Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Transportation's effects on air quality

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Canadians are dependent on vehicles for almost everything we do. At the same time, transportation is a major emitter of pollutants that contribute to poor air quality, especially in and around urban areas. Moreover, transportation accounted for 28% of the growth in GHG emissions from 1990 to 2004.

In 2004, transportation was the source of nearly 75% of carbon monoxide, more than 50% of nitrogen oxides, and more than 25% of VOCs and 17% of fine particulate matter in the air we breathe. As well, 86% of the rise in GHG emissions was from road vehicles, particularly light trucks, such as vans, sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks, and heavy-duty vehicles, such as transport trucks.

Nonetheless, Canadians are not changing their buying patterns—48% of the vehicles sold in 2005 were trucks. About half of these sales were to businesses, reflecting economic conditions in the country.

Businesses keep costs down by minimizing inventories and using ‘just-in-time’ delivery of parts and products. This has contributed to a booming trucking industry, but it also means trucks are making more trips.

The number of motor vehicles registered in Canada increased 14% from 1999 to 2006. Light vehicle (weighing less than 4,500 kilograms) registrations increased 13% over the same period. In 1951, Canada had five people registered per vehicle; by the mid-1980s, there were two people per vehicle.

Cleaner burning fuels and catalytic converters have helped curb output of air pollutants. Nevertheless, nitrogen oxides and VOCs still contribute to smog and acid rain, and carbon monoxide remains a serious threat to human health.