November 13, 2006

StatsCan profiles growth in transportation GHG emissions

Transportation activities generated more than one-quarter of Canada's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2004 and accounted for 28% of their growth from 1990 to 2004. During the same period, however, emissions of several criteria air contaminants (CACs) declined substantially. These and other findings are reported in a detailed assessment of the environmental impacts of transportation by Statistics Canada. The report is part of the 2006 edition of Human Activity and the Environment, StatsCan's annual compendium of information on how Canadians interact with their environment.

Transportation-related GHG emissions (as carbon dioxide equivalent, CO2e) increased by approximately 30% between 1990 and 2004, from 150,000 to 190,000 kilotonnes (kt) of CO2e. The main contributor to this increase was Canada's growing dependence on road vehicles to move people and goods.

GHG emissions from road transportation increased by nearly 36% overall, with emissions from light trucks (i.e. vans and SUVs) virtually doubling, from 22,300 to 44,500 kg CO2e, and GHG emissions from heavy-duty vehicles rising by 77.5%, from 27,700 to 49,100 kt CO2e during this period. These two sources accounted for 86% of the increase in transportation-related GHG emissions. GHG emissions from rail transportation, however, showed a 15.3% decline between 1990 and 2004, from 7,000 to 6,000 kt CO2e.

Besides greenhouse gases, transportation is a leading emitter of three CACs in particular, accounting for nearly three-quarters of carbon monoxide (CO), more than one-half of nitrogen oxide (NOX) and more than one-quarter of the volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in 2004, as well as upwards of 17% of fine particulate matter.

StatsCan notes, however, that CAC emissions from transportation activities have declined over time, thanks largely to the use of catalytic converters and cleaner-burning fuels. NOX emissions from transportation were 19% lower in 2004 than in 1990, while CO and VOC emissions each dropped by 37% during the same period. Total particulate matter (TPM) emissions were reduced overall by 28%, including declines of 29% in PM up to ten microns in size (PM10) and 29% in PM 2.5 microns or less in size (PM2.5)

Canadians have come to rely more and more on their cars and trucks, says StatsCan. In 1951, there were nearly five people for every vehicle registered in Canada. By the mid-1980s, this figure had dropped to fewer than two people per vehicle has remained at that level since then.

Between 1990 and 2004, says the report, the volume of fuel purchased at the pump by road vehicles grew by more than 20%. In 2004, transportation consumed 31% of all energy used in Canada, making this sector the second largest user after industry.

The report points to the growing use of heavy-duty trucks to move goods and a shift towards greater use of light trucks (vans, sports utility vehicles and pickups) for transporting people. These two trends have put upward pressure on GHG emissions and limited the decline of smog-forming pollutants.

A contributing factor to increasing truck traffic on roads is the concept of "just-in-time" delivery of freight, whereby companies require delivery that is tightly synchronized with manufacturing processes. While this helps companies compete by reducing the expense of carrying large inventories, it also means that trucks are making more trips and thus producing more emissions.

Growth in cross-border trade has also pushed up demand for trucking. Between 1990 and 2003, truck traffic across the Canada-U.S. border grew five times faster than domestic traffic. (Traffic is measured on a tonne-kilometre basis, which takes into account both the distance travelled and weight of shipments.)

The environmental impacts of transportation extend beyond air pollutant emissions, StatsCan points out. Traffic jams, for example, are more than a frustrating time-waster for drivers: a recent Transport Canada study examining costs of traffic congestion for Canada's nine largest urban areas estimated that about half a billion litres of fuel are wasted annually because of congestion. This amounts to between 1.2 million tonnes and 1.4 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

Moreover, Canadian companies ship millions of tonnes of salt each year, much of it used to de-ice roads. One study has estimated that road crews spread nearly five million tonnes of road salt in Canada each year, increasing the salinity of soils, damaging vegetation and contaminating groundwater.

Human Activity and the Environment also provides a comprehensive set of data describing how Canadians interact with the environment. It includes information on topics such as climate, natural resources and ecosystems. A section discussing the pressures on Canada's environment presents information on the population, economic conditions and consumption of natural resources.

The report also includes a section on socio-economic responses to environmental conditions, exploring the ways in which government, industry and individuals are working to reduce the harmful impacts of their activities on the environment. Among the highlights:

*Legislative enforcement activities declined between 1991-92 and 1996-97, but have risen substantially since then due to an increase in the number of inspections conducted and warnings issued under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). The number of on- and off-site inspections under CEPA virtually doubled between 1998-99 and 2004-05.

*From 1989 to 2003, Canada's total area of protected land increased from 29 million to 82 million hectares. The proportion of protected area varied by jurisdiction in 2003, ranging from 2.6% in Prince Edward Island to 13% in British Columbia.

*Canadian businesses spent a total of $6.8 billion on environmental protection in 2002, up from $5.4 billion in 2000. Environmental protection-related operating expenditures reached $3.8 billion in 2002, up 17% from almost $3.3 billion in 2000. Capital spending in this area rose 35% between 2000 and 2002, from $2.2 billion to $2.9 billion. The oil and gas extraction industry accounted for the highest total environmental protection expenditure, investing $1.1 billion.

*Canada's environment industry had revenues of $15.8 billion in 2002, with businesses in Ontario and Quebec accounting for $6.9 billion and $3.1 billion of the total, respectively. Environmental services brought in 44% of the total revenues, followed by environmental goods at 42% and environment-related construction services.

*In 2002, Canadian companies cited "good operating practices or pollution prevention training" as the most widely used method of pollution prevention (74%), followed by prevention of leaks or spills (70%) and "recirculation, recovery, re-use or recycling" (65%).

*Canadians generated 971 kg of non-hazardous solid waste per capita in 2002, up 2% from 2000. The national rate for waste diversion stood at 22% in 2002, with Nova Scotia reporting the highest rate (30%) followed by BC (29%) and PEI (28%). Nova Scotians had the lowest per-capita disposal rate, at 417 kg, while Albertans had the highest (928 kg per capita). Almost half (49%) of non-hazardous solid waste came from industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sources, followed by residential sources (40%) and construction and demolition activities (12%).

*More than 6.6 million tonnes of non-hazardous materials were recycled in 2002: mixed paper made up 23% of the total recycled material, followed by organic material (18%).

StatsCan's Human Activity and the Environment; Annual Statistics, 2006 (16-201-XIE, free) is now available on-line at A printed version may be purchased for $58. Ordering information is available by calling toll-free 1-800-263-1136 or by E-mail

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