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July 20, 2021 – A complete transformation of Canada’s passenger vehicle market – with 70 - 75 percent of sales being of Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) by 2030 – is required in order to hit Ottawa’s emissions targets, says a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute. This compares to the current 3.5 percent of sales being zero-emission vehicles in 2020.

In “Driving Ambitions: The Implications of Decarbonizing the Transportation Sector by 2030,” authors Joel Balyk, Brian Livingston, Sara Hastings-Simon and Grant Bishop examine the federal government’s December 2020 climate plan, and calculate to achieve the projected reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from Canada’s transportation sector, approximately 7.7 million zero-emission passenger vehicles would need to be on the road in 2030 – equivalent to a 30 percent share of the total vehicle stock.

The federal government’s plan projects a reduction of 213 megatonnes (MT) of greenhouse gas emissions – or 30 percent of 2018 nationwide GHGs – by 2030. The plan projects GHGs from transportation to fall by 35 MT from 186 MT in 2018 to 151 MT by 2030.

“Understanding the practical implications of transportation emissions goals will support policymakers in considering the trade-offs involved in achieving those goals,” write the authors.

This report focuses on passenger and freight transportation, from cars to SUVs and trucks, which are the main sources of the sector’s emissions. The authors explore the practical implications of achieving this projected reduction, finding that it translates to a 41 percent reduction in average GHGs per passenger vehicle over the next decade.

The authors provide an example scenario which argues hitting the targets would be possible under several conditions:

  • An increase in the blending of biofuels;
  • A 2.5 percent annual improvement in the efficiency of internal combustion engine vehicles;
  • ZEVs accounting for a roughly 30 percent share of the total vehicle stock. This will require the annual share of ZEV sales to rise from about 3.5 percent to 70-75 percent by 2030 – which corresponds with the federal government’s recently updated mandatory ZEV sales target of 100 percent of all passenger vehicles in 2035.

Significant GHG reductions from transportation require either decreases in driving or the replacement of older vehicles with more efficient, lower emission technology. The rate of turnover (i.e., retirement) of the current vehicle fleet is a significant determinant of what reductions are feasible by 2030.

The authors add if recent trends in vehicle sales (i.e., a shift from cars to larger passenger light trucks) persist, greater efficiency improvements or higher ZEV penetration would be required to achieve the projected reduction in transportation sector GHGs by 2030. The federal plan’s projected reductions would also require a roughly 18 percent reduction in the average emission intensity of freight trucks by 2030. Such a reduction will require either improvements in vehicle efficiency, electrification or adaptation of hydrogen fuel cell technology for freight transport, as well as biofuel blending.

Read the Full Report

For more information contact: Joel Balyk, former Research Assistant, C.D. Howe Institute; Brian Livingston, Executive Fellow, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary; Sara Hastings-Simon, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary, in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and the School of Public Policy; Grant Bishop, former Associate Director of Research, C.D. Howe Institute; or David Blackwood, Communications Officer, C.D. Howe Institute, 416-873 6168, dblackwood@cdhowe.org.

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.