Zero-Emission Vehicles & Net Zero Communities: The Link
January 6, 2023
Canada recently announced new sales mandates for zero-emission vehicles. At least 20% of new vehicles sold in Canada are to be zero emissions by 2026, 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. Many manufacturers have already set ambitious targets for electric vehicle (EV) production.
EVs are an important technology to decarbonize road transportation which contributes 82% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Canada. This represents 21% of total Canadian GHG emissions. However, the success of this pathway to net zero for the transportation sector depends on how electricity is generated. If electricity is generated from fossil fuels, as it is to some degree in most regions in Canada, then emissions are simply moved upstream. The production of EVs is also not free of emissions. Indirectly, energy goes into the production of steel, plastics, glass and batteries which is still primarily fossil fuels.
Not surprisingly, community energy plans find the transportation sector is the largest contributor to GHG emissions in most communities. In addition to the electrification of transportation, three other measures are available to communities to reduce emissions from this sector.
- Reduce average trip length by building more compact and complete communities where people do not have to travel as far to live, work, or play regardless of the mode of their transportation.
- Promote active transportation by investing in infrastructure that will make it safer and more convenient for people to choose to walk or cycle.
- Invest in public transportation to make it a convenient choice for people.
The rapid transition to electric vehicles (EVs) will have implications for municipal land use planning, zoning by-laws and permitting. Municipal EV strategies help to smooth the transition, ensuring charging station availability and equitable access to the benefits of EVs which include improved local air quality and reduced noise, as well as attracting EV-industry investment and jobs, among other opportunities.
What can you do as a consumer? Buy an EV? Yes, if you can. But also buy a smaller car. Despite fuel efficiency improvements across all vehicle classes, road transportation GHG emissions in Canada grew by 19% between 2005 and 2018. High fuel consumption levels reflect a growing share of SUVs and pick-up trucks in Canada. The share of SUV/pick-up trucks sales grew from 33% in 2005 to 67% in 2019. This is the highest in the world and nearly one quarter above the global average. We can choose not to waste the energy (electricity included) and materials associated with transporting nearly two tons of metal to move (usually) a single person. Even the average weight of new personal vehicles in Canada has increased and is 20% above the global average.
(Source: International Energy Agency)