China announced last week that it intends to ban all conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles, which comes on the heels of a raft of similar moves by France, the U.K., Norway and India in recent months.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said other countries had set timelined for halting the production of conventional vehicles, and China had begun to research how this could proceed although it has not set a deadline. In July, both France and the U.K. announced that they are aiming to eliminate conventional passenger cars and vans from roads by 2040, and in April, India’s minister of power said the country is aiming for a 2030 date for a similar move.
So if China, the world’s largest automobile market, and other nations are leading the way, why is Canada a laggard in the race to decarbonize transport, globally responsible for 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions?
Due to the greater reliance on clean energy from hydroelectricity and nuclear reactors compared to many countries, transport represents a greater proportion of Canada’s emissions, or 24 percent. In B.C., where the electricity grid is almost completely clean, transport makes up 38 percent—the single largest source of emissions.
So cleaning up transport should be one of the country’s biggest climate priorities. But Canada has set no deadline for the phase out of conventional passenger cars and vans.
A number of provinces do offer a suite of supports for alternative vehicles. Ontario, B.C., and Quebec offer rebate programs and the latter two provinces offer electric vehicles (EVs) access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. And B.C. and Quebec lead sales of EVs in Canada, with both on track to hit five percent of new sales of passenger cars by the end of the year.
Norway, however, has formally set 2025 as a deadline for the end of new sales of conventional, internal combustion engine cars, and appears to be on track to achieving its goal. It hopes to reach the point where low-carbon vehicles represent a majority of all new sales by next year. The country has been able to achieve a high penetration of such cars due to their exemption from value-added taxes, road and import taxes, but also as a result of a raft of perks such as free parking, free ferries, and access to bus lanes and a government-led, countrywide build-out of charging stations. For other regions to hit Norwegian-level penetration rates, additional policy support will be required.
In March, a modelling analysis of the City of Vancouver’s climate targets by environmental economist Mark Jaccard, in part supported by PICS, offered a glimpse of the sort of aggressive policies that may be needed to support goals like those announced by China and company.
Vancouver for example has set a target of 100 percent use of renewable energy by 2030 rather than an elimination of conventional vehicles, but the former implies the latter. In order to achieve this, initial results from Jaccard’s models suggested that Vancouver would have to begin to impose parking restrictions on gasoline and diesel vehicles as soon as 2025, and by 2040 ban such vehicles from all city-controlled parking spaces. Even parking for hybrid vehicles would have to start being phased out by 2035, with a complete ban in place by 2050.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.