Some great news on the climate change front this week as Canada joins the ranks of a number of other nations in committing to a firm date by which we will no longer be burning coal. The Liberal government announced on Monday that by 2030 coal use in Canada will be a thing of the past. This will make a significant contribution towards reducing Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
What we need now are three more goals.
Number 1: A date by which we’ll phase out oil, or at least drastically reduce its use, including exporting dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands, as the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposes. This date doesn’t need to be as aggressive as the 2030 date for phasing out the burning of coal.
G7 leaders — at the urging of Germany’s Angela Merkel — have already agreed to 2050 as the date to drastically reduce carbon emissions to 70 per cent of 2010 levels, and 2100 as the date for ending all fossil fuel use. Canada has already committed to this goal under Stephen Harper, although he dubbed it as only “aspirational.”
But why not make the goal real and fixed like the one for coal? Such faraway dates give power producers more than enough time to complete the transition to renewables. It’s doable! For instance, Elon Musk recently unveiled a new solar panel concept about to hit the market. These solar panels are visually indistinguishable from regular roof tiles and will be available to the public by summer 2017.
Number 2: We need a date by which Canada will stop exporting coal. It’s one thing to commit to ending the burning of this dirty fuel. However, as long as we continue to make it possible for coal to be burned elsewhere we are part of the problem, not the solution. Let’s make 2050 our date for this goal, too.
Number 3: We need a date by which Canada will stop, or at least drastically reduce, our use of natural gas, and we’ll stop exporting it, too. The first part of this goal could be easily tied to the 2050 target date. But the second part — exporting natural gas — is much more complex than bringing coal exports to an end.
Many developing countries are relying on natural gas as the bridge from coal to renewables. Developing countries also have much less money available to make the transition to renewables possible. The date for this goal must be coupled with significant financial contributions from Canada and other developed nations to a pool of money available to developing ones for their transition to cleaner energy sources.
We all know “dating” games are fraught in more ways than one, especially with long-term habits. But when it comes to coal and other fossil fuels, we’d be just plain foolish not to set more fixed goals for breaking up with them.