NDP to move bill calling for ban of coal exports as Canadian output booms

NDP to move bill calling for ban of coal exports as Canadian output booms
NDP MP for Victoria Laurel Collins makes her way to the podium to speak during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.

Canadian exports of the kind of coal used to make electricity hit an eight-year high in 2022 despite promises from the Liberal government to work on banning exports completely by the end of the decade.

The Liberals made the promise during the 2021 election and it was listed in Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s mandate letter that December.

In the year that followed, Canada exported more than eight million tonnes of domestically produced thermal coal, a 60 per cent increase over 2021 and more than eight times what was exported in 2018.

That year, thermal coal exports hit a low of one million tonnes before rapidly increasing — doubling to two million tonnes in 2019, almost five million tonnes in 2020 and 5.5 million tonnes in 2021.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Wednesday it is an issue he is quite concerned about. “In the coming months you should see something from us on the coal exports,” he said.

But NDP environment critic Laurel Collins said the increase in exports is “shocking” and the government has waited too long.

“It’s so vital that we get started now,” said Collins, who introduced her own private member’s bill Wednesday to ban thermal coal exports. She’s moving on the issue because the Liberals have not, she added.

“It’s really disheartening given the impact of coal on the climate crisis.”

The bill would outlaw all thermal coal exports, except if the environment minister issues a special permit. Anyone ignoring the law and exporting thermal coal anyway could be fined up to $12 million.

Collins said the ban would take effect within one year of the bill passing but not before the government consults with unions about the impact it could have on their members.

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Bloc QuĂ©bĂ©cois MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval said he is mystified by the NDP pushing legislation now when the party undermined his own attempt to ban thermal coal in December. Barsalou-Duval moved an amendment to add an export ban to bill C-33, which addresses safety and security at Canada’s ports and railways.

He said the NDP then introduced a change to his amendment— which did pass — to delay the ban until 2030.

“I was really disappointed by that,” Barsalou-Duval said. “I don’t understand their position. They voted to diminish the strength of my amendment.”

An NDP official said the subamendment was made to ensure unions and workers are consulted before a ban takes effect, with 2030 the absolute latest for the ban to kick in.

Guilbeault said he hadn’t read Collins’ bill yet but didn’t rule out supporting it if it meets his criteria.

The export data was provided to Collins by the government in an answer to an order paper question she posed in the House of Commons last fall.

The response says the 8.23 million tonnes of thermal coal exported in 2022 would produce 18 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. That’s equivalent to what about four million passenger vehicles would emit in a year.

The answer also included a look at how much coal is exported through Canada, but produced elsewhere. Most of that comes from the United States. Exports of coal through Canada went from eight million tonnes in 2015 to 14 million tonnes in 2018, and then down to 10 million in 2022.

The Liberals have already enacted a policy to phase out coal-fired power plants in Canada by 2030, unless those plants are equipped with technology to trap and store emissions. They have also co-led with the United Kingdom a global “powering past coal” initiative to compel a reduction in coal power worldwide.

Canada’s domestic coal use has plummeted in recent years, even before the Liberal phaseout policy — Ontario’s previous Liberal government moved to close down all of its coal-fired power plants. Only four provinces — Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — still rely on coal to make electricity. Alberta is on track to close its last coal plant later this year.

But as demand in Canada falls, international demand has boomed, setting new records in both 2022 and 2023, according to the International Energy Agency.

Statistics Canada reports that since 2020, international demand for coal has been rising to meet growing needs for power. That demand was exacerbated in 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine, causing a spike in natural gas prices and a coinciding demand for cheaper coal power.

Coal is considered to be the dirtiest source of electricity, producing more emissions than other fossil fuels to make the same amount of energy.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, attending an International Energy Agency ministerial meeting in Paris this week, said there is a growing push around the world to displace coal with renewable energy and the expectation is that demand for coal will peak before the end of this decade.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.

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