A comprehensive approach, in collaboration and consultation with the various components of the transportation sector, is what we need.
Canada, along with most of the nations of the world, recently participated in the 26th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, at which discussions and proclamations were made to further reduce global emissions to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
As one might expect, transportation figured prominently in that dialogue, with the objective of moving the world towards decarbonization, and ultimately zero-emission vehicles as quickly as possible.
Uncontrolled wildfires and significant droughts in some areas of the world—juxtaposed with severe flooding in others, have awakened the populace to the fact that not only is climate change real, but it is affecting our lives in ways we neither want nor appreciate.
So, while this broad awakening is good in terms of motivation to move towards mitigating climate change, it appears to have prompted knee jerk responses by policy makers to raise the level of ambition, which may actually undermine achieving the overall goal of reduced emissions.
The other stark reality is that it is the heavy-duty vehicle sector that is responsible for a significant chunk of the on-road emissions.
Now, before you start thinking that this is an industry guy speaking as a representative of the auto industry that wants to do as little as possible and maintain the status quo for as long as possible in the area of emissions reduction, let me assure you that this is not the case. Additionally, there is perhaps no other industry in the midst of such a tsunami of change and disruption as the automotive industry, so we do appreciate that “things change.”
That said, if we hope to see the emissions reductions from transportation (and let’s remember that light-duty vehicles are responsible for about half of overall transportation emissions and about 12 per cent of overall greenhouse gas emissions in Canada) that we’ll need to see, it is going to take a collaborative and constructive dialogue between industry and governments to achieve—not unilateral pronouncements.
Let me elaborate. If we focus just on goals to decarbonize light duty vehicles, let’s look at where we are.
Canada’s goals, until recently, were targets for zero-emission vehicles of 10 per cent by 2025, 30 per cent by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2040. Earlier this year, Canada advanced its target by five years to have 100 per cent of vehicle sales be ZEVs by 2035. At the time that target was set, the federal announcement suggested that the government would work with partners (presumably the auto industry) to develop interim 2025 and 2030 targets.
However, in the meantime a federal election was held and part of the Liberal platform was to lay down a commitment to regulate a 50 per cent ZEV target by 2030, with no consultation with the automotive industry. While it is certainly the government’s prerogative to set such targets, governments don’t have a very good track record in Canada in reaching its environmental goals.
In fact, our overall light-duty GHG emissions continue to increase even though we have record levels of ZEVs on the road. So, one does not equate to the other. The other stark reality is that it is the heavy-duty vehicle sector that is responsible for a significant chunk of the on-road emissions.
This disconnection was also underscored in Clean BC’s Roadmap to 2030 that was released in October without consultation.
Under the Roadmap to 2030, the B.C. government is setting a new 90 per cent target for ZEV sales by 2030—up from the 30 per cent target they established in the Zero Emissions Vehicles Act that has only been in place since July 2020.
Part of the rationale for setting higher ZEV targets for both 2025 (now 26 per cent by 2026), and advancing the legislated target of 100 per cent ZEV sales by 2040 by five years, is because the original Clean BC plan will only achieve 32-48 per cent of their 2030 goal instead of the 75 per cent reduction hoped for, and this underperformance was laid partially at the feet of “higher-than-expected emissions in sectors such as transportation and pulp and paper.”
Conversely, part of the rationale for increasing the 2025 ZEV target of 10 per cent to 26 per cent by 2026 would seem to be based on the fact that B.C. already has sales levels approaching 10 per cent set for 2025. Therefore, we have a situation where previous overall emissions reduction targets have not been met because of higher transportation emissions, yet zero-emission vehicle targets have outperformed expectations!
The solution to reduced transportation emissions then, at least in the short term, is not directly tied to increased ZEV sales, and B.C.—along with other governments both at the federal and provincial level—need to be very careful that they do not undermine not only their emissions goals, but their ZEV adoption goals by setting unrealistically high ZEV sales targets that force manufacturers to be ultra conservative in order to ensure compliance.
Other mechanisms may assist. B.C. has one of oldest average age of vehicles in the country, so it may make more sense for the government to look at ways to get older, less efficient and more polluting vehicles off of the road, which will have a direct contribution to both transportation and overall emissions reductions.
Also, as previously noted, paying attention to emissions from the heavy-duty vehicle sector for emissions reduction gains will be important too. Credit where credit is due, the B.C. roadmap also addresses the need to improve lower carbon content for gasoline and diesel to reduce emissions from the majority of the vehicles on the road.
Quebec is another jurisdiction that is looking at making the provisions of its ZEV mandate legislation more aggressive, and manufacturer non-compliance more costly. The focus on ZEVs to support Quebec’s economic development goals of an electrified ecosystem, however, has played out in much the same way as that of B.C. More sales of ZEVs are occurring in Quebec than ever, and yet emissions from transportation continue to increase.
The solution to reduced transportation emissions then, at least in the short term, is not directly tied to increased ZEV sales…
The auto industry understands the need to decarbonize transportation to reduce emissions. The reality is that a comprehensive approach is required in collaboration and consultation with the various components of the transportation sector. Real progress is not likely to be achieved with a focus merely on driving up mandated electrification goals. One does not necessarily equate to the other.