Canada has become the first country to sign on to the Drive to Zero Pledge, an international initiative aimed at increasing the number of zero and low emission vehicles in the medium- and heavy-duty transportation sector.
By signing the pledge, Canada is joining other partners, including municipal governments, in committing to eliminate barriers and implement mechanisms that accelerate the viability and growth of zero emission technology for these commercial vehicles.
“It’s so important that we look at our medium- and heavy-duty vehicles … our buses and trucks. We can be doing a lot better,” said Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, who announced Canada’s commitment in Vancouver on Tuesday during a global clean energy summit hosted by Natural Resources Canada.
The Clean Energy Ministerial event brought government officials, clean energy experts and private sector stakeholders from more than 25 countries together to exchange ideas for advancing the global transition to a low-carbon economy.
“This is a huge opportunity,” McKenna added. “It’s the excitement about seeing [Canadian] companies … that are really moving the dial.”
The Drive to Zero Pledge is spearheaded by CALSTART, a California-based non-profit and broker for the clean transportation technology industry. The goal of the campaign is to make zero emission technology commercially viable in “beachhead” or smaller markets by 2025, building up to the domination of zero emission technology in commercial vehicle sales globally by 2040. These medium- and heavy-duty vehicles range from box trucks to school buses to eighteen wheelers.
Drive to Zero partners include cities, manufacturers, fleets, fuel suppliers, and now, Canada. The B.C. government and the City of Vancouver have also signed on.
In 2017, annual heavy-duty gasoline vehicles accounted for 13 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, while heavy-duty diesel vehicles contributed 47 megatonnes. These totals add up to increases of 11 and 28 per cent, respectively, between 2005 and 2017. Combined, emissions from these heavy-duty vehicles comprised nearly 30 per cent of the total amount of heat-trapping pollution from Canada's transportation sector, which added up to 201 megatonnes in 2017.
Released in March, elements of the 2019 federal budget appear to align with the objectives of Drive to Zero. Ottawa proposed new tax incentives for businesses that adopt zero-emission vehicles and committed $130 million over five years to support new charging infrastructure.
During the announcement, Minister McKenna also pointed to several Canadian companies manufacturing electric buses and called for greater purchasing of made-in-Canada electric vehicles at home. In March, one of the event’s partners, Clean Energy Canada, released a report that found while Canada is home to leading-edge electric bus manufacturing companies, Canadian transit agencies are not buying them as fast as their counterparts in other countries.
Cutting emissions from transportation and buildings
Minister McKenna was then joined by Tamara Vrooman and Steven Guilbeault, the co-chairs of the minister’s advisory council on climate action for the release of the council’s final report. It outlines a series of recommendations for Canada’s built environment and transportation sectors.
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the transportation sector is Canada’s second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions at 24 per cent in 2017.
“In some provinces, like my own in Quebec, transportation is actually 43 per cent of emissions,” said Guilbeault, who is also a co-founder of the environmental organization Équiterre and rumoured to be considering a run in politics as a federal Liberal in a Montreal-area riding.
Buildings or the built environment accounted for 12 per cent of Canada’s total emissions. The built environment refers to human-made surroundings, such as buildings or parks, where people live, work or engage in recreational activities.
The report recommends Ottawa starts to implement a regulatory process that will ensure zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) represent at least 10 percent of new vehicle sales in 2025, 30 per cent in 2030, and 100 per cent in 2040. Ottawa set this target in its 2019 budget. However, the council said it does not believe current measures are sufficient to achieve the target.
“In our view, there is a need to send a clear, regulatory signal to manufacturers to increase the supply of ZEVs," the report reads.
Around two per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada are ZEVs. According to Fleetcarma, nearly 35,000 plug-in electric vehicles were sold in Canada in the first three quarters of 2018, an increase of 158 per cent compared to the same time period in 2017.
In April, the B.C. government also tabled legislation that would require all new light-duty cars and trucks sold in the province to be zero emission by 2040 and set the same 2025 and 2030 targets as the council’s report. Electric vehicles now also comprise one per cent of all passenger vehicles in Metro Vancouver.
With its 2019 budget, Ottawa adopted a recommendation from the advisory council’s interim report, establishing purchase incentives of up to $5,000 for electric vehicles and up to $2,500 for plug-in hybrids. These federal rebates can be combined with rebates in B.C. and Quebec. Previously, Ontario offered rebates of up to $14,000 in rebates for electric and hydrogen vehicles, which were funded by proceeds from the province’s carbon pricing program. The rebate has since been scrapped by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.
In terms of buildings, the advisory council report includes suggestions on how to strengthen market demand for retrofitting buildings and recommends the federal government accelerate the pace of retrofits for its own buildings. Ottawa has pledged $1.01 billion, delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, in to increase energy efficiency in residential, commercial and multi-unit buildings. The advisory council's report also calls on Ottawa to publicly disclose energy use ratings for all federal buildings.
“If you go do a major retrofit and you can show that you’re going to get a reduction … you should be able to write it off after the fact. These are really smart ideas,” McKenna said of the council’s report.
Vrooman said she is pleased that the government is prioritizing the built environment and transportation sectors.
“Buildings are longer term investments … we need to be making investments in changing the profile of energy consumption and GHG emissions today, in order that those investments will be current tomorrow," said Vrooman, who also called for better measurement and data on energy consumption in order to inform long-term, energy-efficient investments.