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To fight climate change, the Quebec government has made a commitment to reduce the province’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 20% below the 1990 level by 2020 and to 37.5% by 2030. One of the only ways to reach this goal is to make major structural changes in the area of transportation.

 

 

PUTTING OUR GHG EMISSIONS ON A DIET

The transportation sector accounts for the largest portion of GHG emissions in Quebec, with 43% of total emissions. This sector has also seen the biggest increase in its emissions since 1990, largely due to the popularity of larger vehicles, longer distances travelled and the total number of registered vehicles. In fact, road transport alone is responsible for 78% of GHG emissions in the transportation sector.

Given the constant increase in the number of cars on our roads, the electrification of transportation could have a positive impact on GHG emissions. Since Quebec does not use fossil fuels to produce its electricity, it has one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world: emissions from electricity generation account for less than 1% of Quebec’s GHG emissions. Thus, if we were to replace 1 million gas-powered vehicles with electric vehicles (approximately 16% of the current vehicle fleet), we could reduce Quebec’s GHG emissions by roughly 4.37 million tonnes per year without having to boost our production of electricity.

MORE MONEY AND MORE JOBS FOR US

Quebec is one of the largest consumers of energy in the world. Even though nearly all the electricity we generate is green energy, much of the energy we consume is still oil-based (40%). Transportation, the sector most responsible for our strong dependence on oil, represents 70% of our petroleum product needs, 62% of which are attributable to retail sales (fuel-pump sales). On average, every person in Quebec consumes 1,057 litres of fuel annually!

From an economic standpoint, this means that a net total of $7.8 billion flowed out of Quebec’s economy in 2016 to purchase fossil fuels. By reducing our dependence on oil we will free ourselves from the global fluctuations in the price of oil that significantly weaken our economy. With the price of oil expected to rise in the coming years, these expenditures outside the province will weigh even more heavily on our wallets in the foreseeable future.

A MULTI-PRONGED SOLUTION: AVOID, SHIFT, IMPROVE

Despite its many undeniable benefits, the electrification of transportation is not the only answer when it comes to fighting climate change and the dependence on oil in the transport sector. Transportation electrification is just one of a series of complementary strategies, some of which are aimed at making structural changes in transportation while being more effective in the short term. The goal, after all, is not to replace a traffic jam of gas-powered cars with a traffic jam of electric cars!

Équiterre believes that Quebec must act quickly to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on oil by focusing on the following three main areas of intervention. This vision is based on its report " Changez de direction " :

  • Avoid the need for motorized travel and reduce distances travelled by rethinking urban planning: combat urban sprawl, bring functions closer together through more mixed-used spaces, increase density around public transit and active transportation hubs, etc.;
  • Shift travel to modes of transportation that consume less energy and pollute less (public transit and active transportation, car sharing, etc.);
  • Improve the performance of transportation systems and fuels for remaining vehicles, notably through the electrification of transportation.

As the number of vehicles on the road and the distances travelled keep increasing, we urgently need to adopt strategies to deal effectively with these issues. If we simply ignore them, all our efforts to address the environmental challenges facing us through the electrification of transportation will have been in vain. It will always be possible to improve the energy performance of the vehicles that will unfortunately continue to occupy a large place in the travel habits of Quebecers.

References: 
- État de l’énergie au Québec, HEC, 2018.
- Inventaire québécois des émissions de GES, Gouvernement du Québec, 2013.
- Dossier statistique, bilan 2014, SAAQ.   
- Statistique Canada, Tableau 128-0016, 2015 (1 térajoule = 161, 48 barils de pétrole).
- Banque de données des statistiques officielles du Québec, 2015.