One of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada is the transportation sector, which generates 24.3% of Canada’s total emissions (1). The worst GHG emitters are freight trucks, light trucks, and commuter cars (2). To meet our emissions targets under the Paris Agreements, our transportation sector must change. This can be done in several ways, including investment into large-scale public transport (such as rail systems), promotion of low- or zero-emissions vehicles, and provincial and federal legislation to limit emissions.
Investment into large scale transport systems, such as the GO system in Ontario, can help to reduce the number of passenger cars and light trucks on the road (3). This also lowers traffic congestion, increasing the efficiency of passenger cars and light trucks on the road and reducing overall GHG emissions from transportation (4). However, although this can be an effective solution for urban areas, it is challenging to provide similar systems in rural Canada. A report commissioned by Transport Canada in 2009 suggests developing easier-access public transit, designing cyclist-friendly roads, and implementing car-sharing incentives as methods to reduce automotive emissions in rural communities (5).
Electric vehicles are another solution. Advancing technology has made electric vehicles a viable option for replacing fossil-fuel powered ones (6). Currently, high cost remains a barrier for Canadians wishing to access zero- and low-emission vehicles (6), but this may be overcome through government incentive programs available for those who purchase these vehicles. For example, in May of 2019, the Government of Canada implemented a Canada-wide Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) incentive, where customers can receive a rebate when they purchase an eligible ZEV (7). Though individual provinces had originally been free to devise their own incentive programs, this is the first time a ZEV incentive strategy has been applied nationwide. As long as they are maintained, incentive strategies such as this can be an effective way to reduce emissions from the transport sector, while also reducing the total cost of vehicle ownership to Canadians (8).
Finally, transportation emissions may be regulated through the implementation of emissions standards by provincial and federal governments, such as ‘Drive Clean’ programs, which force vehicles to pass an emissions test to be deemed roadworthy. These programs can help to limit the number of inefficient vehicles on the road, thereby reducing GHG emissions, and can also prompt car manufacturers to provide more efficient vehicles to the public. The effectiveness of these programs has been demonstrated in high-polluting nations such as China, where it is shown that despite increasing vehicle population, emission control programs have led to a decline in GHG emissions since 2013 (9). In Canada, both Ontario and British Columbia have scrapped previous provincial Drive Clean programs. However, vehicle emissions are still governed under the Environmental Protection Act, which penalizes vehicles that produce excess emissions or have removed emission-regulating equipment (10).
Figure: Greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, 1990-2017.