Am­bi­tious Cana­dian coal plan vul­ner­a­ble to provin­cial ‘slip­page,’ crit­ics say

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON -

Canada’s drive to shut down all of its coal-fired power plants by 2030 could be un­der­mined by provin­cial side-deals like the one cur­rently be­ing ne­go­ti­ated with Nova Sco­tia, crit­ics say.

“A 2030 date, over­all for Canada, is achiev­able and am­bi­tious — it strikes that sweet spot,” Erin Flanagan, fed­eral pro­gram di­rec­tor at the Pem­bina In­sti­tute, said Tues­day.

“We don’t want to see any pol­icy slip­page dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions ... We want to make sure that each of the prov­inces is held to the same stan­dard and they are do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to fa­cil­i­tate that coal-to-clean process.”

Flanagan, in Bonn, Ger­many, for the 2017 United Na­tions cli­mate change talks, said fed­eral En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna is win­ning ku­dos for her high-pro­file bid to lobby other coun­tries and states to com­mit to a 2030 dead­line.

But Flanagan said Canada has plenty of work to do be­fore it reaches that tar­get.

Since the fed­eral and provin­cial govern­ments share re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­ergy and the en­vi­ron­ment, the prov­inces have the op­tion of im­ple­ment­ing the new fed­eral rule through so-called equiv­a­lency agree­ments, which are aimed at achiev­ing equiv­a­lent en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes.

Nova Sco­tia is push­ing for an ex­emp­tion that could see the prov­ince us­ing coal-fired plants well be­yond 2030. Last Novem­ber, Ot­tawa and the prov­ince agreed to that idea in prin­ci­ple, with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment rec­og­niz­ing that Nova Sco­tia has al­ready met Canada’s tar­get of a 30-per-cent re­duc­tion in green­house emis­sions from 2005 lev­els.

As well, Nova Sco­tia is on track to gen­er­ate 40 per cent of its en­ergy from re­new­able sources by 2020 — an am­bi­tious goal set in 2010 when al­most 90 per cent of its elec­tric­ity was gen­er­ated by fos­sil fu­els.

How­ever, the prov­ince has pre­vi­ously pro­jected that coal would con­tinue to play some part in its en­ergy mix un­til 2042. Pre­mier Stephen McNeil has said the longer tran­si­tion away from coal will help re­duce the “sticker shock” for elec­tric­ity con­sumers.

While it’s true Nova Sco­tia has had great suc­cess in re­duc­ing its green­house gas emis­sions, Flanagan said she is con­cerned the ex­emp­tion may prompt other prov­inces to back­slide.

“It might be tempt­ing for a ju­ris­dic­tion like Saskatchewan to say, ‘Hey, (Nova Sco­tia) is keep­ing their coal on the grid un­til 2040,” she said.

“It’s quite im­por­tant for us to ask ques­tions about how they will be us­ing this tool. It’s likely to have big-time im­pli­ca­tions.”

Speak­ing in Manila on Tues­day, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau called coal the “dirt­i­est of all fos­sil fu­els,” adding that re­duc­ing its use was one of the great­est chal­lenges to meet­ing cli­mate change tar­gets.

The use of coal-fired gen­er­at­ing plants in Al­berta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Sco­tia ac­counts for 10 per cent of Canada’s to­tal green­house gas emis­sions. On­tario has al­ready shut down all of its coal-fired plants, and Al­berta has com­mit­ted to do­ing the same by 2030, though the plan in that prov­ince is to mainly use an­other fos­sil fuel: nat­u­ral gas.

Stephen Thomas, en­ergy cam­paign co-or­di­na­tor with the Halifax-based Ecol­ogy Ac­tion Cen­tre, said the equiv­a­lency deals are cru­cial.

“It’s crit­i­cal that we pay re­ally close at­ten­tion to what ac­tu­ally comes up,” he said. “It could be quite far from what is ac­tu­ally the in­tent of this 2030 phase out.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist David Suzuki said Tues­day Canada is good at mak­ing com­mit­ments on be­half of the prov­inces, but bad at fol­low­ing through.

As an ex­am­ple, he cited for­mer Con­ser­va­tive en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Lu­cien Bouchard, who in 1988 told Suzuki that global warn­ing was the most im­por­tant is­sue fac­ing the planet be­cause it threat­ened hu­man sur­vival.

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