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Canada steps up coal phase-out plan

The country plans to eliminate coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 and start to rely on clean energy for power

Canada is accelerating its plans to phase out coal from its power generating mix, aiming for a virtual elimination of the fuel by 2030. This is compared to a previous target which aimed to phase it out of the country's electricity generation mix by 2040.

"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," Kathleen McKenna, Canada's environment minister, said. "It sends a clear signal to the world that Canada is a great place to invest in clean energy."

The plan to phase out coal-fired generation is part of a wider government decarbonising initiative.

In mid-November, the government released a strategy for reducing emissions by 80%, from 2005 levels, by 2050. It said the strategy will enable Canada to meet the Paris Climate Agreement's goal of limiting global temperature increases by a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

At the Paris climate talks last year Canada pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels, by 2030.

Calgary-based think tank the Pembina Institute said that by accelerating the national phase-out of coal-fired power to 2030, over 1,008 premature deaths could be avoided and C$5bn ($3.7bn) could be saved by avoiding costs related to healthcare and lower productivity between 2015 and 2035.

"Eliminating coal-fired power in Canada and around the world is one of the world's best opportunities to improve air quality and fight climate change," Ed Whittingham, executive director at Pembina said. "Coal combustion currently accounts for more than 40% of global carbon pollution. In order for the world to avoid dangerous climate change, governments… must set stringent standards to phase-out coal as soon as possible."

Whittingham said Canada should adopt a 100% clean electricity supply mandate by 2050.

Despite having vast oil sands reserves Canada is mainly reliant on renewables for power generation.

In the next 14 years, Canada plans for low carbon energy sources to comprise 90% of its electricity, up from around 75% now. Hydropower accounts for around 60% of the country's electricity generation, according to government statistics, while nuclear power provides around 16%, coal (9.5%), gas (8.5%), oil (1.3%) and other non-hydro renewables (5%) comprise the remaining mix.

Canada's coal consumption has been falling steadily over the past decade and last year alone it plummeted by over 7%, according to BP. In 2015, Canada consumed just 19.8m tonnes of oil (toe) equivalent of coal, down from 31m toe in 2005.

According to Pembina, Canada has 34 coal power stations operating across four (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) of the county's provinces with a combined coal capacity of 9,700MW.

Although coal-fired power generation in Canada has nearly halved between 2000 and 2014, it still provides the largest share of electricity in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia. Local governments in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have said that imposing a nationwide carbon price and the government's 2030 coal phase-out target across the entire country would push up power costs for both consumers and businesses.

Nova Scotia will be exempt from the federal government's 2030 coal phase-out target but instead it will adopt a cap-and-trade system for carbon. It will also impose a province-wide target for reducing carbon emissions which either meets or exceeds the national target to cut them by 30%, from 2005 levels, by 2030.

While Canada is preparing to accelerate the phasing out of coal-fired power generation, US President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to relax regulations on coal production south of the border. Trump has called for a reversal of the moratorium on new leases for coal mined from US federal lands - introduced by President Obama at the beginning of this year.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects renewables will be the fastest growing power generating capacity sector over the next three decades, making up almost 60% of the 4,000 gigawatts of new power generation capacity additions globally between now and 2040.

To meet rising global energy demand over the next few decades, $44 trillion must be spent on global energy supply by 2040, the IEA says, or $1.8 trillion a year. Around 60% of this will be needed for oil, gas and coal; 20% for renewable energy; and the remaining 20% needs to be spent on electricity networks.

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