The Cable

Unlike Trump, Trudeau Plans a Cold Farewell to Canadian Coal Power

America has taken a markedly different political path than its northern neighbor. Canada’s pledge to end coal power is the latest example.


The debate over coal power is lighting up in both the United States and its northern neighbor. But as President-elect Donald Trump looks to refire the ailing U.S. coal industry when he steps into the Oval Office, Canada now has plans to phase its own coal power out.

On Monday, Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna rolled out a new plan to phase out the country’s coal-burning electricity plants by 2030. “Taking traditional coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of Canadians, and benefit generations for years to come,” McKenna told reporters. Ottawa aims to ensure sustainable resources provide 90 percent of Canada’s electricity by 2030; it is currently providing 80 percent.

Trudeau’s environmental policies juxtapose those of President-elect Donald Trump, a vocal climate change skeptic who pledged to revitalize the struggling U.S. coal industry and threatened to pull the United States from the landmark international Paris climate agreement.

Public health drove Canada’s decision as much as environmental concerns. “Clean power is healthy power. Phasing out coal-fired electricity will translate into cleaner, more breathable air for Canadians and lower rates of respiratory illness,” Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott said.

Trudeau plans to iron out the details of Canada’s national climate change plan during a December meeting with all the provinces’ first ministers. He is not the first world leader to do so; France, Austria, Denmark, Britain, and the Netherlands also have all taken similar steps to phase coal out of their national power plans.

But not everyone is happy about the announcement. “These actions have severely undermined the December meeting and have exposed the prime minister’s disingenuous commitment to federal-provincial collaboration,” Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said. Saskatchewan relies heavily on fossil fuels for electricity production, as does Alberta.

Industry experts also worry about the economic cost of such a policy. In a Monday statement, the Coal Association of Canada said the government’s plan “will result in job losses across the country and increase the cost of electricity for impacted Canadians.”

Canada’s coal power debate — the economic versus environmental costs — largely mirrors that of the United States. The U.S. coal industry has taken a hit in recent years, which Trump made a centerpiece of his campaign. During President Barack Obama’s first term, one study found the American industry lost 50,000 jobs. Many industry experts blame federal regulation, but experts warn that the downturn could continue under Trump as cheaper alternative fuel sources, including shale gas, proliferate.

Coal power comprises 11 percent of Canada’s electricity generation, but nearly 70 percent of the electricity sector’s greenhouse gas production, according to the Globe and Mail.

Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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