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Of all the empty ges­tures in the pa­thetic his­tory of global climate pol­icy-mak­ing, few match the air-head­ed­ness of Canada’s in­tent — to be of­fi­cially an­nounced Thurs­day at the United Na­tions COP23 climate con­fer­ence in Bonn — to lead a global cam­paign to rid the world of car­bon-emit­ting coal.

By any mea­sure, Canada is a no­body in the coal busi­ness, rank­ing near the bot­tom of all global mea­sures of the in­dus­try, worth less than one per cent of global pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion. Canada is a non-player, a zero, an in­signif­i­cant speck on the great world coal mar­ket.

But that isn’t stop­ping En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna, don­ning her Climate Crusader Hal­loween out­fit, from swoosh­ing into COP23 to take on the world. “Canada is com­mit­ted to phas­ing out coal,” she said. Not just in Canada. “We’ve cre­ated an al­liance with the U.K., we’re go­ing to get other coun­tries around the world to help sup­port mov­ing for­ward on a coal phase-out. Coal is not only the most pol­lut­ing fos­sil fuel but it’s also ter­ri­ble for health.”

At last re­port, McKenna had re­cruited Italy and the Nether­lands to join her anti-coal cru­sade. Italy, the Nether­lands and the United King­dom are just like us: tiny play­ers in coal, but big play­ers in the great­est climate in­dus­try of all, po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing.

It’s been 25 years since the 1992 Rio Earth Sum­mit es­tab­lished the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Climate Change. Over the quar­ter-cen­tury through 22 Con­ven­tions of the Par­ties and as­sorted pro­to­cols and agree­ments, from Ky­oto to Copen­hagen to Can­cun to Paris, the great in­ter­na­tional climate-con­trol ma­chine has pro­duced mil­lions of words and kept tens of thou­sands of bu­reau­crats and NGOs, cor­po­rate-sus­tain­abil­ity ex­ec­u­tives and politi­cians busy agree­ing to con­tinue to agree to do some­thing about what they all agree is an ur­gent global cri­sis.

The hall­mark of the an­nual Con­ven­tions of the Par­ties (COP) events is po­lit­i­cal grand­stand­ing sur­rounded by spec­ta­cle that leads nowhere. It leads nowhere for good rea­son.

The calls to put an end to the use of fos­sil fu­els such as coal keep run­ning up against the real­ity that con­tin­ued use of fos­sil fu­els is es­sen­tial to in­creas­ing eco­nomic growth and pros­per­ity for all the world’s peo­ple.

Wind and so­lar can never pro­vide the en­ergy needed to power and feed the world. They can­not re­place coal or oil or gas.

There are no real al­ter­na­tives to fos­sil fu­els. But the UN ma­chine, 25 years af­ter its cre­ation, keeps spin­ning out empty plans, pro­pos­als, pro­to­cols and schemes.

And now Canada has of­fered the UN one of its own empty-headed schemes: sav­ing the world from coal.

Here’s a rough rank­ing of the world’s coal-con­sum­ing na­tions (as listed by end­ and ranked by megawatts of gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity and per­cent­age share of global ca­pac­ity:

Most of th­ese coun­tries, along with oth­ers around the world, have new coal plants un­der con­struc­tion that, com­bined, will add new global ca­pac­ity of 263,961 megawatts in com­ing years. Still more coal plants are in the plan­ning stage. Canada, mean­while, has zero coal plants un­der con­struc­tion and an ex­ist­ing few plants with a ca­pac­ity of 9,809 megawatts, equiv­a­lent to 0.45 per cent of world ca­pac­ity.

By an­nounc­ing Ot­tawa’s anti-coal cru­sade, McKenna ef­fec­tively de­clared climate war on other na­tions. No, not the United States, al­though me­dia re­ports in­stantly po­si­tioned her move as a brush off to Trump. As Canada the Climate Crusader flew into Bonn to fight coal, the United States — which some say is shap­ing up to be the world’s en­ergy su­per­power — staged an event pro­mot­ing clean coal as the way of the fu­ture.

By go­ing af­ter coal, Ot­tawa and McKenna have staked out a tricky geopo­lit­i­cal po­si­tion. While McKenna pos­tured in Bonn against the U.S. and coal, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau was in Manila, at­tempt­ing to charm the Asians. On Mon­day he met with lead­ers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN), a group of 10 coun­tries with big plans to con­tinue to boost eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. And they plan to do it with coal.

ASEAN mem­ber in­clude In­done­sia, Viet­nam, Thai­land and the Philip­pines, all of which have big coal projects in the works. Did Trudeau lean in on the Philip­pines’ leader and whis­per, “Lis­ten, for­get those coal plants or I’ll send my en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter af­ter you?” Viet­nam is also a ma­jor coal pro­ducer ea­ger to sup­ply the re­gion with the coal it needs.

At a meet­ing in Septem­ber, ASEAN en­ergy min­is­ters re­viewed fore­casts that clean coal would al­low the re­gion to in­crease coal’s share of power gen­er­a­tion in the re­gion from 32 per cent to 50 per cent by 2040. In a state­ment, the en­ergy min­is­ters said they “dis­cussed the out­look through 2040 on the ris­ing coal use in the re­gion and reaf­firmed the need for in­creased pro­mo­tion of clean coal tech­nolo­gies (CCT). They ac­knowl­edged the con­tin­u­ing role of coal in ad­dress­ing the en­ergy se­cu­rity, eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness, and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity in the re­gion.”

Coal power is abun­dant and af­ford­able, and ex­perts say clean coal can help sup­ply the world’s de­vel­op­ing na­tions with the new en­ergy it needs to grow and pros­per. This is one case where the world meet­ing in Bonn does not need more Canada and its cru­sad­ing politi­cians.

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