A pair of researchers from Simon Fraser University recently released a report asserting that the time is now for the country to move vehicles away from producing carbon emissions.

The report by master’s student Tiffany Vass and professor Mark Jaccard of the School of Resource and Environmental Management challenges a number of beliefs about the road to decarbonization.

It argues that Canada has the technologies and fuels available to begin the process of drastically lowering transportation emissions.

“Some people assume we need to wait for the cost of electric batteries to come down or for greater development of blendable biofuels. But our report [shows that if] we have the right policies in place . . . we can produce fuels today in ways that have low life-cycle emissions,” said Vass.

The research also addresses what policies can be used to get Canadian transportation moving toward low emissions targets.

Graduate student Tiffany Vass co-authored the report.

“Some economists will say we need to wait for governments to adopt carbon pricing at high

enough levels to drive substantial changes in the economy. However, there is an alternative which is flexible regulations,” explained Vass.

In Canada, transportation is one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions which are widely held to be a major cause of global warming. In order for the country to meet its emissions target by 2030, reducing emissions by 30% below 2005 levels, the report states that the government needs to increase the stringency of its current decarbonization strategy.

If Canada wants to decarbonize transportation, it will need to implement policies that promote those changes. “We don’t see those changes happening quickly enough on their own,” said Vass.

While electric vehicles have received a lot of press recently as a low-emission vehicle option, other options can also contribute to emission reductions, Vass noted.

Biofuels, made from biological materials, may be one way to help reduce the emissions produced by vehicles.

“When we extract fossil fuels, we’re adding carbon to the atmosphere that hasn’t been there for millions of years” explained Vass. However, with biofuels “there is no net addition of carbon into the atmosphere [because] it’s carbon that was very recently extracted from the atmosphere.”

There are policies across a number of provinces that require a minimum amount of biofuel blending in gasoline and diesel. However, the biofuels, such as ethanol, are often only added in the single-digit percentage points and are not enough to achieve substantial emission reductions, Vass noted.

Many governments and researchers have looked to carbon pricing, which may include a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, to reduce emissions. When the pricing translates to a higher cost for traditional fuels, it is expected that individuals will reconsider their mode of transportation and maybe even make the switch to greener technology.

However, politicians have often been wary of raising carbon pricing.

“The public is often resistant to carbon taxes, they will be more likely to oppose that policy,” said Vass. “It is difficult for government to raise the carbon price to a high level, but we need a carbon price rising to approximately $200 per tonne by 2030 to reach Canada’s targets.”

Currently, the highest carbon price anywhere in Canada is BC’s carbon tax of only $30 per tonne.  

However, carbon pricing is not the only policy option and flexible regulations present a potential alternative.

“In our report, we showed how either a clean fuel standard or carbon pricing can be used to achieve the same amount of emission reductions in transportation,” Vass said.

A clean fuel standard would see the government require a reduction in the overall carbon footprint of fuels in the country, encouraging the use of alternative or blended fuels or energy sources.

Without stringent government policies in place, the country is not getting anywhere near where it needs to be to achieve the emission reductions for climate change mitigation, Vass noted.