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One of Canada’s largest and most out-of-control sources of climate pollution is the CO2 we pump out our tailpipes. These emissions keep rising because the number of fossil fuel-burning vehicles (burnermobiles) on our roads keeps rising.

To avoid a full-blown climate crisis, our emissions must fall to “net zero” in a few short decades. That will require zero tailpipes spewing CO2. To get there in time, Canada set a goal for all new cars and trucks to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2035. That’s just a little over a decade away.

Fortunately, Canadians can switch to battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). These have no internal combustion engine and no tailpipe. Instead, they run on made-in-Canada electricity only — which is some of the climate-cleanest in the world.

How are we doing on the switch to zero-emissions vehicles? Take a look.

Canada is in the slow lane, overall

My first chart shows where Canadians are today compared to many other nations. It includes the world’s three largest economies, which are home to the world’s three largest car markets: the United States, China and the European Union.

The green bars on the chart show how many new passenger vehicles were BEVs last year. Let’s start at the top.

BEV share of 2023 new passenger vehicle sales in Canada and several nations

Leading the global race are the Norwegians, who chose BEVs for 82 per cent of new passenger vehicles last year. The next five nations are northern neighbours. Hmm. Contrary to what you might have read, it looks like BEVs work great in cold regions.

China is far ahead of the global average at 25 per cent. It also dominates the market in sheer numbers, buying half the world’s BEVs.

Further down is the European Union, which averaged 15 per cent BEVs. Its individual nations, however, ranged widely, from Sweden at 39 per cent to Slovakia at just three per cent.

The global average, shown in yellow, was 11 per cent.

These charts show where Canada and our provinces are in the global EV race compared to the U.S., China and European nations. @bsaxifrage writes for @NatObserver #EVs #gas #GHG

And well below that, distractedly puttering along in the slow lane, are Canada (eight per cent) and the U.S. (seven per cent). Fortunately, not all of our provinces are such slowpokes.

Fast versus slow provinces

In this next chart, I’ve added the provinces as orange bars. As you can see, some are zooming ahead while others are barely moving.

BEV share of 2023 new passenger vehicle sales in Canada, its provinces, and several nations

Canada's leaders are British Columbia (16 per cent) and Quebec (14 per cent). Both are switching to zero-emissions BEVs faster than the global average.

Unsurprisingly, they’re also the two provinces with the longest-running rebates for buying EVs.

All the rest are far below the global average.

And unsurprisingly again, these provinces offer no EV rebates (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) or just started them recently (the Maritimes).

P.E.I. is an interesting case study. It only started offering EV rebates three years ago. But already its BEV sales have jumped from almost nothing to five per cent last year.

It turns out that five per cent has been the magic tipping point in most regions when BEVs adoption really takes off. Hopefully, that holds for our provinces too.

(Data notes: Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador are lumped together on the chart because Statistics Canada doesn’t show data for them separately. The territories are not shown because they too are not broken out separately. Estimates from other data sources put the territories close to the bottom of the chart in the company of most of the other provinces.)

Electric cars and trucks are newsworthy for lots of reasons. They are exciting to drive, cheaper to fuel, packed with new technology, they don't add to the unhealthy smog in our cities and they can be zero-emission. But when it comes to measuring climate progress, they’re an indirect indicator at best. What matters to the climate isn’t how quickly electric cars are increasing — it’s how quickly fossil-fuel-burning vehicles are decreasing.

So, if we want to get to climate safety, our burner fleet needs to rapidly shrink. Fewer tailpipes, not more. On this critical climate task, Canada and the provinces are still driving in the wrong direction.

Fossil fuel burners are increasing, too

Here’s a chart showing the number of burnermobiles on Canadian roads. This is the latest data available from Statistics Canada. It covers the entire light-duty vehicle fleet from 2017 to 2022.

Canadian and provincial fleets of light-duty road vehicles with internal combustion engines 2017 to 2022

Canada overall is the solid black line on the chart. It shows that our nationwide total of fossil fuel-burning cars and trucks has increased five per cent in the last five years.

Provinces are shown by dotted lines. What jumped out at me is the mix of provinces at the top of the chart. It turns out that the provinces increasing BEVs the fastest (B.C., Quebec and Ontario) have also been rapidly increasing their burnermobile fleet.

In fact, B.C. has been the Canadian leader in both. As we saw above, B.C. leads our BEV race — choosing them for a national high of 16 per cent of new vehicles. Meanwhile, this last chart shows B.C. has also been increasing burnermobiles at the fastest rate in the nation — up 7.5 per cent in five years.

Increasing the number of burnermobiles is driving away from climate safety, not towards it. More tailpipes mean more climate pollution and more climate disruption locked into our future.

As I mentioned at the start, if we want any shot at avoiding a full-blown climate crisis, then our emissions must fall to “net zero” in a few short decades. That will require the number of CO2-spewing tailpipes to also fall to zero.

Back in 2000, we had 18 million fossil fuel-burning cars and trucks on Canadian roads. Now we have 26 million.

To turn that around, Canadians must stop buying so many new burnermobiles. Otherwise, our rising fleet of burners will run right over our nation's climate goals and hopes.

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I want to see EV charging networks take debit and credit cards instead of requiring users to have an account and an "app".

While I don't dispute your numbers, it's also important how many kilometres are driven by each class of vehicle, and whether city or highfway.

"Canada's leaders are British Columbia (16 per cent) and Quebec (14 per cent)."
EV adoption is concentrated in the major cities, and particularly in wealthy neighbourhoods.

Here are the B.C. neighbourhoods with the highest percentage of electric vehicle owners (Vancouver Sun, Nov 23, 2023)
"Just over one in 10 vehicles registered with ICBC in Vancouver's V6J postal code, which covers Kitsilano and Shaughnessy, were EVs."
"EV ownership rates in most of B.C.'s rural areas are currently less than 1% of all vehicles, according to ICBC's data. In northern B.C., where EV ownership is the lowest, 0.1% of vehicles are electric.
"Even in mid-sized urban centres, like Kamloops and Kelowna, ownership rates are only around 2%."

Outside these wealthy urban pockets, these two provinces are not much different than the rest of backwards Canada. As Saxifrage notes (buried further down in the article), B.C. has been the Canadian leader in both EV and ICE car adoption.

Saxifrage ignores the particulate pollution from cars, including EVs. And all the other ills associated with car culture. Not impressed.
The electric car race takes on a road to nowhere.
A detour away from sustainability.

There is only one viable urban transit option. Not cars.
The push for EVs mostly benefits car companies. At the expense of society and the environment.
Next topic: How your province rates in the global transit race.

The fact that EV uptake is concentrated in wealthy urban enclaves — virtual gated communities fortified by wealth — underlines the observation that EVs are the yuppie response to climate change. No solution to the climate crisis is more shallow.
Not for nothing that most of the first EV models were luxury cars beyond the reach of most citizens. Wealthy progressives want EV subsidies so they can salve their guilty conscience over their outsize footprint without having to make any real change in their unsustainable lifestyles.

Simply galling that transportation subsidies are flowing to wealthy consumers in Kitsilano, Westmount, and Rosedale, while the marginalized and non-drivers wait at the bus stop for a bus that never comes.
On the social equity scale, EV subsidies rank a zero. Dreadful climate policy.
No one should think that by buying an EV he is saving the planet.

While your comments are valid for the US and Canada and your advocacy for public transit instead of individual cars is spot on, it must be remembered that much of the rest of the world has access to smaller, much less expensive, and more manoeuvrable EVs. The European market and the Chinese markets have affordable EVs that we cannot get here because of the power of the legacy car manufacturers who stand to lose if we can buy affordable EVs. The smaller EVs from those legacy car companies have largely been discontinued because those companies cannot compete; they have to make you want and sell you large SUVs for megabucks to keep their economic heads above water. The lobbying from these powerful legacy companies is a major impediment to progress toward dealing effectively with GHG emissions in the short term.

Doug Ford set Ontario back by a decade or more in climate change mitigation. Ending green energy projects, stopping rebates for electric vehicles, and siding with polluters in the effort to put a cost on burning carbon, Ford and the Conservatives betray with their every action that they are climate-change deniers. Ontario needs to leave these dinosaurs in the past, where they'd rather live anyway.

I like the tailpipe metric. It's far more indicative of emissions reduction than a simple EV count. The lower adoption of EVs in rural settings may be more of a cultural issue that a technical problem. I'm much happier taking subways and trolleys in urban centres and driving my EV when outside of them. If you have good public transit why have the bother and expense of a private vehicle? Of course, some politicians translate "good public transit" to minimal public transit. Sigh.

I'm a frustrated rural BC resident wanting to give up my gas vehicle. Deciding to buy an EV's requires an EV charging station infrastructure that is reliable and accessible - there are few stations in rural areas, and frequently stations that don't work when you need to recharge (family members have EVs). Then there is the prohibitive cost of 4 wheel drive EVs (needed where we live). Issues of the sustainability/recycling of batteries is another barrier. We absolutely need to move to low/no carbon transit but buying an EV isn't an option for us at this time.

It would be interesting to know what the percentage would be of new ICE vehicle purchases that are PHEVS, especially in provinces such as B.C., Quebec and Ontario.