Path to net zero transportation complex, says Conference Board of Canada

Canada remains far short of its 2050 target for net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, despite gains already made in the transportation sector.

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The latest report by the Conference Board of Canada shows Canada consumed 18 billion liters of diesel in 2020, with about 480,000 heavy-duty vehicles producing 42% of the country’s road transportation emissions in 2018. This despite the fact that the fuel-efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles climbed 20% between 2000 and 2018.

“The transition pathway to a net-zero 2050 for transportation fuels is complex. It’s not reasonable to expect economic activity to be halted,” says Fueling 2050: The Road Forward.

But, as the title suggests, the Conference Board of Canada sees a road forward.

Through the report, it says any achievable path to net-zero emissions will need to include realistic costing, support for Canada’s standard of living, and economically and scientifically sound climate change objectives.

“Adopting new fuel options requires sustained government subsidies and incentives to industry and firms to reduce transportation emissions,” it adds, noting that federal governments will also need to explore new revenue streams as taxes from liquid fuels decline.

“The infrastructure needed to support alternative vehicle and fuel options is incomplete, requiring continued investment if a transition is to be made.”

The report predicts oil and gas will continue to dominate the transportation energy mix in 2050. But where the fuels account for 90% of the related energy mix today, that share is expected to drop by a third as of 2050. Much of that shift will depend on new liquid fuels, gas, and electric power.

Increasing levels of biodiesel and renewable diesel under Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard, for example, are expected to save 7 million tonnes (Mt) in road freight emissions by 2030. Most of today’s heavy-duty vehicles burn a conventional diesel blended with 2% biodiesel.

“While impactful, they are a fraction of the potential that could be achieved with more advanced biofuels. Securing a broader frontier for liquid fuels in Canada’s energy future requires a dramatic expansion of the supply of advanced drop-in biofuels in Canada,” the Conference Board says.

The new fuel standard is expected to be enforced later this year.