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Keeping coal in the ground is a welcome signal of Canada’s climate ambition, say enviro lawyers

Friday, June 11, 2021

VANCOUVER, BC, Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-Waututh Territories – With its new policy statement on thermal coal mining released today, the Canadian government has signalled that the country will keep thermal coal in the ground to help guarantee a safe and liveable atmosphere. The lawyers at West Coast Environmental Law applaud the policy statement, which will inform future government decisions about whether to designate new thermal coal mines for federal impact assessment, and whether such mines’ effects are in the public interest.

The policy statement provides greater certainty to Canadians, industry and the international community regarding Canada’s commitments to phasing out coal-fired electricity generation under the Powering Past Coal Alliance and to doing its fair share in mitigating the climate emergency under the Paris Agreement.

“The path to a stable climate cannot include mining the world’s dirtiest fuel. The International Energy Agency last month pointed out that achieving net zero emissions by 2050 involves ‘no new coal mines or mine extensions,’” said Staff Lawyer Andrew Gage. “Today’s announcement is an important victory in the transition towards a climate-safe future.”

“The policy draws a clear line on what can be considered sustainable, and sends a welcome precedent for assessments of other risky projects,” said Staff Lawyer Anna Johnston. “It is abundantly clear that thermal coal mining undermines Canada’s climate change commitments, and this policy statement is a critical piece in making good on those promises.”

Along with the policy statement, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson sent a letter to Coalspur Mines Ltd. stating that its two Vista thermal coal mine expansion projects would cause unacceptable environmental effects within federal jurisdiction. The projects are currently undergoing an impact assessment under the Impact Assessment Act, and the letter could have ripple effects beyond thermal coal.

By recognizing that the mining and use of thermal coal is unsustainable, and does not align with our climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, the government is opening the door to discussions about whether other fossil fuel extraction fits within the government’s climate goals. Environmental lawyers hope that the government will carry this momentum forward by updating its regulations to require assessments of all major-emitting projects.


For more information, please contact:

Andrew Gage | Staff Lawyer

Anna Johnston | Staff Lawyer