Government policy: Thermal coal mining not consistent with Canadian climate commitments

A press release by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change on June 11 spells the end of thermal coal mining in Canada, stating that the Government considers that new thermal coal mining or expansion projects “are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects and are not aligned with Canada’s domestic and international climate change commitments.”  The specific details of the new policy are here , and are summarized in “Feds toughen permit requirements for thermal coal mining projects” (National Observer, June 11) .  At the same time as the Minister released the thermal coal policy, he officially notified  Coalspur Mines Ltd. that the policy applies to its proposed, controversial thermal coal mine expansion at the Vista Coal Mine near Hinton, Alberta. (the company challenges the federal jurisdiction over its development).  Alberta launched its own review of coal-mining policies in March, with a report promised for November.   

The new federal policy is a welcome improvement, but it applies to thermal coal only, not metallurgical coal which is used for steel-making.  The Grassy Mountain metallurgical coal mining project is currently under federal-provincial review, with a decision due in June.  Andrew Nikoforuk describes the issues of the Grassy Mountain project in The Tyee, in “The Fate of the Canadian Rockies May Rest on This Decision” (May 31). The Narwhal has archived several in-depth article focused on coal in Canada, here.

Talk, but no firm climate plans from G7 meetings in U.K.

The issue of global climate finance was seen as crucial to the success of the meetings of G7 leaders in the U.K. on June 11-13, as outlined in “As leaders gather for G-7, a key question: Will rich countries help poor ones grapple with climate change?” in The Washington Post (June 7). In the meeting aftermath, reaction is muted and disappointed: according to The Guardian headline, “G7 reaffirmed goals but failed to provide funds needed to reach them, experts say”. Guardian reporter Fiona Harvey quotes the executive director of Greenpeace, who says: “The G7 have failed to set us up for a successful Cop26, as trust is sorely lacking between rich and developing countries.”  Common Dreams assembles the harshest reactions of all, in  “On Climate and Covid-19 Emergencies, G7 Judged a ‘Colossal Failure’ for All the World to See” – which quotes the representative from Oxfam, who states that the leaders of the richest nations “have completely failed to meet the challenges of our times. Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world. In the face of these challenges the G7 have chosen to cook the books on vaccines and continue to cook the planet.”  

What did the G7 actually say? The G7 Leaders Communique covered a wide range of topics, with statements about health, economic recovery and jobs, free and fair trade, future frontiers, gender equality, global responsibility and international action – and Climate and the Environment.  As well as the Communique, the G7 leaders approved the Build Back Better World (B3W)  partnership, designed to mobilize private sector capital in four areas—climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality . The B3W statement explicitly states: “The investments will be made in a manner consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.” And in recognition of the importance of biodiversity and conservation in the climate fight, the 2030 G7 Nature Compact pledges new global targets to conserve or protect at least 30% of global land and ocean.

  “Canada Boosts Finance Commitment As G7 Falls Short On Climate, Vaccines” in The Energy Mix  summarizes reaction, including from Oxfam Canada and Climate Action Network Canada – whose full statement is here .  It highlights the “good news” of Canada’s largest-ever climate finance pledge, which doubles our climate finance to $5.36 billion over the next five years for vulnerable nations.  

While the CBC report displays their typical lack of interest in climate issues, the press release from Prime Minister Trudeau’s office placed most emphasis on the climate change issue, describing the leaders’ “bold action”, and continuing:  

“…. the G7 leaders have each committed to increased 2030 targets, which will cut the G7’s collective emissions by around half compared to 2010. .. That’s why Prime Minister Trudeau announced a doubling of Canada’s climate finance, from $2.65 billion in 2015 to $5.3 billion over five years, including increased support for adaptation, as well as nature and nature-based solutions that are in line with the G7 Nature Compact. The Prime Minister also announced Canada will increase its provision of grants to 40 per cent, up from 30 per cent previously, for improved access by impacted communities. This funding will help developing countries build domestic capacity to take climate action, build resiliency, and reduce pollution, including by finding nature-based solutions to climate change like protecting biodiversity and planting trees, and supporting the transition to clean energy and the phasing-out of coal.

….. As G7 Leaders met to discuss climate change, Canada took further action at home to curb harmful coal emissions, announcing a new policy statement on new thermal coal mining and expansion projects that explains that these projects are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects and are not aligned with Canada’s domestic and international climate change commitments.  …..

G7 leaders also adopted the 2030 G7 Nature Compact, committing to conserve and protect at least 30 per cent of global and domestic land and ocean by 2030, which matches Canada’s ambitious domestic target. …”

B.C. consultation on climate adaptation open from June to August

On June 9, British Columbia released a new draft Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy,  to launch a consultation process which will run until August 12 on the government’s public engagement website . The Draft Strategy Paper highlights current actions for 2021-2022, and proposes actions for 2022-25 to address increasing wildfires, more frequent flooding, longer summer droughts and heatwaves, as well as adaptation to slower issues such as changes in growing seasons, ecosystem shifts and sea level rise.   This Strategy document is itself the result of a consultation process, documented here, all of which have been based on the substantive 2019 report, Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia.

Keystone is dead!

On June 9, TC Energy issued a press release announcing that the company, in consultation with the Alberta Government, has terminated the Keystone XL Pipeline project, although it will continue “to co-ordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the project.” The Alberta government had invested over $1 billion in the project as recently as March 2020 , and continued to defend it even after U.S. President Biden rescinded the permit in January 2021. The WCR compiled sources and reactions in January in “President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation – what impact on Canada?”    A new compilation of Alberta Government statements is here .  CBC Calgary describes Keystone XL is dead, and Albertans are on the hook for $1.3B.

Climate activists in Canada and the U.S. rejoiced at the latest news: “‘Keystone XL Is Dead!’: After 10-Year Battle, Climate Movement Victory Is Complete” , and activist Bill McKibben (and others) are hammering home a message of “never give up, activism works!”. The article from Common Dreams quotes Clayton Thomas Muller, longtime KXL opponent and currently a senior campaigns specialist at 350.org in Canada: “This victory is thanks to Indigenous land defenders who fought the Keystone XL pipeline for over a decade. Indigenous-led resistance is critical in the fight against the climate crisis and we need to follow the lead of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, who are leading this fight across the continent and around the world. With Keystone XL cancelled, it’s time to turn our attention to the Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 and the Trans Mountain tar sands pipelines.”     The National Observer expands on this with “Keystone XL is dead, but the fight over Canadian oil rages on” (June 10).  The Indigenous Environmental Network news chronicles the ongoing resistance to pipeline development, as well as the reaction to the Keystone announcement.

Here is a closer look at the TC Energy press release which stated, in part:

“after a comprehensive review of its options, and in consultation with its partner, the Government of Alberta, it has terminated the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. …. We remain grateful to the many organizations that supported the Project and would have shared in its benefits, including our partners, the Government of Alberta and Natural Law Energy, our customers, pipeline building trade unions, local communities, Indigenous groups, elected officials, landowners, the Government of Canada, contractors and suppliers, industry associations and our employees.   

Through the process, we developed meaningful Indigenous equity opportunities and a first-of-its-kind, industry leading plan to operate the pipeline with net-zero emissions throughout its lifecycle. We will continue to identify opportunities to apply this level of ingenuity across our business going forward, including our current evaluation of the potential to power existing U.S. assets with renewable energy. 
  
….Looking forward, there is tremendous opportunity for TC Energy in the energy transition with its irreplaceable asset footprint, financial strength and organizational capabilities positioning it to capture further significant and compelling growth. The Company will continue to build on its 70-year history of success and leverage its diverse businesses in natural gas and liquids transportation along with storage and power generation to continue to meet the growing and evolving demand for energy across the continent.”  

The high health costs of climate change in Canada, focused on heat stress and air pollution

The Health Costs of Climate Change was released in June by the Institute for Climate Choices, the second in their series on the costs of climate change. This report attempts to quantify how air quality, increased cases of Lyme disease, and heat will impact people’s health, using two different GHG scenarios until the year 2100. The report also discusses broader issues such as the socio-economic factors which determine unequal health results, mental health impacts, impacts on Indigenous culture and food security, and the impacts on health infrastructure.  Results show that Lyme disease will be the least costly of the projected impacts, but air pollution and heat threats will increase dramatically – even under the low-emissions scenario, heat-related hospitalization rates will increase by 21 per cent by mid-century and will double by the end of the century. The labour productivity impact of higher temperatures is projected as “a loss of 128 million work hours annually by the end of century—the equivalent of 62,000 full-time equivalent workers, at a cost of almost $15 billion.”  Unlike most reports which focus on the impacts of heat on outdoor workers only, the report acknowledges the impact on indoor space too, and offers some analysis and cost analysis of the installation of green roofs and shading on manufacturing facilities. It concludes with recommendations for government policy, and includes a 10-page bibliography of Canadian health research.  “Climate change is set to cost Canada’s health system billions”  (The National Observer, June 3) summarizes the report.