Bigger cars negating better emissions technology, Quebec report says

Quebec's efforts at reducing greenhouse gas emissions are being hampered by bigger, stronger vehicles that offset environmental gains made by more fuel-efficient engines, according to a recent report by the provincial government.

Higher emissions in transport sector slowing Quebec's efforts to meet targets

Quebec has managed to reduce its emissions by 8.6 per cent compared to 1990 levels. Its goal is to reduce them by 20 per cent by 2020. (Greg Baker/The Associated Press)

Quebec's efforts at reducing greenhouse gas emissions are being hampered by bigger, stronger vehicles that offset environmental gains made by more fuel-efficient engines. 

A recent report by the provincial government found that technological improvements in vehicle emission controls are being negated by the amount of vehicles on the road, as well as their larger size and more powerful engines. 

While Quebec has managed to cut its emission by 8.6 per cent compared to 1990 levels, it continues to struggle to reduce emissions in the transport sector. 

Most other sectors of Quebec society — including industry — have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions. But transport emission levels went from 27.97 MtCO2e (million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 1990 to 34.91 MtCO2e in 2013. 

Stubborn transport emissions

The findings are contained in the Environment Ministry's annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, which catalogues data from the most recent year available, in this case 2013. 

According to the report, the leading contributor to transport emissions are road vehicles, as opposed to planes, trains and ships. It notes that, by 2013, the number of passenger vehicles hadn't dropped since 2008. 

"The overall increase [in transport emissions] is explained by the significant increase in the number of light trucks since 1990," the report found, referring to a vehicle class that includes SUVs.

More fuel-efficient engines have limited the environmental damage from the 19-per cent jump in the number of vehicles on Quebec roads, which occurred between 1990 and 2013. But the benefits from these technological improvements are being outweighed by other factors.  

Equiterre's Steven Guilbeault said the report's findings indicate that Quebec needs to invest more in public transit. (CBC)

"It has to be noted that better performance in terms of the energy efficiency of vehicle engines does not necessarily translate into reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," the report said. 

"This potential advantage is diminished, even negated, by the increase in power, weight and accessories of vehicles, as well as kilometres travelled."

One environmental group saw the report's findings as an indication that Quebec needs to invest more heavily in public transit. 

"The Ontario government is going to invest $13-14 billion in the coming years in public transit," said Steven Guilbeault, senior director of Equiterre. "We're nowhere near that in Quebec and that's an issue."

Last week's federal budget allotted Quebec $925 million for public transit infrastructure over three years.

Quebec in context

In 2013, Quebec accounted for 11.2 per cent of Canada's total emissions, compared to Ontario's 23.6 per cent and Alberta's 36.9 per cent. 

Quebec's ability to cut emissions by 8.6 per cent trailed efforts by the Yukon, which cut its emissions by 33.6 per cent compared to 1990 levels. Other provinces who reduced their emissions more than Quebec were Newfoundland and Labrador (11.4 per cent), P.E.I (10.4 per cent) and Nova Scotia (9 per cent).

In contrast, Saskatchewan's emissions levels were 66 per cent higher in 2013 compared to 1990.

"If our actions have born fruit, we have to nevertheless accelerate our efforts and determine the best measures that will allow us to achieve our ambitious objectives," Environment Minister David Heurtel said in a news release that accompanied the report. 

Quebec has committed itself to reducing its emissions by 20 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2020. The current Liberal government added to that pre-existing commitment, eyeing a 37.5 per cent reduction by 2030. 

with files from Krystle Alarcon