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Study determines more must be done to curb Canada’s GHG emissions from transportation

OTTAWA, Ont. – Technology, along with voluntary and regulatory initiatives have all helped reduce the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions coming out of vehicles on Canada’s roadways, but with population and gross domestic product (GDP) steadily on the rise, efforts to reduce the country’s carbon footprint continue to pose challenges, as more people and more business means more vehicles hitting the streets.

This was the focus of a study released by the Conference Board of Canada titled A Long Hard Road: Reducing GHG Emissions in Canada’s Road Transportation Sector by 2050.

In a nutshell, the goal set out during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change determined that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) must be stabilized at 450 parts per million. This objective would require developed countries around the world to reduce their GHG emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by the year 2050, (a target posed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

The Conference Board of Canada study states that researchers have placed a threshold of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels on climate change, which means that any increase in global temperature above that mark would result in social and economic disruption.

GHG emissions in Canada were increasingly on the rise from 1990 to 2007, with a small dip until 2009, when they continued to escalate to 2013.

Nearly half of the country’s rise in emissions between 1990 and 2013 were from the transportation sector, which includes air, road, off-road, rail and marine travel. Road transportation accounts for 67% of the transportations sector’s emissions, meaning it makes up 19% of all Canada’s GHG emissions for 2013, up from 16% in 1990.

The study determines that ‘there must be a break in the link between GDP, population growth and road transportation activity to achieve significant reductions in road emissions.’ An 80% drop in road transportation emissions relative to 1990 would mean a decline of 117.5 megatonnes of CO2 from 2013 levels.

Truck technology is doing its part to help curtail emissions from light-, medium- and heavy-duty freight trucks, but the Conference Board has determined that not all fleet companies are utilizing these technologies for various reasons, including inconsistent regulations from one area to another.

Voluntary actions by private fleets, in addition to government regulations have helped to lessen emissions, and, because fuel is such a large portion of a transportation company’s operating costs, there is incentive to employ new technology to reduce drag and friction.

Another positive the study claims is that the ‘near-term outcome of the continuous improvement scenario (declining travel distances per vehicle and improved fuel efficiency) would result in a steady decline in emissions through the year 2025. However, beyond that, the rate of decline flattens, with total road transportation emissions dropping to 86 million tonnes by 2050, just 12% below the 1990 level of 97.7.

Projected emissions from road transportation ranges from 71.2 to 76.5 megatonnes, which is 51.7 to 57 megatonnes higher than what researcher’s two-degrees Celsius target requires.

In other words, more must be done.

The Conference Board of Canada believes that government policies and programs must be updated as circumstances change.

And they have changed since 1990 in many positive and negative ways from the perspective of climate change.
For example, although the overall intensity of vehicle emissions has decreased, total emissions continues to rise due to more vehicles on the road and different types of vehicles being in demand, with a shift from cars to pickup trucks.

Pickup trucks made up 20% of vehicles on Canadian roads in 1990, but 23 years later swelled to 37%.

Emissions from light-, medium- and heavy-duty freight trucks between 1990 and 2012 steadily declined by 1.3%, 1.4% and .5% respectively, despite Canada’s GDP growing at a compound annual rate of 2.4% during the same time. The total distance freight trucks travel, on the other hand, has increased since 1990.

The study calls for a continued focus on reducing energy losses for freight companies, and an upsurge in the adoption rate of new technologies, all of which could reduce emissions faster than what is projected by the Conference Board of Canada.

Though it may be ‘a long hard road’, and an expensive one at that, to meet the target reduction of GHG emissions in Canada, it is an initiative that has been ongoing for some time and will likely continue to be for years to come.

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