BLOG: Reflections on COP27 and the Road to Net-zero

Published December 22, 2022.

At this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (known as COP27), delegates from around the world convened in Sharm El Sheikh Egypt to recommit to a global net-zero target. We were on the ground representing our members to discuss how public transit can help decarbonize Canadian cities and highlighting public transit’s role in building more sustainable cities around the world.

All aboard.

On the path to net-zero, we believe public transit is a critical tool for all cities. Electrification and technological innovations in sustainable public transit are no longer on-route – they’ve arrived! It’s time to begin assessing the larger environmental and societal benefits sustainable transit represents. Electric cars alone will not reduce traffic in our overcrowded cities, nor will they provide an affordable means of transit for all Canadians. Accessible city planning needs to account for students, the elderly, essential workers, low-income workers, people living with disabilities, and everyday Canadians who need affordable and practical ways to commute.

Now is not the time to take our foot off the accelerator.

Globally, Canada is currently ranked 11th highest in CO2 emissions per capita. All too often we hear that driving a car is the “most reliable way”. If we want to lead on the world stage Canadians need a way of getting where they need to go more sustainably. Public transit services in Canada currently reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 6.1 and 14.3 megatonnes a year, and estimates suggest that every $250 million invested in transit operations is equivalent to taking 57,000 to 120,000 cars off the road. Public transit presents an alternative, if – and only if – there is sufficient, frequent, and reliable service.

Thinking globally, we need to act locally first.

As world economies face covid-related budgetary shortfalls and other inflationary pressures, transit service levels are at risk at a pivotal time when we need to think bigger and longer-term when it comes to climate change mitigation strategies. COP27 reminded the world of the importance of decarbonization. Here at home, the transportation sector makes up 24% of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Any reduction in the quality or frequency of service means that Canadians are at risk of being left in the cold, with diminishing transit revenues, and more single occupancy vehicles on our roads. All commuters are affected by similar factors i.e., wanting to get where they need to go – faster, safer, with fewer waits and unnecessary transfers. Canadians need a more sustainable option to turn to if we plan on living up to our emission reduction pledges.

What happens when public transit service is reduced? A future rider is lost.

If service levels drop, transit becomes less appealing, and commuters will find other modes of transportation. Service level reductions would likely result in slowing or reversing the ridership return that systems and municipalities have been waiting for since the worst of the pandemic. Over the last 18 months, ridership has increased steadily month-over-month. While ridership levels approaching three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels is promising, the last two years have demonstrated the need for “rainy-day” planning for cities and the essential services that keep them running. Transitioning to a green economy with decarbonized transit fleets creates jobs, reduces dependence on fossil fuels, saves systems money (by reducing dependence on increasingly volatile fuel prices), and helps accelerate decarbonization.

Transit will help us get there.

Getting people to ride transit is the first step. Getting riders to love the experience enough to recommend it over other modes has been a challenge for the last 100 years and will continue to be a focus as we try to regain the ridership we lost during the pandemic. For now, we must consider one very convenient truth – even diesel-powered public transit represents a significant environmental benefit for cities. Regardless of what type of vehicle is being used, sustainable integrated mobility and other methods of mass transit are the best way to help take cars off the road, while building greener and  more accessible cities.

Staying on track.

COP27 was an important reminder that Canada is not alone in this global fight to combat climate change. Transit will help us stay on track toward net-zero. Collective action and international collaboration are necessary if we want to tackle climate change on a global scale.

Be sure to check out videos from our trip on our “COP27” YouTube Playlist linked below: