Transportation - Canada's largest GHG increase
Information on the environmental impacts of transportation in Canada appears in a special section of the 2006 edition of StatCan’s annual Human Activity and the Environment report, which details how Canadians interact with the natural environment.
Canadians are relying more than ever on cars and trucks, increasing the volume of fuel purchases for road vehicles by more than 20 percent since 1990. Overall, transportation consumed 31 percent of all energy used in Canada in 2004, the second largest user after industry.
As a result, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation increased by 30 percent between 1990 and 2004, by around 45 million tonnes, or Megatonnes (Mt). Canada is required under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions to six percent below 1990 levels between 2008-2012. The increase in transportation related emissions accounts for a significant portion of the 195 Mt by which the country currently exceeds its target, known as the ‘Kyoto gap’.
Most of the growth in transportation emissions came from road vehicles, as Canadians have become more dependent on automobiles, particularly sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, as well as heavy-duty transport trucks.
One study by Transport Canada estimates that half a billion litres of fuel are wasted annually because of traffic congestion, resulting in 1.2 to 1.4 million tonnes of GHG emissions.
While greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have risen, emissions of major air pollutants have declined. Catalytic converters and cleaner burning fuels have helped reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from transportation by 19 percent between 1990 and 2004, and emissions of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) each dropped 37%. NOx and VOCs contribute to ground-level ozone found in urban smog, and can cause health and environmental problems. NOx also is a major contributor to acid rain.
The environmental impacts of transportation are not limited to air pollution. Manufacturing and disposing of vehicles also consumes significant amounts of energy and natural resources, as well as producing pollution.
Road construction and maintenance also have an impact. One study estimates that Canadian road crews spread nearly five million tonnes of road salt in Canada each year, increasing the salinity of soils, damaging vegetation and contaminating ground water.
The report makes it clear that transportation has a major environmental impact in Canada, and also provides insight into what improvements have been made and where future efforts in this are should be targeted. The report can be found here.