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Catherine McKenna is Minister for the Environment and Climate Change

This week, we marked the two-year anniversary of the Paris climate accord with big news.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance, which was recently launched by Britain and Canada as a global effort to phase out coal-fired electricity, grew to more than 50 members, including 33 countries and 24 businesses.

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But while momentum is clearly building to end pollution from burning coal, a change of that magnitude takes time. As environmental organizations reported this week, some Canadian companies are among those investing to expand coal power overseas.

While companies are responsible for their own decisions, this news does not represent the growing trend worldwide. Many other companies and investors are moving in the opposite direction. They see opportunities not in the expansion of coal burning – which is a hazard to our health and a driver of climate change – but in the economic opportunity of clean growth.

Major corporations such as Facebook, Google and Wal-Mart are all part of RE100, a global initiative that commits companies to move toward 100-per-cent renewable energy. One of these companies, Salesforce, had plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but through rigorous innovation has already reached its goal.

There was also the announcement that 237 other companies – with a combined market capitalization of $6.3-trillion – publicly supported the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. Led by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg, the recommendations of the Task Force will require companies to publicly disclose the risks climate change pose to the value of their assets.

By adopting these recommendations, CEOs and boards of directors would be required to ask themselves: Does our business strategy align with the goals of the Paris Agreement? If not, they would have to answer to their shareholders.

But all investors should be concerned about risk exposure. We know we're in a global transition to cleaner energy, and the financial risks of investing in thermal coal are significant. Some institutions are taking action to reduce this risk. The World Bank announced this week that it would end financial support for upstream oil and gas projects after 2019, citing the increasing threats of climate change.

The fact is, global markets are shifting.

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Renewable power is the most competitive source of electricity in many markets. Since 2011, more money has been invested each year in renewable electricity than in power from fossil fuels. And in the United States, solar power is more than 80-per-cent cheaper to produce today than it was in 2009, while wind power is more than 60-per-cent cheaper. Increasingly, clean power is affordable power.

Yet any move away from coal also raises questions about jobs. I'm proud to say that Alberta – which generates more than half of its power from coal – is leading by phasing out coal, and making it a fair transition for workers and communities. The province appointed a task force to visit each of its coal communities, hear from workers, and find a way forward that supports them, including through skills training and community economic development.

With smart and strategic investments, governments are moving away from coal and spurring clean economic growth. The federal government is doing this through historic investments in public transit, innovation and energy-efficient infrastructure – which together are making our economy stronger and our towns and cities cleaner.

We know phasing-out coal power will require hard work and collaboration, but the benefits to our health and our planet are immense.

Air pollution from burning coal is responsible for more than 800,000 premature deaths globally each year, representing billions of dollars in associated economic costs. And while coal-fired power plants accounted for 40 per cent of world energy production in 2010, they were responsible for more than 70 per cent of the globe's energy-sector emissions.

But bold measures can yield important results. When Ontario shut down its last coal-fired power plant nearly four years ago, Toronto went from having 53 smog days in 2005 to zero smog days in 2014. This meant fewer premature deaths, fewer hospital visits, and fewer children struggling with asthma. It was also the single largest measure to reduce carbon pollution in North America.

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With the Powering Past Coal Alliance, we will meet our Paris climate commitments, strengthen our economies, and protect our planet for our children and grandchildren. And new members are always welcome.

Editor’s note: A Friday Report on Business opinion article on coal incorrectly said that when Ontario shut down its last coal-fired power plant nearly four years ago, Toronto went from having 53 smog days in 2009 to zero smog days in 2014. In fact, the smog days reference is from 2005 and for all of Ontario, not 2009 as stated.
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