Alberta’s leadership on coal getting noticed internationallyOther jurisdictions are watching

Blog - Dec. 5, 2016 - By Binnu Jeyakumar

I had the privilege last week to attend a workshop in Potsdam, Germany, organized by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies focused on understanding coal phase-outs around the world. Participants from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK, Alberta and Ontario spoke about the various stages of coal phase-out plans they were engaged in. Something became apparent pretty early on: the coal phase-out conversation is not necessarily tied to a particular political ideology. Even in Alberta, the late premier Jim Prentice proposed a coal phase-out in the province before the NDP government took the baton. In Ontario it was a multi-party committee that first agreed to phase out coal. All of the European jurisdictions had figured out that carbon pricing alone – especially under the existing system and prices – is not an effective approach to phasing out coal power.

I guess it’s no surprise then that we now have three (Canada, UK and France) of the G7 countries with a coal phase-out commitment. Many more countries and U.S. states are expected to follow. Even in less progressive jurisdictions, the perception of coal has changed. As one of our European colleagues put it, “the picture of coal as something that can last for years — thousands of years or so based on supply — has changed to something that has an end date.”

It was also interesting to hear announcements regarding Alberta’s electricity system as we discussed best practices for phase-out policy and implementation. As we eagerly huddled around a laptop with poor sound quality trying to listen to Premier Notley answering questions regarding the electricity rate cap, it became clear to me how much these other jurisdictions are watching Alberta.

All the key pieces that we are trying to figure out are issues these countries are acutely aware of and are keen to see what Alberta can teach the world. Dealing with incumbent generators, having a just plan to transition labour out of the coal industry, working with affected communities and attracting investment into alternative power sources are all crucial components to get right in the phase-out.

I’ve lamented many times the loose use of the phrase “climate leadership,” and toyed with the idea of what it would take to license that term. But sitting in the room with colleagues from different parts of the world trying to figure out the coal puzzle, I can definitely see Alberta and Canada as emerging leaders for the issue.

Watch our website for a detailed summary of what we learned from the workshop participants.


Binnu Jeyakumar

Binnu is the director of the Pembina Institute's electricity program. She is based in Calgary.


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