Canada ranks near the bottom of G20 countries for CO2 emissions from transport
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Nov 15, 2019
Kerry Banks

The average Canadian emits four times more transport related greenhouse gases than the average G20 citizen. Climate Transparency’s Green to Brown report calls for more ambitious targets to keep warming to 1.5°C

Climate Transparency’s Brown to Green 2019 Report. Image: Climate Transparency

The average Canadian emits four times more transport related greenhouse gases than the average G20 citizen. Climate Transparency’s Green to Brown report calls for more ambitious targets to keep warming to 1.5°C

The transportation sector is of prime importance in the battle to combat climate change. Among G20 nations, it represents 20 per cent of energy-related CO2 emissions (those produced by burning fuel); in Canada, the proportion comes to 30 per cent, making it the largest single contributor, ahead of such activities as electricity production, construction, industry and agriculture.

So, it was discouraging to see how poorly Canada fared — in terms of transport as well as overall emissions trends — in a major report published this week by Climate Transparency that details the progress that G20 nations are making towards meeting their pledges of action on the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

According to the G20 Brown to Green Report 2019, which draws on emissions data through 2018 and covers 80 indicators, Canada has the second highest transportation emissions per capita (excluding aviation) in the G20, behind only the U.S.

Four times G20 average

That rate declined by 3 per cent from 2013 to 2018, compared to a 1.2 per cent overall increase among the G20 as a whole. However, this country’s per capita share is four times the G20 average — a byproduct, no doubt, of the fact that 97 per cent of passenger transport in Canada is by private car.

Climate Transparency's 2019 Brown to Green Report
Climate Transparency’s 2019 Brown to Green Report

“Overall CO2 emissions go up in all sectors, but we’re seeing some frontrunners emerging that others can learn from, like China’s policies for promoting electric vehicles and public transport,” says Lena Donat, one of the report’s lead authors and a climate policy advisor based in Germany.

In its transportation analysis, the report rates each country on three policy metrics — phase out of fossil fuel cars; phase out of fossil fuel heavy-vehicles, and modal shift in (ground) transport — on a scale from “low” to “frontrunner.”

Canada scored “high” in the phase out of fossil fuel cars category — occupying a lead group that also includes France, Japan and UK — and “medium” on the next two. Still, the report finds that “no G20 country is yet to embark on a comprehensive transition in the transport sector that is 1.5°C compatible.”

To get there, it says Canada’s current target for a 100 per cent ban on the sale of fossil fuel cars by 2040 would have to be moved up to 2035 (our current target for 2030 is 30 per cent).

Third best in EV sales

Canada’s 2018 market share of electric vehicles among new car sales of 2.3 per cent sounds small, yet it ranked as the third-highest percentage among G20 countries behind only the U.S. and China (Norway, where 58 per cent of new car sales are plug-ins, is not a G20 country). The latter nearly doubled the sale of EVs within one year — accounting for nearly 1.1 million EV sales in 2018 — and has adopted the most ambitious policies to shift towards public transport. China is expected to continue to be the leading market for EVs, as annual EV sales are expected to reach nearly 5.5 million units in 2025.

In addition to scaling up policies to ban the production of new fossil fuel cars by 2035 at the latest, the report stated that G20 countries need to reduce emissions from freight transport to net-zero by 2050 and shift towards non-motorized and sustainable public transport. Cutting government subsidies to the aviation sector, taxing jet fuel and using revenues to invest massively in new carbon-free fuels would also contribute to significant reductions in emissions.

The last internal-combustion-engine vehicle should be sold in 2035 worldwide.
“The last internal-combustion-engine vehicle should be sold in 2035, worldwide.” Source: Climate Transparency

Low carbon fuels

Globally, the share of low-carbon fuels in the G20 transport mix (now pegged at about 6 per cent) would need to increase roughly 10 times by 2050, to keep warming below 1.5°C.

One Canadian initiative aimed at cutting transportation emissions that gets only a passing mention in the report (and no weighting in its calculations) is Canada’s proposed Clean Fuel Standard, which is slated to take effect in 2022. Under the policy, all fuel sold in Canada will have to fall below a standard maximum carbon intensity limit. The policy is designed to reduce overall GHG emissions by 30 million tonnes a year, a portion of the 200 million tonnes Canada has to cut to meet its commitment under the Paris accord.

This policy will apply not only to transportation sector but also to fuels used in industry and in buildings, making Canada the first country in the world to adopt such a wide-ranging policy.

Aggregate score

Canada’s aggregate failing score on overall emissions saw this country grouped with South Korea and Australia as being the farthest off track for implementing Paris commitments. Canada’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are much higher than the G20 average, at 18.9 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person, and fossil fuels still account for about 75 per cent of Canada’s energy mix. Energy supply from renewables is developing slowly here and the carbon intensity of the energy mix has not declined in the past decade, which is not compatible with a 1.5°C pathway.

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