OECD report puts Canada’s transportation emissions under a spotlight

Jeff Mackey

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) plays many roles on the global stage, one such role is to put together performance reviews of member countries to gauge their GHG emissions, environmental policies and deployment of green infrastructure.

Canada is no exception and in December the “OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Canada 2017” was released in Ottawa. The report takes a comprehensive, outsiders look at Canada’s environmental bona fides, including its carbon pricing agenda, wastewater management, investment in green technology and sectoral emissions since the year 2000.

Of most interest to the readers of this blog will be the report’s findings on Canada’s on-road transportation emissions and its recommendations for better mobility pricing in Canada.

“… Reducing the high energy intensity, and therefore the high emissions intensity, of transport in Canada will rely a lot on cutting emissions from road transport. This can happen through improved efficiency and restraining the demand for travel. Canadians are used to low fuel prices, low-density housing settlements and, in many places, little provision of public transport. All of these factors contribute to high energy use in private transport.” -OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Canada 2017

Transportation emissions are a major concern for Canada’s environment and will need to be reduced if Canada plans to meet its GHG reductions targets as laid out in the Paris Accord. The graph below lays out how oil & gas and transportation are Canada’s two fastest growing emissions sources.

“Emissions from transport accounts for about one-quarter of Canada’s GHG emissions, and three-quarters of this comes from road transport. The rate of increase from transport emissions has slowed as a result of various federal and provincial policies. These include federal GHG emission regulations for new on-road vehicles, provincial and federal renewable fuel standards, and investments in public transit infrastructure. However, emissions from transport have continued to grow since 2000.” -OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Canada 2017

The report makes three recommendations to reduce transport emissions in Canada, (1) implement carbon pricing to make fossil fuels more adequately priced and to incentivize the use of renewable fuels, (2) promote greater fuel economy and better testing of fuel emissions, and (3) promote road, congestion, parking and other mobility pricing that will reduce the use of private transport.

While vehicle emissions standards appear to have been effective in Canada, this has coincided with a shift from smaller vehicles to light-duty vehicles (trucks and SUVs) that have mitigated the advances in fuel economy. The report points out that in 2015, four of the top 10 selling vehicles in Canada were pickup trucks and two were SUVs.

Mobility pricing is a very interesting recommendation from the OECD as it is rare in Canada, but commonplace in many other OECD jurisdictions. The graph below lays out the fuel taxes of different OECD countries, Canada has some of the lowest taxed fuel in the organization.

In addition to fuel taxation the OECD report looks at a number of other mobility pricing ‘tools in the toolbox.’ The report also points to road tolls to limit congestion and finance infrastructure investment, congestion pricing to break up gridlock and bridge tolls to open corridors.

Potential changes to parking policy were highlighted to the report, stating that mandatory parking minimums in municipalities subsidise car use at the expense of other transportation modes and ultimately increase congestion.

Another area the report highlighted was the need for transit oriented development in Canadian cities. According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, residents in these developments tend to own 15% to 30% fewer vehicles, drive 20% to 40% fewer annual kilometres and rely more on walking, cycling and public transit than they would in automobile-dependent communities. The report found that major Canadian cities were densifying, though they still lagged behind many other major OECD countries. The report also pointed to programs like the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and the Smart Cities Challenge as potentially positive developments in Canada.

“Reducing GHG emissions in road transport can be done in two broad ways: reducing distance travelled per vehicle and reducing emissions per distance travelled. In turn, these can be split into two methods: reducing distance travelled by cutting transport demand or by shifting to mass transit; and reducing emission per distance travelled by reducing emissions per vehicle or (again) by switching to mass transit.” -OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Canada 2017

Moving forward, all levels of government should be prioritizing creating a modal shift, away from private occupancy vehicles and towards sustainable mobility options. Creating a modal shift and reducing transportation emissions will take federal investment, provincial cooperation and municipal leadership to accomplish.

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