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Environment minister challenges coal at COP23, but has no plans to ban Canadian coal exports

Westshore Terminals is Canada’s largest exporter of coal – and is the most active single export coal terminal in all of North America. It is located at Roberts Bank in Delta, BC.

The Trudeau government has pledged to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030, but has no plans to ban millions of tonnes of Canadian-mined coal exports, U.S.-mined coal exports out of British Columbia, remove the ‘investment protection’ provision in NAFTA (that would likely prevent such bans), nor call on the Canada Pension Plan to end its $2 billion bid for Rio Tinto coal assets in Australia.

CTV reports, “While rebuking U.S. President Donald Trump’s push to revive the coal power industry, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the federal government has no plans to shutter Canada’s coal exports. …McKenna — fresh off her trip to COP23 where she focused her attention on extolling the virtues of decommissioning coal — said Canada has no plans to ban coal exports to the U.S.”

There are 19 coal mines currently operating in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. The CBC has reported, “Over the past 10 years, Canada’s coal production has remained steady, hovering at 67 to 69 million tonnes of coal produced per year. Canada exported 39.1 million tonnes of coal in 2013.”

In addition, Bloomberg has reported, “94 percent of the 6.6 million metric tons of thermal coal exported from [British Columbia] last year came from the U.S.” B.C. is now the only exporter of thermal coal in the Pacific Northwest given Washington state, Oregon and California have all moved to take steps against thermal coal exports.

It’s highly unlikely that Canada could ban U.S.-mined coal exports from Canadian ports because of the Chapter 11 investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That’s because that provision allows transnational corporations to sue governments for legislation (most commonly environmental laws) that impacts their future profits.

The Trudeau government has said a hard no the U.S. proposal to remove Chapter 11 from NAFTA 2.0. And despite the fact that ‘investment protection’ provisions trump ‘environmental protection’ provisions, the Toronto Star has reported, “McKenna is optimistic that progress can be made on the Liberal government’s goal of bringing tough environmental rules into the heart of a new NAFTA.”

Furthermore, our ally Friends of the Earth Canada has pointed out that the Trudeau government has not spoken out against Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) $2 billion bid for Rio Tinto coal assets in Australia. FOE notes, “The news [of the CPPIB bid] came to light on the same day McKenna announced an alliance with the UK government to lead the push for a coal phase-out at the climate to talks in Bonn.”

FOE adds the CPPIB has invested billions in more than 35 coal companies.

The group adds, “The decisions of the CPP Investment Board are a de facto extension of Canadian foreign policy. This has been true since 1999, when the Board was freed to invest in global markets. The Board recognizes its duty to uphold official policy in other areas, including human rights and landmines. Why not climate change?”

FoE policy advisor John Bennett has also commented, “Globally coal-fired electricity is very large producer of of greenhouse gases. Canada, however relies on coal for a tiny fraction of electricity generation. Canada could have a far greater impact on coal pollution by phasing out the CPPIB’s investment in coal.”

The Council of Canadians calls for a 100 per cent clean energy economy to be in place by 2050 with a strong commitment to just transition strategies.

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