its inevitable environmental harms.”
Against the backdrop of the climate emergency, “this will be an increasingly difficult bar to clear,” Andrews added. “In most cases, the climate math simply won’t work out.”
Wilkinson’s formal notice to Coalspur, issued in tandem with the policy statement, made clear “that the Vista mine] would have unacceptable effects on the environment and cannot be in the public interest,” Ecojustice added in a release. “This is a clear signal that the project—which would make Vista the largest thermal coal mine in North America—will not receive the federal approval it needs to proceed.”
“This is a great step towards mitigating climate change, and a decisive step away from an industry that does not have a future,” said Binnu Jeyakumar, director of clean energy at the Calgary-based Pembina Institute. “As with all climate policies, we need to also ensure that help is provided to workers and communities impacted by this transition.”
“Thermal coal mining belongs in the past,” and “Canada has already committed to phase out coal-powered electricity,” added Julia Levin, senior climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence Canada. “However, to fully power past coal, the final step is for Canada to end its practice of exporting Canadian and U.S. thermal coal around the world.”