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Road Transportation Sector in Canada Likely To Fall Short Of 80 Per Cent Reduction Target In GHG Emissions By 2050

Ottawa, November 12, 2015—Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris, a new Conference Board of Canada report finds that Canada is unlikely to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Even when taking into account reduced distances traveled per vehicle, improvements in fuel efficiency, and greater market penetration of alternative technology vehicles, Canada falls short of the 80-by-50 target.

“Canada is making progress reducing its GHG emissions and will continue to do so for the next decade. The challenge is that we are not moving fast enough,” said Len Coad, Research Director, Public Policy, The Conference Board of Canada. “Relying on technological solutions alone will not be enough for Canada to meet the 80-by-50 goal. Canada needs a coordinated approach that supplements our focus on technological improvements with efforts that change the way we use transportation and that reduce demand for road transportation.”

“The report highlights the need to set realistic GHG reduction targets with clear, practical plans to achieve them, and do it without compromising our ability to travel or constraining our economy,” said Peter Boag, President, Canadian Fuels Association. “Efficient and responsible fuel consumption is both a challenge and an opportunity. We must all make smart decisions about where we live and work, how we get around, and how much we are prepared to pay for our transportation options.”


  • While progress has been made at reducing GHG emissions, it is unlikely that Canada will achieve an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in road transportation from 1990 levels by 2050, which would require a reduction of approximately 117 Mt CO2e from 2013.
  • Transportation emissions accounted for almost half of the increase in Canada’s emissions from 1990 to 2013, with road travel accounting for the largest share.
  • Despite voluntary and regulatory initiatives that have improved the emissions efficiency of passenger and freight transportation, emissions from road transportation are increasing due to growing number of cars on the road and Canadians’ changing preference for light trucks.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has suggested that developed countries reduce their emissions by 80 per cent relative to 1990 levels in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. However, Canada’s road transport emissions were 40 per cent higher in 2013 than in 1990. Between 1990 and 2013, transportation emissions accounted for nearly half of the growth of Canada’s total emission s levels, with road transport accounting for the largest share of transportation emissions. Reducing Canadian road transportation emissions by 80 per cent relative to 1990 levels would require a decrease of approximately 117.5 megatonnes (Mt) carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from 2013 levels.

The  report, A Long Hard Road: Drastically Reducing GHG Emissions in Canada’s Road Transportation Sector by 2050, examines the potential emissions reductions from a range of vehicle usage trends and technologies. It finds that at current conditions there is a steady decline in road transportation emissions levels until 2025. After this point, emissions levels are expected to rise by almost 12 per cent from current levels. When taking into account reduced distances traveled per vehicle, continued improvements in fuel efficiency, and greater market penetration of alternative technology vehicles, the initial results are similar. Emissions decline steadily through 2025. Beyond that, the rate of decline flattens, with total road transport emissions dropping to 86 million tonnes by 2050, just 12 per cent below the 1990 level of 97.7 Mt. The report also finds that an additional 9.7–15.0 Mt reduction could result from a greater market penetration of alternative technology vehicles, modal shifts, and improved transportation planning, still leaving Canada 57.0–51.7 Mt short of the 80-by-50 goal.

“The challenge is significant for Canadians who will need to dramatically rethink their travel habits to achieve even a 50 per cent reduction target in road transport emissions,” added Coad.

Some recommendations to help bring Canada closer to an 80 per cent reduction in GHG emissions from road transport, include:

  • Continued improvement in vehicle performance and efficiency
  • Further adoption of alternative vehicle technologies, such as hybrids, plug-in electric, natural gas and biofuels
  • Getting people out of cars and onto other modes of transport
  • Considering lower carbon freight options such as rail and marine transport
  • Reducing demand for transportation

The report was funded by the Canadian Fuels Association and is publicly available from The Conference Board of Canada’s e-Library.

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