Statement by the Government of Canada on thermal coal mining

Our Government understands the importance of Canadian natural resources to our economy and welcomes development that both supports economic activity and is environmentally sustainable. Canadians understand the importance of building our country in a way that will create long-term competitiveness through clean growth. The Government of Canada acknowledges the need to provide industry, investors and Canadians with certainty with respect to policy directions.

Canadians also expect their Government to take strong climate action. International thermal coal contributes 30% of global carbon emissions. Coal remains the largest contributor to climate change, a major source of toxic pollution, and the evidence makes clear that the world must rapidly move beyond it. Early global phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation is urgently required if the world is to avoid a catastrophic increase in global temperatures.

Recently, Canada announced a more ambitious national emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement of 40-45% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 – a target aligned with what science is telling us we must do and that is equally in line with the scale of the economic opportunity that climate action presents.

With carbon pollution from coal electricity being a leading contributor to climate change, in 2018 the federal government introduced regulations to phase out conventional coal-fired electricity across Canada by 2030.

Canada has also played a leading role internationally in advancing the phase out of coal-fired electricity globally by co-leading the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), alongside the United Kingdom. To date, the PPCA has facilitated the scheduled closure of over one third of the total coal power capacity in countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) through retirement commitments and phase-out policies.

Further, on May 21, G7 countries, including the United States and Canada, collectively recognized publicly that international investments in unabated coal must stop now. These countries committed to taking concrete steps towards an end of government investment for unabated international thermal coal power generation projects by the end of 2021.

The global phase-out of emissions from coal power is the most important initial step towards achieving Paris Agreement goals. To provide greater certainty to investors, the mining sector and Canadians generally, the Government of Canada is today clarifying its position on new thermal coal mines and expansion projects in this country.

The continued mining and use of coal for energy production anywhere in the world is not environmentally sustainable and does not align with the Government of Canada’s commitments, both domestically and internationally, with respect to combatting climate change. Accordingly, the Government of Canada considers that any new thermal coal mining projects, or expansions of existing thermal coal mines in Canada, are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects. This position will inform federal decision making on thermal coal mining projects.

Under the Impact Assessment Act, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change or Governor in Council must determine that the effects within federal jurisdiction likely to be caused by a project are in the public interest, if a project is to move forward. This decision is informed by whether the project contributes to sustainability, whether it hinders or contributes to Canada’s ability to meet its commitments in respect of climate change, and other relevant matters.  

This Policy Statement on thermal coal mining will be an important consideration in the Minister’s or Governor in Council’s determination under the Act, as to whether the effects within federal jurisdiction caused by proposed new thermal coal mines or expansions of existing coal mines are in the public interest of Canadians.  

Similarly, this policy statement will inform the Minister’s use of the discretionary authority under section 9 of the Act to designate any proposed new thermal coal project or expansion that is not listed in the Physical Activities Regulations, and the Minister’s opinion, under section 17 of the Act, about whether a designated project would cause unacceptable environmental effects within federal jurisdiction before the commencement of an assessment.  

Phasing out coal power generation in Canada will protect the air we breathe, eliminating 12.8 million tonnes of carbon pollution from our atmosphere in 2030. This will also help the country avoid an estimated 260 premature deaths, 40,000 asthma episodes and 190,000 days of breathing difficulty for Canadians everywhere. As we make the transition to cleaner energy, protecting coal workers and coal communities will be front and centre of that transition.

The best available science and economic analysis calls for countries around the world to address the global challenge that is climate change, and fully seize the economic opportunities that it presents. Coal is the largest source of global temperature increase that accounts for close to one third of current carbon dioxide emissions. Rapid advances in innovation and global market shifts have also led to decreasing costs of cleaner sources of energy and have increased their availability. It is in this context that the continued mining of and use of thermal coal for energy production energy in the world runs counter to what is needed to effectively combat climate change and seize the economic opportunities that it presents.

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