In December 2015, more than 190 nations adopted the Paris Agreement — an international agreement committing countries to significant reductions in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to limit global warming to less than 2˚C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5˚C above preindustrial levels. Canada, for its part, has committed to ratifying the Agreement in the fall of 2016. This last step will cement our commitment to the international community.
There is now a historical global political commitment to address climate change and as one of the top carbon polluters in the world, the expectations are high for Canada to develop an ambitious climate plan to deliver on its promises to the international community.
Following the Paris agreement, the Government of Canada has continued to make other climate-related international commitments including signing on to the Global Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition. Last March, Canada and the U.S. signed a new agreement to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas and reduce GHG in other sectors. Canada also reiterated its existing commitment to phase-out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry by 2025, at the recent G7 meeting in Japan. During their recent visit in Ottawa, the Prime Minister of Mexico and the President of the United States made a number of joint commitments with Canada, including reaching a target of 50% clean electricity by 2025, through the recent North American Climate, Clean Energy and Environment Partnership.
But now that “Canada is back” on the international scene, what is happening here at home to match our new international ambitions?
Federal-provincial negotiations on the climate plan
To begin the process of crafting Canada’s climate plan, Prime Minister Trudeau and Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers met in Vancouver last March to discuss climate change mitigation measures and economic growth opportunities. This meeting culminated in the Vancouver Declaration on Clean Growth and Climate Change.
The premiers committed to working together to develop the pan-Canadian framework on climate change and clean growth and they have established four working groups to do so. These working groups will provide reports to the First Ministers by October 2016 on options to consider for the Canadian climate plan. We expect the First Ministers to release Canada’s climate plan at their meeting schedule sometime in November 2016.
This climate plan matters because Canada wasted the last ten years with inaction on climate change, while other countries already have climate plans in place to meet their GHG reduction targets. This climate plan matters because Canada is one of the top carbon polluter in the world and we have a duty to the international community to do our fair share of GHG reductions. This climate plan matters because there is a global clean energy revolution underway and the Canadian economy needs to remain competitive in the new low carbon economy. This climate plan matters because Canadians across the country have been demanding action on climate change and are prepared to do their part to reduce their emissions.
Perhaps not since the federal-provincial negotiations leading to a universal health care program in Canada have we seen such a significant federal-provincial-territorial agreement.
Équiterre’s work for an ambitious climate plan: tackling GHG emissions from transport
Since Paris, Équiterre has been hard at work to ensure an ambitious climate plan is developed in Canada to meet our international commitment. This includes working with major Canadian environmental organizations - Environmental Defence, the Pembina Institute, The David Suzuki Foundation and Clean Energy Canada - to provide recommendations to the working group on specific mitigation policies to reduce emissions from transportation in Canada.
Équiterre and its partners call on the federal government to introduce new legislation, regulations, changes to federal fiscal policies and federal government procurement practices, and work with the provinces, territories and municipalities, to achieve deep emissions reduction from public transit investments, personal vehicles, light and heavy freight. We based our recommendations on effective policies already in place in other jurisdictions that have worked to reduce GHG emissions from transport. Many countries are indeed leading the way in sustainable transportation laws and policies and Canada has a lot of catching up to do.
The transportation sector is currently responsible for 23% of Canada’s GHG emissions. To reduce emissions, Canada needs to drive a transition towards zero and low-emissions transportation modes, increase the use of cleaner fuels in Canada, increase public transit ridership, and encourage denser, mixed-use communities.
In Canada, of the approximately 15.4 million people who regularly commute, only 12% use public transit as their primary mode of travel. Although the share of commuters choosing public transit is significant, over 12 million Canadians choose to use cars to get to work: 74% of commuters drive a car alone, while another 5.4% ride as passengers. The current share of electric vehicles sold in Canada is one of the lowest in the world, at 0.4% of annual sales in 2015. By contrast, in the same year, electric vehicles sales represented 25% of all vehicles sold in Norway!
And we continue to put more cars on the road every year and more gas-guzzling vehicles even more so. Between 2013 and 2015, as a result of the decline in oil prices (and resulting low gasoline prices) car sales declined by 6%, while sales of trucks (including SUVs and minivans) increased by 21.4% for the same period. Canada-wide, all-vehicle sales were up 9.6%; trucks accounted for 63% of units sold in 2015, up from 57% in 2013. If these sales trends continue, the lower gasoline price will see a restructuring of the Canadian fleet in favour of heavier and more emitting vehicles. The current federal tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles is one of the lowest in the world and completely inefficient at internalizing the cost to society from the sale of gas guzzling vehicles.
Clearly, we need to change how we get around in this country if we are to reduce our carbon footprint. We must and can do much better.
And our governments should give us the tools to do so. This means being able to live close to work and school, being able to walk and bike to school and to work, having access to efficient public transit, auto-share programs and a variety of affordable electric car models.
Incentives and programs to shifting away from solo-car rides towards active transportation, public transit and auto-sharing, and measures to boost the sale and availability of a wide variety of affordable electric car models on the Canadian market would provide Canadians with concrete options to change their travel habits and do their part to tackle climate change. Investments in public transit and active transportation are progressive and equitable, providing benefits to low and middle-income Canadians. Investments in active transportation are a cost-effective way to reduce GHG emissions and can be deployed rapidly through many ‘shovel ready’ projects in communities across Canada. In addition, they will deliver significant co-benefits in terms of reduced car fatalities, promoting an active lifestyle and reducing local air pollution.
But let’s not forget that we produce GHG emissions not only by moving people, but by moving lots of stuff too!
Heavy-duty trucking is the fastest growing sub-sector of transportation emissions and between 1990 and 2014, freight accounted for almost 60% of the total 55 MT increase in emissions from the transport sector. Federal investments in clean technologies and innovation should prioritize research and development of new technologies to lower emissions from heavy-freight, while providing incentives to switch to lower emissions modes of transportation for heavy-freight (to rail for example). Until such new technologies are available, policies to reduce the emissions intensity of the current fleet of heavy trucks on Canadian roads, such as a national low-carbon fuel standard, are critical to begin to generate emissions reduction in this sector. For light freight, especially short distance deliveries in urban areas, we need completely electric fleets. Canada Post and other government agencies should follow the example of St-Hubert Rotisseries and commit to switching to an all-electric vehicles fleet!
Summary of Recommendations for the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change and Clean Growth: Reducing GHG emissions from Transport
Investing in public transit for maximum emission reductions
Federal funding for public transit should meet set climate criteria to:
- Achieve the greatest GHGs reduction, by assessing the carbon intensity of proposed transit projects;
- Achieve the greatest GHG at the lowest cost; and
- Encourage high-density development.
Eliminate the federal public transit tax credit, as there are better ways to incentivize public-transit use than subsidizing transit passes;
Support the electrification of transit bus fleet.
Walking, cycling and sharing a ride
Establish a fourth federal infrastructure fund dedicated to supporting active transportation projects (walking and designated cycling paths);
Promote auto-share programmes, through minimum dedicated free-parking spaces for car sharing services (in both private and public institutions) and provide funding to support the electrification of the car share fleet (e.g. charging stations).
Increasing the sale of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) in Canada
Implement a national ZEV legislation; a federal law to require that a minimum percentage of major vehicle
manufacturers’ sales in Canada have zero or near-zero tailpipe emissions;
Increase the federal excise tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles to internalize the cost of gas guzzling vehicles;
Remove the GST on zero-emissions vehicles sold in Canada;
Provide incentives to ZEV drivers: free access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, designated parking spaces in
cities, at public institutions and government workplaces, low-cost electricity rate structures adapted to EVs.
Federal government to update the National Building Code to require that all new residential and commercial
buildings in Canada include EV charging stations;
Provide financial incentives to employers to install charging stations at their workplaces;
Federal and provincial governments to complete the deployment of fast charging stations on national highways.
Reducing the carbon intensity of the current fleet of vehicles on the roads
Implement a national Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) in Canada - a legislated intensity target (measured in grams of CO2e per MJ of energy) for all transportation fuels sold in Canada;
Strengthened the GHG emissions regulation for all personal and light-duty vehicles sold in Canada and apply the same stringent regulations to pick-up trucks, mini-vans and SUVs as passenger vehicles
Reducing emissions from light and heavy freight
Provide R&D investments to spur innovation in technologies to reduce GHG emissions in the heavy-freight sector, including infrastructure and incentives for mode switching to lower emitting transportation (e.g. rail);
Establish stringent GHG emission regulations for post-2018 heavy trucks models;
Provide incentives and improve infrastructure (e.g. charging stations) for the electrification of light-freight (i.e. short distance delivery trucks);
Provide incentives for the adoption of renewable biodiesel as a transition fuel for the heavy-freight sector
You can view our comprehensive recommendations for the pan-Canadian framework on climate and clean growth here.
Public consultations: Your chance to be heard
Here are a few ways you can give your opinion on the upcoming climate plan.
Members of Parliament have been conducting Town Hall meetings in their ridings to consult with Canadians on the climate plan. Équiterre has supported this process and invites its members to participate in these consultations. There are many Town Hall consultations scheduled throughout the summer, to get involved please visit:
The honourable Catherine McKenna, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change also launched an online public consultation to invite all Canadians to submit their ideas to address climate change through the Let’s Talk Climate Action public portal.
You are all encouraged to take the time and submit your great ideas to tackle climate change.
Will the First Ministers listen to Canadians?
Équiterre agrees with the Vancouver Declaration’s recognition that a new level of ambition was set by the Paris Agreement, requiring global emissions to approach zero by 2050, and that all governments, Indigenous peoples, as well as civil society, business and individual Canadians should be mobilized in order to face this challenge. We welcome the broad consultation process established.
Équiterre encourages First Ministers to listen to Canadians who are demanding ambitious policies from their governments and want consistent laws, incentives and programs across the country to be able to do their share to reduce GHG emissions. There have been many great ideas submitted at Town Hall consultations across the country and through the online submission portal.
At the end of the day, the First Ministers report in November will tell us whether our governments have been listening to Canadians. Équiterre will continue to be a strong voice in this conversation to make sure Canada ratifies the Paris agreement armed with a strong Canadian climate plan to meet our commitment to the international community.