Because it’s 2016: Time for Canada to put coal-fired power in the history books

We need to start with greening our grid

The rapidly decreasing costs of alternatives, like renewable energy, makes moving away from coal-fired power a no-brainer. Photo: David Dodge, Pembina Institute

With Canadian political leaders currently negotiating the first ever pan-Canadian climate plan, it’s clearly a critical time for climate action in Canada. For this plan to be credible, it must set Canada up to achieve its 2030 climate target, and deeper emissions cuts by mid-century.

In our view, this must include a nation-wide phase-out of coal-fired power by 2030 at the latest. Phasing out this 19th century technology will have benefits for all Canadians – not only for the climate, but for health and economic reasons as well. Our report, which was released today with a coalition of 14 other leading health and environment organizations across the country, quantifies the heath and economic benefits across the country were the Trudeau government to commit to this policy.  

The numbers don’t lie: phasing out coal is a no-brainer for the health of Canadians and our climate. By accelerating the phase-out, Canadians would avoid 1,008 additional premature deaths, 128,800 asthma episodes and $5 billion in health system costs, to name a few benefits. Implementing a coal phase-out by 2030 would double the health benefits of the current federal coal regulations.

Health and economic benefits associated with air quality improvements from a Canada-wide coal phase-out by 2030

Canada still has 34 operating coal-fired units: they’re located in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Alberta has already announced that they will be phasing out coal by 2030, and Ontario completed its coal phase-out in 2014. It’s time for the federal government to follow provincial action and implement a phase-out in the remaining three provinces. 

Burning coal affects the health of almost all Canadians, even in non-coal burning provinces. Health impacts from coal are found in all provinces (except British Columbia and the territories, due to wind patterns) as the pollutants from coal-fired plants move across provinces. Pollutants from coal are found to contribute to heart and lung diseases, aggravate asthma, and increase premature deaths and hospital visits. Phasing out coal-fired power is not just an environmental issue – as our health partners will attest, it’s a significant health issue affecting all Canadians that has a tangible impact on our economy.

A credible climate plan starts with a phase out of coal-fired power

To decarbonize our economy, we need to start with greening our grid. Phasing out coal is actually low-hanging fruit to get to this goal, because coal is the most carbon intensive source of electricity in Canada. Coal only provides 11% of Canada’s electricity, but makes up 72% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the electricity sector. Decarbonizing our grid is the prelude to the electrification of our energy system, which will ultimately decouple greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth.

Canadians get that coal needs to go. There is increasingly vocal public support to phase-out coal, for the sake of the environment and public health. The David Suzuki Foundation has collected almost 35,000 signatures calling for coal to be replaced with renewables. A recent survey commissioned by Clean Energy Canada, done by Nanos Research, shows that most Canadians favour a quicker end to coal power. And, even with president-elect Trump south of the border, a recent survey from Abacus Data has found that 72% of Canadians support continued climate action in Canada.

Canadians aren’t alone in their support for strong climate action. International momentum is growing, especially since the 2015 climate talks in Paris. Leading jurisdictions like New York state, Austria and the UK are phasing out coal before 2025. And, just this week France announced they are phasing out coal by 2023. Were Canada to accelerate its phase-out, it would be in good company.

There is no doubt about it – coal is an antiquated, 19th century technology and the world is moving on. The rapidly decreasing costs of alternatives, like renewable energy, makes moving away from coal-fired power a no-brainer. We’re calling on the prime minister and premiers to take action on this undeniable reality, and implement a national accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power by 2030. Coal’s place is in our history books – not in our energy system.