Freight accounts for one-tenth of Canada's annual emissions, with trucking being the biggest culprit. The diesel engine is still the king of commercial shipping, but the trucking industry is investing billions to find alternatives
OTTAWA—Hauling goods across the country is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but addressing the problem needn’t create an economic doomsday scenario, a new report suggests.
There are no silver bullets to help Canada’s trucking and rail industries curb emissions, but there are ways to keep those emissions down while continuing to allow the number of shipments to grow, says the new Pembina Institute report.
The State of Freight report says freight accounts for more than one-tenth of the country’s annual emissions, with most of it coming from trucking.
Report co-author Eli Angen calls it one of the most overlooked sources of emissions, but says with clean fuel standards and more emphasis on finding technology to address standards for heavy-duty vehicles, the sector could keep growing while keeping emissions down.
“We need to be paying attention to this sector,” said Angen.
“Passenger vehicles, we kind of have a sense of how that is going to be solved, but freight emissions are set to grow over the next 20 years and that becomes a real problem if we’re going to meet our commitments under the Paris agreement.”
The transportation sector—everything from airplanes to passenger vehicles, tractor-trailers to freight trains—has seen annual emissions grow about 40 per cent between 1990 and 2015.
Within transportation, moving freight—more specifically, heavy-duty trucking—has been the leading cause of the increase. Emissions from heavy-duty trucks are up 205 per cent since 1990.
Passenger vehicles currently produce more emissions in Canada than commercial shipping on trucks and trains and planes, but passenger vehicle emissions began falling around 2010 and by 2030, freight vehicles will surpass passenger vehicles in overall emissions without significant changes, says the report.
Angen said the industry itself has a lot of financial incentives to find solutions, given the cost of fuel is one of the biggest costs to their businesses, but to date there has been little public awareness of the issue or pressure on the sector.
The government has introduced fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles to keep Canada aligned with standards in the U.S. being phased in over the next decade.
The notion of a zero-emission tractor-trailer driving alongside a zero-emission electric car seems a long way off, because the technology simply doesn’t exist to pull heavy-duty trucks and their massive loads of freight.
Stephen Laskowski, the head of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, says the industry is heavily invested and committed to finding ways to reduce its carbon footprint. Billions have been spent trying to figure it out, but the solutions have not appeared yet.
“Despite these efforts, the diesel engine will continue to be the engine of choice to move the modern commercial vehicle and the weights that are required on these trucks. The issue isn’t, I believe, research or money, it’s quite frankly we’re at a technology wall right now with regards to moving past the diesel engine.”
The report says the critical issue will be reducing emissions without forcing the trucks off the road entirely because the impact on the economy would be too big.
In 2015, transportation and warehousing represented 4.3 per cent of Canada’s GDP. The number of people employed in the sector rose to 892,000 that year.