How to take the car out of carbon emissions

Why the transportation sector is critical to meeting Canada's climate change commitments

Canada’s emissions by economic sector, 2014

Why the transportation sector is critical to meeting Canada’s climate change commitments

By 2019, every new Volvo will have an electric or hybrid engine. By 2040, France will end the sale of diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles. What will Canada do?

The federal government has committed to reducing the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030—just 13 years from now. Since transportation accounts for almost a quarter of all emissions in Canada, with road vehicles responsible for 80 per cent of those emissions, this sector offers the possibility of major reductions in Canada’s transition to a lower-carbon economy, according to a recent report from the Senate committee on energy, the environment and natural resources, Decarbonizing Transportation in Canada.

Another new report, Driving Decarbonization: Pathways and Policies for Canadian Transport by Tiffany Vass and Mark Jaccard at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, suggests that a rapid reduction in the consumption of gasoline and diesel doesn’t have to wait for innovations in batteries, hydrogen storage and “blendable” biofuels. The key is to quickly increase the consumption of 85 per cent ethanol in dedicated flex-fuel vehicles and 100 per cent biodiesel in modified trucks.

As well as actions (energy efficiency, fuel switching, urban redesign, lifestyle changes), the SFU report also focuses on policies: the mechanisms governments use to motivate actions. One of these is carbon pricing, which Canadians are cooling on, according to a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute. Support has dropped to 44 per cent nationwide: slight majority approval from Prairie provinces in early 2015 has turned to opposition—even B.C. residents are now split 50-50 pro and con.