Recent policy moves are encouraging, but Canada needs to do more to wrestle with the climate impact of its transportation sector.

Canada has a tailpipe problem. The country’s 24 million or so cars and trucks together generated 23% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, and were responsible for three quarters of the growth in energy-related carbon emissions since 1990.

As our economy and our population grows, the number of kilometres driven and the congestion in our cities also rise. While some people in our big urban centres are showing less attachment to vehicle ownership than in decades past, the overall trend is towards rising emissions.

If we’re going to achieve our climate goals and do our fair share to ensure the planet continues to be a safe place to live, we need to turn this trend around.

if we are not ambitious in our plans, and deliberate about their implementation, we will miss out on opportunities to be industrial and environmental leaders.

The good news is, around the world a mobility revolution is gathering momentum. And Canada is wisely getting in on the action, with policies and investments that open the door wider for zero-carbon transportation. But if we are not ambitious in our plans, and deliberate about their implementation, we will miss out on opportunities to be industrial and environmental leaders.

Meaningful investments are being made in public transit, responding to the demands of Canadian cities. This modal shift towards more public transit will reduce emissions and congestion dramatically. And thanks to green procurement policies by transit systems and municipalities across Canada, a new generation of cleaner buses and other green transit technology will help to further reduce transportation emissions beyond just taking cars off the road.

There is also a growing demand in Canada for flexible solutions in lieu of single car ownership. Shared mobility services are rapidly growing in Canada and currently include car sharing (Car2Go, Communauto, Modo etc.), ride sharing (Uber, openride, ride share etc.) and car pooling. And let’s not forget the potential for self-driving cars to provide on-demand transportation services. Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined with the chief executive of BlackBerry Ltd. to announce the company was refocusing the 400 employees it has in Ottawa to work specifically on making software for autonomous vehicles.

As our governments put dollars into transit infrastructure, adjust regulations to promote fuel efficient engines, and encourage people to consider bicycles and electric vehicles (EVs), we can see a path to a healthier planet, cleaner air in our cities, and economies that work efficiently.

In its recent Fall Economic Statement, Ottawa committed $25.3 billion over the coming 11 years to strengthen and expand transit across the country. This will include new light rail in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, and Surrey, a new subway line in Vancouver, and regional commuter rail in Toronto and Hamilton. With adequate land use planning to encourage densification, public transit investments linked to bike paths, walking paths and shared mobility services, can offer the mobility solutions Canadians need. The benefits of these investments will be felt for generations to come.

Electric vehicles are also part of the solution and are becoming the easiest choice to make for those who need a vehicle. They’re fun to drive, cheap to run, and affordable to maintain.  A battery powered vehicle can reduce emissions by 45 to 98 percent compared to a gasoline vehicle.

There will be two million electric vehicles on the world’s roads before the end of 2016. The pent-up demand for the Tesla Model 3 is palpable; as battery costs plunge, demand will surge. In November, Motor Trend awarded The GM Bolt, which boasts an estimated 300+ kilometers of range per charge, its Car of the Year trophy.

British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec rebates help bring the costs down. Quebec also now requires car makers to sell a certain proportion of zero-emissions vehicles per year in the province —a policy that has been test-driven in California and nine other states with promising results. There are models of electric vehicles available to consumers south of the border that are not available to Canadian consumers. Quebec is investing $420 million in a provincial plan to put 100,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2020. And, building on this strong progress, provincial, territorial and federal governments have just agreed to develop a Canada-wide strategy to increase the uptake of zero-emission vehicles by 2018. This is good news, since a recent EV policy report card concluded that federal and provincial governments need to increase the scope, scale, and speed of their efforts in order to see truly transformational change.

The shift to electric can add momentum for Ontario’s manufacturing sector, as the province can become a North American hub for producing low-carbon electric vehicles and their components.

The shift to electric can add momentum for Ontario’s manufacturing sector, as the province can become a North American hub for producing low-carbon electric vehicles and their components.  The smart division of Mercedes-Benz Canada just announced it will only produce electric vehicles starting with 2018 models. Canada also has an opportunity to grow made-in-Canada innovations in the emerging battery market. The federal government recently invested $1.9 million in Vancouver-based Nano One, which produces low-cost high-performance energy storage materials for EV batteries.

While recent policy measures at the federal and provincial level are encouraging, there is still more that Canada needs to do to adequately wrestle with the climate impact of its transportation sector. For example, by setting standards for clean fuel use in the future, governments can move the yardsticks further. Ottawa recently announced it will develop a clean fuel standard that would, over the coming years, cut emissions by the equivalent of taking more than seven million cars off the road for a year. While few details exist around what the new policy framework will look like – we expect Ottawa will implement a set of regulations ambitious enough to achieve the annual reductions objective outlined by Minister McKenna of 30 Mt by 2030.

The provinces will have lots of expertise to offer in this conversation: Ontario will raise the renewable content required in transportation fuels, cutting carbon pollution from gasoline by another five per cent by the end of this decade. Further west, the province of B.C. already has a low-carbon fuel standard in place for its transportation sector.

The future of mobility lies in offering consumers on-demand services, integrated with smart urban planning, active transportation and public transit hubs. With low-carbon fuel standards, fresh transit funding, and growing support for electric cars, there’s no shortage of encouraging news out there. Still, we need a clear path forward towards sustainable transportation solutions in Canada.


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