This is the second article in a three-part series on "Electrify Everything" in Canada.
In the first instalment, I looked at the climate urgency to "electrify everything" and how Canada's done so far.
Summary: Fossil fuel use in Canada has been surging faster than overall energy use. That's increased Canada's dependency on fossil fuel burning from 70 per cent in 2005 to 74 per cent now. In contrast, Canadian electricity use has fallen to just 20 per cent of our energy use. Instead of "electrifying everything" — as required to stop the climate crisis — we're busy de-electrifying.
That's according to data in National Resource Canada's Energy Use Data Handbook, which covers the years 2000 to 2018.
I used that same data to create this "Electrify Everything" overview chart. It shows the energy mix and emissions for each sector in Canada's economy.
In my first article, I briefly walked through this chart sector by sector, and gave a summary of our electricity generation.
In this second article, I'm going to take a closer look at the top sector on the chart — transportation.
Transportation is at the top because it emits the most climate pollution — around 200 million tonnes of CO2 per year (MtCO2). Climate pollution is the reason we need to make this energy transition. And the chart emphasizes this by setting the height of each sector's box to match its emissions from energy use.
Not only is the transport sector our biggest emitter, it is also Canada's least electrified — at a fraction of one per cent.
This government data divides transport into three sub-sectors — moving people, moving freight, and off-road vehicles (logging machinery, tractors, harvesters, and the excavators used in mining).
Analysis: Columnist @bsaxifrage takes us on a chart-filled tour of where we are in our climate-required energy transition when it comes to transportation.
Freight and off-road vehicles are responsible for a little bit less than half of our transportation energy and emissions. As the chart shows, freight trucks of various sizes dominate. Electrification is so insignificant, the handbook doesn't even have an electricity category for them.
Passenger transport consumes even more energy and emits even more climate pollution. Electricity use is trivial at less than one per cent. The orange bar for it on the chart is barely visible.
For all the media and political chatter about electric vehicles (EVs), as we will see below, Canadians aren't buying many. Instead, more than 97 per cent of the new passenger vehicles Canadians bought last year were fossil burners.
Transportation energy trends
As my "Electrify Everything" chart makes painfully clear, more than 99 per cent of Canada's transport is still dependent on burning climate-destabilizing fossil fuels. And that's not even the most disheartening part. Even worse for our hopes for a safe future, fossil burning keeps surging out of control all across the transportation sector.
As the purple text on my chart shows, fossil burning for passengers, freight and off-road rose by a combined 100 TWh — just since 2005. That's Canada's baseline year for our Paris Agreement climate targets.
In contrast, electricity rose only 0.24 TWh. That's the orange line lying flat on the floor at the bottom.
The climate math for our transportation is brutal: Canadians have cranked up fossil burning 420 times more than electricity since 2005.
We're stomping the fossil pedal hundreds of times harder than the clean energy pedal. Our kids are strapped in the back seat and the adults are accelerating everyone right off the climate cliff.
Nearly all the fossil burned for transportation is some form of oil — gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and ship fuel. I honestly have no idea why the oil-boosters in Alberta are so grumpy these days. Fossil oil isn't just winning big in Canada, it's crushing our climate-safe energy hundreds of times over. Even the phrase "left in the dust" would be a huge exaggeration because Canadians' fossil oil burning is so far ahead and pulling away so much faster that its dust will have settled centuries before our climate-safe electricity limps along.
We are digging an absolute massive climate hole for ourselves.
How government policy pumps up fossil burning
The lion's share of all this fossil fuel burning comes from a single source — the gasoline and diesel sold at the pump.
As my next chart shows, the climate pollution caused by Canadian pump sales surged 73 MtCO2 since 1990.
That more than wiped out all the progress Canadians made shutting down coal power.
Why are pump sales skyrocketing in Canada?
A primary reason is that Canadian policy keeps our gasoline taxes so far below the average paid by our peers in other OECD and G7 nations. For example, Canadians pay $400 less to dump each tonne of CO2 out our tailpipes than the British, Germans, French or Norwegians.
Canada's government likes to sell itself as a carbon pricing leader. But when it comes to our biggest and most out-of-control emissions source, the reality is the exact opposite.
Keeping it so much cheaper to climate pollute in Canada creates incentives to climate pollute more. Which is exactly what is happening.
It adds up. The average car in Canada emits 66 tonnes of CO2 out its tailpipe over its lifespan. At $400 less per tonne, Canadians end up paying $26,000 less to climate pollute per vehicle than our peers in Britain, Germany, Norway, or France.
With government policy like that, it should come as no surprise when the International Energy Agency reports that Canadians buy the world's most climate-polluting new cars and trucks.
And by making it dramatically cheaper to climate pollute with gasoline vehicles, it also dramatically reduces the incentive for Canadians to choose a vehicle powered by electricity instead.
My next chart shows the percentage of new passenger vehicles that use electricity in Canada versus many of our peer nations. We're the ones way down at the bottom.
Only three per cent of the new passenger vehicles Canadians bought last year can be powered by our super-clean electricity.
Instead, we continue to pack our roads and driveways almost exclusively with new fossil burners. They will still be burning up a storm and locking in Canadian climate failure far beyond 2030.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Canada could have matched what our northern oil-producing peer Norway did.
Years ago, Norway enacted a suite of policies to favour climate-safer EVs. Today, Norwegians choose EVs for more than 90 per cent of their new passenger vehicle sales. Their fleet is becoming so electrified, that pump sales have declined in Norway for several years in a row.
We could do that now.
Canada could also have matched what the British did in the 1990s to rein in transport emissions. They raised their gasoline taxes the equivalent of $290 per tCO2 over just eight years.
We could do that now.
We have lots of examples of effective, proven climate policies that we could adopt. We just aren't acting.
Canada first promised to reduce our oversized climate pollution way back in 1988. As my final chart sadly shows, we haven't. Instead, we have the worst climate record among our G7 peers. By far.
Is this really who we want to be?
If not, then we need to start cutting our fossil fuel burning and "electrify everything" instead. And that's especially true for our most-polluting and least-electrified sector: transportation.
What would that look like?
First and foremost, it means not buying any more fossil-burning vehicles. Every time a new fossil burner rolls off the lot, all its future climate pollution gets locked in. And the opportunity to switch over to Canadian-made, climate-safer electricity is lost for another decade or two — until that vehicle gets scrapped.
And a second big climate step many Canadians can take with their transportation dollars is to stop burning fossil jet fuel. That's our second-biggest cause of transportation emissions and the fastest-growing since 2005. So, when you fly, just make sure you opt for a zero-emitting flight. Pick one that is powered by electricity or green hydrogen.
The aviation industry has been talking about its commitment to provide clean, climate-safe flights for decades. So, surely there are many great climate-safe flight options to choose from by now. And if for some reason you can't find one, then you can always do what I and a growing number of climate concerned folks are doing — stay grounded until Big Air offers more than a sparkly coat of greenwash over its soaring climate damages.
The bottom line is this government data has made painfully clear that our fossil fuel burning continues to rise dangerously in Canada. And that is especially true when it comes to moving ourselves and our stuff around. If we want a fighting chance at a safe and sane future, we need to start acting like it’s a crisis, stop our burning, and get to work electrifying everything we do.
Next up: This was Part 2 of a three-part series on "Electrify Everything" in Canada. The final article will look at one of Canada's most electrified sectors — residential buildings.