Report finds road transportation sector in Canada likely to fall far short of 2050 GHG emissions reduction target
A new Conference Board of Canada report finds that Canada is unlikely to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Even when taking into account reduced distances traveled per vehicle, improvements in fuel efficiency, and greater market penetration of alternative technology vehicles, Canada falls short of the 80-by-50 target.
Despite voluntary and regulatory initiatives that have improved the emissions efficiency of passenger and freight transportation, emissions from road transportation are increasing due to growing number of cars on the road and Canadians’ changing preference for light trucks. Canada’s road transport emissions were 40% higher in 2013 than in 1990. Between 1990 and 2013, transportation emissions accounted for nearly half of the growth of Canada’s total emissions levels, with road transport accounting for the largest share of transportation emissions.
Meeting the 80% reduction would entail a reduction of approximately 117 Mt CO2e from 2013 levels.
Canada is making progress reducing its GHG emissions and will continue to do so for the next decade. The challenge is that we are not moving fast enough. Relying on technological solutions alone will not be enough for Canada to meet the 80-by-50 goal. Canada needs a coordinated approach that supplements our focus on technological improvements with efforts that change the way we use transportation and that reduce demand for road transportation. The challenge is significant for Canadians who will need to dramatically rethink their travel habits to achieve even a 50 percent reduction target in road transport emissions—Len Coad, Research Director, Public Policy, The Conference Board of Canada
The report, A Long Hard Road: Drastically Reducing GHG Emissions in Canada’s Road Transportation Sector by 2050, examines the potential emissions reductions from a range of vehicle usage trends and technologies.
The report develops two cases: a reference case and a continuous improvement case. The reference case projects emissions reductions up to 2050, using existing vehicle patterns, fuel choices, and regulations.
|“Achieving the 80-by-50 target will require actions that break the link between GDP, population, and road transportation activity.”|
—A Long Hard Road
Under this scenario, while emissions levels decline steadily through 2025—the last model year to which light-duty emissions standards apply—by 2050, road transportation emissions will have risen to within 12% of current levels.
The continuous improvement scenario makes the same assumptions as the reference case for population and GDP levels, but reflects two additional trends: declining distances travelled per vehicle and improved fuel efficiency.
Under this scenario, the near-term outcome is similar to that of the reference case—emissions decline steadily through 2025. Beyond that, the rate of decline flattens, with total road transportation emissions dropping to 86 million tonnes by 2050, just 12% below the 1990 level of 97.7 Mt.
The report finds that an additional 9.7–15.0 Mt reduction could result from a greater market penetration of alternative technology vehicles, modal shifts, and improved transportation planning, still leaving Canada 57.0–51.7 Mt short of the 80-by-50 goal.
In reality, the reductions identified are not additive; for example, increasing the market share of electric vehicles reduces the impact of improving the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles. Consequently, it is important to bear in mind how policies interact with one another, and that they are not necessarily additive. To achieve the 80-by-50 target, Canada will need to implement a coordinated approach that, in addition to focusing on technological improvements, includes initiatives that reduce demand for road transportation.—“A Long Hard Road”
The report makes a number of recommednations to help bring Canada closer to an 80% reduction in GHG emissions from road transport, including:
Continued improvement in vehicle performance and efficiency. This is a key area of focus moving forward, and the scenarios in the report show that this effort must continue through 2050. Continuously improving efficiency is an important element of weakening or breaking the link between economic growth, transportation growth, and emissions growth. It is also an area, the report notes, where the best improvements in Canada will likely follow improvements made elsewhere, particularly in the United States.
Further adoption of alternative vehicle technologies, such as hybrids, plug-in electric, natural gas and biofuels. The report suggests a potential range of benefits that come from alternative technologies. However, the report also notes that the abatement costs for some of these technologies are much higher than the current cost of carbon. As a result, the authors find, Canadians and their governments are faced with a rather large and complex multi-objective optimization problem.
The mix of incentives, the required investments, consumer preferences, the potential for GHG reductions, and the cost of abatement are all part of the optimization. the historical approach seems to have been based on considering one option and one technology at a time. this leaves unanswered the question of the most effective bundle of options. Government and industry can do much more to understand consumer decision-making, examine combinations of vehicle technologies, and improve the impact of the investments they are making.—“A Long Hard Road”
Getting people out of cars and onto other modes of transport. For the past 20 years, consumers have shifted their purchasing decisions away from passenger cars toward passenger trucks (including minivans, crossovers, and sport utility vehicles). This trend has partially offset the benefits of fuel efficiency improvements in both categories. Further, the average distance travelled per vehicle is declining slowly and the average occupancy per VKT remains stubbornly below two.
Canada’s cities are spending on urban transit systems, but their spending is limited by available tax revenues, making it a challenge to grow transit services faster than population grows. Cities are also spending on alternative transit modes (walking and cycling) and on encouraging their use. Some cities are considering addressing congestion through fees, parking costs, and other measures.
As Canada moves toward 2050, the challenge of getting people out of their cars and onto other modes of transportation will remain one of the largest we face. This will require governments, cities, businesses, and people to change the way they think about getting where they need to go.—“A Long Hard Road”
Considering lower carbon freight options such as rail and marine transport. The trucking industry has been a leading contributor to growing road transportation emissions. Although there are emerging options to continue the vehicle improvements, the report notes, this is a highly competitive industry and the vehicle options may not have developed as rapidly as for light-duty vehicles. The cost-based competition in freight movement means that incremental technologies must be low-cost to penetrate the market; it also means that government support or incentives can play a key role, but only if they are properly designed.
Focusing freight transportation on low-carbon options rather than the fastest option might provide a partial answer. By this we mean greater reliance on intermodal shipping to take advantage of the lower emissions of rail and marine transportation wherever possible. Improving dispatch practices to keep trucks closer to their load capacity might also contribute. However, both of these options may come at a price to the customer in terms of timing and flexibility. it is not clear that consumers would be willing to accept higher costs, slower delivery, or other inconveniences in return for lower carbon freight transportation.—“A Long Hard Road”
Reducing demand for transportation.
The challenge is that reducing demand requires behavioural change, and that is not easy to accomplish. Individuals choose to act to reduce emissions knowing that their actions will benefit society, but may not bring sufficient personal benefit to justify the change based on self-interest alone. Governments can provide incentives, but individuals must make the choices.—“A Long Hard Road”
The report was funded by the Canadian Fuels Association and is publicly available from The Conference Board of Canada’s e-Library. The Conference Board of Canada is an independent, evidence-based, not-for-profit applied research organization.