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Climate Change Policy at a Crossroads

Ottawa has so far preferred to use the carrot rather than the stick in trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the freight transportation sector, but that could soon change.

Ottawa has so far preferred to use the carrot rather than the stick in trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the freight transportation sector, but that could soon change.

That was the warning offered by Robert Lyman, director general of environmental affairs for Transport Canada, at a transportation outlook conference recently hosted in Ottawa by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

Lyman said Ottawa believes the emissions reductions necessary for it to meet its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol can be achieved by the combination of energy efficiency and technology but stressed that climate change policy is at a crossroads.

“Governments have endeavored to reduce emissions through voluntary measures, public awareness, incentive programs and through other approaches. If these measures do not succeed, more intrusive emission reduction measures may be considered in the future,” Lyman said. “…There are powerful policy arguments supporting the use of economic instruments like taxes and the environmental community is calling for more forceful action on the behalf of government at all levels to reduce emissions. The polls consistently show that Canadians would be willing to pay more for energy if the resulting revenues were dedicated to environmental improvement. For those who favor a policy based on voluntarism, the critical test will be how industry and the public respond to the initiatives to date.”

Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol commits it to reducing GHG emissions to 6% below 1990 levels. Lyman said that in 1990 Canada produced 607 megatonnes of GHG emissions. With business as usual and no effort to reduce emissions, that output would rise to 809 megatonnes by 2010, an almost 30% increase.

GHG emissions attributed to freight transportation from 1990 to 2001 grew by 42% or 19 megatonnes. That made for 29% of the total increase in GHG emissions over that time frame and makes freight transportation the largest contributor to GHG increases, he said.

“Part of the reason is the increase in transportation activity overall. Marine freight activity increased by 21%; rail by 31%; but trucking increased by 94%,” Lyman pointed out. “From a climate change perspective, trucking’s success in the market has focused increased attention on its emissions.”

Darshan Kailly, President of CF Canada, however, questioned the ability of government to respond to industry innovation that can help in reducing GHG emissions. He said his western-based fleet closely monitors idling and truck speed but finds itself fighting government to do it.

“It’s common sense but can you believe that we can’t get some jurisdictions to lower truck speeds because they want trucks to travel at the same speeds as automobiles,” he said.

CF Canada also runs triple trailer units in Alberta and in a small part of British Columbia but Kailly said getting governments onside with the use of such technology has been a long and painful process.

“It took 10 years to convince British Columbia to allow us to operate them in a 26-km area from the border of Alberta to Dawson Creek. It took 12 years to get test trials to operate them on B.C.’s Superhighway from Vancouver to Kamloops. I think such trailer combinations should be allowed to operate anywhere they can safely.”

Lyman’s speech indicated that Ottawa has a similar view of industry’s willingness to move quickly in reducing GHG emissions.

Negotiations of voluntary agreements with modal associations have proven far more difficult than anticipated, Lyman said, even though the premise that industry would prefer a voluntary approach to reduced emissions and measurement rather than regulation and taxes seemed incontestable. The Canadian Trucking Alliance has signed an MoU with Natural Resources Canada but has declined to commit to a quantifiable and measurable target for emissions reductions, he said. And progress with the Canadian Shipowners Association of Canada and the Railway Association of Canada has been slow although recently both indicated they are willing to work towards an agreement.

Lyman did acknowledge that gains in emissions reduction are constrained by the limitations of current technology. As climate change is a long-term problem, a major part of the government’s program effort has been directed towards R&D and demonstration of new technologies, he said. He pointed to the $4.5M (over five years) Freight Sustainability Demonstration Program that sponsors GHG reducing technology demonstrations and the $32M (over four years) Commercial Transportation Energy Efficiency Initiative, which provides financial support for the purchase and installation of energy efficient equipment, as examples of Ottawa’s commitment in this regard.

Other clear points of contention between government and trucking to surface during the presentations by Lyman and Kailly included modal shift and the actual cause of global warming.

Kailly took issue with the belief that modal shift from truck to rail is the answer to emissions reductions.

“We already put a significant amount of freight on intermodal. They can’t handle any more. If they could we would probably give it to them because it’s a cheaper option,” he said. “…Whatever we do, we need a balanced approach. Government must continue to listen to industry very closely and ensure that we can cope with change.”

Kailly also squared off with Lyman on the cause of global warming. Lyman said the impact of man-made greenhouse gases on global warning is a foregone conclusion and has the support of the most authoritative group of scientists on the subject – “there are no maybes in the scientific text.” Kailly pointed out some scientists believe that global warming is a natural trend.

“There is a lot of confusion about whom to believe,” he said.

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