February 21, 2005

Canada faces the toughest Kyoto challenge; strong measures needed to reduce transport emissions

Canada has the toughest job of all countries that have agreed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. But it is a challenge the country must win, says Al Cormier, president of the Centre for Sustainable Transportation (CST). As the Kyoto Protocol came into effect last week, the CST proposed a number of measures which it said could, if implemented soon enough, ensure that by 2012, transport-related GHG emissions would be closer to the target of 6% below 1990 levels rather than the projected 40% above those levels.

"Canada is the only ratifying country experiencing substantial population growth between 1990 and 2012," Cormier pointed out. "As a result, the per-capita reduction in GHG emissions required of the 15 participating European Union countries, for example, is 14%. For each Canadian, the emission reduction target is 23%. Canada's population is projected to increase by 22% between 1990 and 2010, while that of the 15 European Union nations is expected to grow by only 7% during that period; the EU's 8% emissions reduction target under Kyoto represents a per-capita reduction of 14%.

"Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is laudable, notwithstanding its population challenge," he continued. "But we must follow through with actions that are effective enough to ensure that our obligations will be met. That won't happen without strong measures to curb GHG emissions, particularly from road transport."

Since 1990, transport has been a major contributor to the growth in Canada's GHG emissions: this sector accounted for 33% of total emissions in 1990, with passenger vehicles making up 20% and freight activity making up 12%. Between 1990 and 2002, however, the CST notes that transport contributed 40% of the growth in GHG emissions and freight activity, notably trucking, made the largest contribution to the growth in transport-related emissions. For 2003 and 2004, the growth in GHG emissions from transport is projected to be as high as or higher than the average growth between 1990 and 2002. The CST further estimates the overall growth in GHG emissions since 1990 from all sectors at over 20%.

Cormier said fuel costs and prices will increase significantly over the next few years and people everywhere should start adapting to that reality now to maintain our competitive advantages in trade. Fuel taxes and/or other automotive user charges should be increased sufficiently to reduce fuel use significantly by 2009, with the proceeds used to reduce other federal taxes, improve transit and provide incentives to build multi-unit dwellings. The CST notes that even if a hefty tax increase pushed pump prices for gasoline and diesel fuel to well over $1.00 per litre, this would still be lower than in many countries.

More effective use of all transport modes needs to be encouraged, he added, and the fuel economy of new road vehicles needs to improve by 35% within five years. The automotive industry achieved this degree of improvement between 1975 and 1980 and could certainly repeat its achievement, says the CST. Other measures should be implemented to further discourage operation of trucks that are less than three-quarters full. Available data suggest that 50% of all trucks on the road are half empty, adding hugely to GHG emissions per tonne of goods transported.

Cormier said the Centre proposes doubling public transit ridership by the year 2010, with as much of the increase as feasible carried by electrically-powered vehicles.

He said the Centre is proposing a range of transport demand-management measures, such as tax exemptions for employer-provided transit benefits, pricing and other incentives for more efficient use of the transport system, and greater use of intermodal transport to help reduce road congestion and pollution.

Finally, current, accurate data collection is needed so that progress toward emissions reduction (or lack of it) can be monitored and measures adjusted as required.

The CST is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the sustainable movement of people and freight within Canada through research, analysis, balanced information, co-operation and facilitating change. Currently based in Toronto, the Centre will be relocating to Winnipeg this year (ELW January 31). More information is available on the CST Web site, www.cstctd.org or from research director Richard Gilbert, 416/923-8839, E-mail richardgilbert1@csi.com.

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