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Canada joins global alliance aiming to phase out coal by 2030

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna is seen at United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Sept. 20, 2017.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada and the United Kingdom have enticed 18 other nations to adopt their mutual goal of weaning themselves off coal-fired power — but at least two provinces are trying to negotiate their way out of the federal government's own domestic plan.

Only four provinces still need coal to make electricity, but Alberta is currently the only one with a plan to phase it out by Ottawa's 2030 deadline. Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia are both trying to convince the Liberal government to let them use coal beyond the year 2040.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was all smiles Thursday as she and her British counterpart officially launched the Global Alliance to Power Past Coal at the United Nations climate change talks in Germany.

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Eighteen countries, five provinces and two states signed onto the Canada-U.K. alliance.

"We're seeing huge momentum for this move away from coal and towards clean power," McKenna said in a conference call after the event in Bonn, Germany.

China and India are two of the biggest consumers of coal for power purposes — India gets about 75 per cent of its power from coal, China 70 per cent — but neither was represented at Thursday's event.

The alliance aims to have 50 members by the time the UN climate talks take place in November of next year.

McKenna said her department is working with Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Alberta on the coal phase-out strategy, including offering up federal infrastructure dollars to help turn off the coal plants by 2030.

Saskatchewan, however, doesn't want to do it, provincial Environment Minister Dustin Duncan said Thursday. Several plants in the province would have to be retrofitted before 2030 to keep them operating, but there is one that won't hit its 50-year lifespan until 2042 and Saskatchewan has no interest in turning it off early.

Saskatchewan is the only Canadian jurisdiction with a coal plant equipped with carbon capture and storage, which traps the carbon emitted by burning coal and buries it. That plant, known as Boundary Dam 3, has carbon emissions "well below" the current federal standards, Duncan said.

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Saskatchewan wants to get credits for that plant's efficiency, using them to offset whatever carbon excesses the other plants produce.

"We think we're pretty close (to an agreement)," Duncan said. "My expectation is and certainly my interest is that the equivalency agreement, the wording, will be agreed to by the federal minister shortly, in the next couple of weeks."

Saskatchewan currently relies on coal for more than 50 per cent of its electricity. About 25 per cent comes from natural gas power plants and 18 per cent from hydroelectricity and other forms of renewables. The province hopes to get to 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

Nova Scotia is also negotiating an equivalency agreement with Ottawa to get credit for cutting emissions elsewhere that would allow it to continue to use coal-power as well. Like Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia anticipates needing coal into the 2040s.

About 10 per cent of electricity in Canada now comes from burning coal, half of what it was 15 years ago largely because Ontario eliminated coal power three years ago.

Ontario's power bills soared partly as a result, and other provinces fear a similar fate they follow suit. New Brunswick's premier suggested power bills could go up 38 per cent if it is forced to close its one coal plant early.

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Electricity accounted for 84 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, and coal is responsible for almost three-quarters of that. Eliminating coal and replacing it entirely with non-emitting renewables would get Canada about one-third of the way to its 2030 emissions reduction target.

with files from Jennifer Graham in Regina

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