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Policy
| 03/26/15

Electrification of transport is achievable, say Canadian scholars

TCE

Canada needs to adopt a national carbon tax. This is just one of the main conclusions of a group of 60 Canadian scholars across multiple disciplines in the natural sciences, social sciences and engineering and from every province in a 58-page report outlining an alternative climate plan for the country.

In the absence of Ottawa taking a lead in this area, the researchers have worked to develop a strategy document that outlines a series of actions that can feasibly be immediately adopted to deliver Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The document has received wide media coverage domestically, with journalists alighting mainly upon the researchers’ unanimous call for putting a price on carbon either via a direct tax or an emissions trading scheme, and on the scholars’ explanation of how the country can achieve 100% low-carbon electricity by 2035. Less attention has been paid to the report’s call for a full electrification of the nation’s transportation sector—after energy, Canada’s second largest sector for producing greenhouse gas emissions. In hydropower-rich Quebec for example, transportation accounts for 78.4 percent of GHG emissions. That province could start by electrifying all public and freight fleets, and over the mid-to-long term, move to electrification of private vehicles. Other recommended paths include developing and extending alternative models of transportation such as electric trolley-buses and a shifting of the focus of government spending from roads and airports to expansion of intercity rail and development of high-speed electric trains.

The transport discussion comes at a timely moment, as PICS readies itself for the launch of a multi-million-dollar, five-year interdisciplinary research and training programme focused on zero-emission transport systems for British Columbia. BC, like Quebec, already has an impressively low-carbon electricity production profile due to its dependence on hydroelectricity, giving emissions from the transportation sector proportionately high prominence. The aim of the new research project is to take a worthy but abstract goal—decarbonisation of the transport fleet—and turn it into concrete steps that the province can take to minimize emissions, through integrated economic, social and technological evaluation of the viability of different options, including battery, hydrogen fuel cell and natural gas-powered systems, and their integration into better land-use planning and urban design.

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