Canada’s coal exports to rise in 2023 despite federal government targets

Since the federal government promised that Canada’s thermal coal exports would stop by 2030, shipments have increased almost 20 per cent.

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OTTAWA – Canadian thermal coal exports rose another seven per cent last year, reaching the highest level in almost a decade.

The boom in exports of the type of coal that is burned to produce electricity comes as Canada leads a campaign to end the use of coal as an energy source around the world.

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Statistics released this month by the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert show that 19.5 million tonnes of thermal coal were exported through their terminals last year.

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That’s just over 18 million tonnes in 2022 and is almost double the amount Canada exported in 2015, when the Liberals took power.

Fraser Thomson, a lawyer at Ecojustice, says he believes some companies know their thermal coal shipping days are numbered and are trying to get out as much as they can before they are cut off.

Coal is considered the dirtiest fuel for producing electricity when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. It produces almost twice as much carbon dioxide when burned as natural gas to produce the same amount of energy.

Global coal use expanded in 2022, in part because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused gas prices to rise. The International Energy Agency said in its most recent forecast that it believes demand for thermal coal may have peaked in 2023.

China accounts for more than half of global thermal coal use and India nearly 15 percent.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said last month he hopes to announce a plan to phase out coal exports later this year.

NDP MP Laurel Collins grew tired of waiting for Guilbeault to act and in February introduced a private member’s bill to force an end to coal exports. The bill has not yet been debated.

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Canada and the United Kingdom also launched the Global Powering Past Coal Alliance seven years ago to encourage all countries to reduce their use of coal as an energy source.

Dramatic decline in the use of coal as an energy source in Canada

Domestic use of coal-fired power in Canada has declined sharply, helped by Ontario’s decision to close all of its coal-fired power plants. The last one in that province closed in 2014.

Alberta’s last two coal plants will transition to natural gas this year.

Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are the only other provinces that rely significantly on coal, but regulations require them to shut down, transition to gas or equip them with emissions capture technology by 2030.

Despite all that, Thomson said Canada continues to ship coal abroad.

“What happened when the Liberals proposed an effective ban on burning coal nationally, the idea was that the coal mines that supplied those plants would close and eventually that industry would transition,” he said.

“What we have seen since then is that domestic coal production has tripled, and the government appears to be doing nothing about it despite promises to address it.”

Almost all of the thermal coal Canada produces comes from Alberta coal mines and is exported, primarily to Asia, from ports in British Columbia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2024.

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