Coal & Climate Change [Draft 1.0]

Coal-Generated Electricity, Climate Change, and the Paris Agreement

Why is the Phasing of Coal-Generated Electricity Important?

The 2016 Paris Agreement, an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, aims to keep the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; and to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.  Furthermore, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Special Report Global Warming of 1.5°C, a near-total reduction in the use of coal and other fossil fuels for electricity generation by 2050 is necessary if the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement is to be reached, with reductions of approximately two-thirds by 2030.  Of critical importance to achieving the aforementioned goals is the need for G20 countries - the biggest users and exporters of coal - to undergo a complete phase-out of coal-generated energy.  

Coal-Generated Electricity: Facts & Figures (2012-2017)

The below facts and figures were taken directly from a recent report released by Climate Transparencyan international organization comprised of 14 global environmental groups that track climate action among the G20. 
  • 0.9% decrease in coal-generated energy among G20 countries; 
  • Absolute coal supply has decreased rapidly in the UK, Italy, the EU, U.S., France, and Canada;
  • The share of renewables in the G20 energy mix has increased;
  • Most G20 countries are constructing or planning to construct additional coal plants;
  • The biggest additions in new coal capacity are planned in China (199GW), India (94GW), Turkey (37)GW) and Indonesia (27GW); 
  • Turkey will be tripling its coal capacity and Indonesia will double its capacity.
  • Economic development and rising energy demand have driven up coal use in 9 G20 countries;
  • 68% of South Africa's domestic primary energy supply is comprised of coal;
  • 64% of China's domestic primary energy supply is comprised of coal;
  • 33% of Australia's domestic primary energy supply is comprised of coal;
  • Coal is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions for most G20 countries;
  • 30%: percentage of primary energy supply for G20 countries that are derived from coal;
  • Australia (37%), Indonesia (16%), Russia (12%), the U.S. (9%) and South Africa (5%) will be hit the hardest by a progressive decline in global coal demand; 
  • G20 governments continue to provide at least US$39 billion of government support per year for the product of coal, including coal-fired power; 
  • The largest overseas financiers of coal are China, Japan, and South Korea;
  • The UK, France, Italy, and Canada are leading the G20 with Paris-compatible plans for phasing out coal before or by 2030.
  • Australia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey lack any action to reduce coal production and use and/or a long-term vision to phase out coal (India, China, and South Africa). 

How Did Ontario Become the First Jurisdiction in North America to Achieve a 100% Phase-out of Coal-Generated Energy

Nearly 5-years ago, the province of Ontario proudly became the first jurisdiction in North America to achieve a complete phase-out of coal-generated electricity.  The extremely negative environmental impact of coal-generated energy was obviated in the late 1990s when Ontario began shifting energy load from its nuclear generators onto its five coal-fired generators.  This shift from nuclear to coal-generated energy became necessary in the face of Ontario's aging nuclear facilities; seven out of its nineteen nuclear reactors were to be closed down.  However, the result of Ontario's increased reliance on coal-generated energy was a doubling in Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions as well as a significant increase in acid rain and smog between 1997 and 2001.  As a result of these acute effects on Ontario's environment, notably air quality, all major political parties.  Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government would eventually commit to a 100% coal phase-out by 2007.  The complete phase-out would be achieved in 2014. 

How is Ontario's 100% Coal Phase-out Relevant in Today's Political Climate?

Ontario's Coal Phase-out in Provincial Politics

More recently, the successful phase-out of coal-generated energy has been alluded to by Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government as a prime example of how the province of Ontario can successfully reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions without "interference" by Trudeau's liberal government.  This "made in Ontario" approach to climate change has been used mainly by Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government to attack the federal carbon tax.  The federal carbon tax came into effect on April 1, 2019, in Canadian provinces and territories that did not have a provincial climate change action plan that met minimum national standards (i.e. Canada's obligations under the Paris Agreement).  In addition to repealing Kathleen Wynne's "cap-and-trade" climate plan, Ontario's Progressive Conservative government also failed to implement an effective climate change plan, thereby attracting the application of the federal carbon tax.

Ontario's 100% Coal-Phase Out in Canada and in the Global Arena

Ontario's brimming success in becoming the first jurisdiction in North America to achieve a 100% phase-out has rubbed onto Canada.  More recently, Ontario's success in phasing out coal-generated energy, and its effect on Canada's overall ability to achieve a 100% coal-phase out on a national scale by 2030, has been applauded by Climate Transparency.
Climate Transparency contrasts Canada's progress in reducing its reliance on coal-generated energy with efforts by other G20 countries.  Accordingly to Climate Transparency, whereas Canada reduced its absolute energy supply from coal by 13% in the 5-year period between 2012 and 2017, affirms only fell by 0.9% over the same 5-year period.  Climate Transparency's report also found that most G20 countries are currently still building, or plan to build more coal power plants and that G20 governments continue to provide at least $39 billion US of government support per year for the production of coal, including coal-fired power.  Some countries in Asia saw their energy supply from coal increase at the same time.  Overall, the report found that the energy supply from coal in the G20 only fell by 0.9%.