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  1. Introduction
  2. Results
  3. Conclusion

1   Introduction

Rising concerns about climate change and the ensuing debate on how best to control GHG emissions has given rise to a need for timely and robust statistics on current GHG emissions.

The development of environmental policies, such as those that target the reduction of GHG emissions, require timely data on key environmental statistics. These can be GHG estimates by type of greenhouse gas and mode of transportation, as well as by geographic regions and sub-regions, among others.

The transportation sector in Canada is a significant emitter of GHGs. According to Environment Canada, in 2007 transportation was responsible for 27% (200,000 kt of CO2 eq) of the total GHG emissions (747,000 kt of CO2 eq). Road transportation accounted for 69% (137,000 kt of CO2 eq) of the GHG emissions within the sector. 1 

In light of the fact that this sector plays such a large role in total emissions, it is important to have some key statistics to measure emissions from a number of different perspectives. Estimates by type of fuel, mode of transportation and the purpose of vehicle use are examples of data that would be useful in informing policy decisions.

The main types of greenhouse gasses produced by the combustion of fuels in vehicles are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Globally, the road transport sector is responsible for 74% of global CO2 emissions, while aviation, shipping and railways account for 12%, 10%, and 4% of transportation emissions respectively (Rodrigue et al., 2006).

In addition, many transportation-related policies are made locally by provinces and cities. Therefore, locally relevant vehicle emission statistics should be available at these geographic levels in order to better target policy instruments.

In response to data needs in the area of environmental statistics, the sample size of the Canadian Vehicle Survey (CVS) was expanded following consultations with the funding partners of the CVS, Transport Canada and Natural Resources Canada. The expansion in sample size allowed for a finer level of geographic analysis of the results. These have been used in this study to produce the first survey-based vehicle emission estimates for the provinces and census metropolitan areas (CMAs).

To these ends, this study presents estimates of the level of greenhouse gas emissions arising from households' private vehicle operation for the period 1990 to 2007. The results provide activity-specific estimates of the household sector's greenhouse gas emissions at a national level. That is, motor fuel consumption for the purpose of private vehicle operation. The study also explores the regional distribution of GHG emissions from private vehicle operation, presenting emission estimates for the provinces and CMAs.

Although a household's transportation energy demands and the corresponding emissions have direct and indirect components, the results in this study represent only emissions related to vehicle operation, a household's direct transportation energy demand. Emissions related to indirect energy demand are not part of this study.

Examples of indirect energy use related to the transportation sector include: emissions from transportation energy production, distribution and trade; emissions related to the manufacture, maintenance and disposal of private vehicles; their transportation infrastructure, construction and maintenance; and, administration of the transport business. These are all out of the scope of this study.

The next section presents a detailed discussion of the results of the study followed by a conclusion. The first part of the results section focuses on the period 1990 to 2007, outlining GHG emissions from the consumption of motor fuel by Canadian households. This part of the study does not distinguish between the type of on-road vehicles operated by households. The results are presented at the national level only.

The second part of the analysis is focused on a narrowly defined sub-population and the most recent reference year (2007). It presents the 2007 GHG emissions estimates from a cross-sectional perspective, profiling consumption of gasoline and diesel fuel used for light vehicles operated by households for personal use. 2  The results provide regional estimates of emissions for provinces and cities (2006 census metropolitan areas). 3  Finally, some concluding remarks and a note on future directions are presented.

Included in the appendices are discussion on the study's data sources and methodology, a comparison of methodological applications with Environment Canada's (EC) National Inventory Report (NIR), a summary on Material and Energy Flow Accounts (MEFA), a comparison of emission estimates with the NIR and questionnaires of the Canadian Vehicle Survey (CVS).

2   Results

2.1  Canada's greenhouse gas emissions from private motor vehicles, 1990 to 2007

GHG emissions from private vehicle operation reached 70,774 kt of CO2 equivalent (kt of CO2 eq) 4  in 2007, up 3% from the 2006 level (Chart 1). Compared with the 1990 level of 52,256 kt, emissions have gone up 35%, almost twice the growth rate of Canada's population (19%) during the same period (Table 3).

Among the three greenhouse gasses that are emitted by vehicles, carbon dioxide (CO2) accounted for 98% while methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) accounted for the balance (Table 1). In 2005, the year for which the most recent published data were available for total household emissions, the share of private vehicle GHG emissions was 63%. That is almost eight percentage points higher than its share in 1990.

The highs and lows of vehicle emission levels during the period were for the most part consistent with the energy consumption of household vehicles during the period. This, in turn, is affected by factors such as changes in the price of transportation fuel, household demand for motor vehicles which affects the size and composition of the motor vehicle fleet and its fuel efficiency, the distances driven, changes in real income level, and the demand for alternative modes of transportation.

The most significant decline (1,120 kt) in the year-over-year growth of emissions was recorded for 1991 (Table 1). This was a period of decline in fuel consumption, associated with higher energy prices and a drop in real expenditures on motor fuels due to recessionary pressures at the time (Chart 2). 5  The second and less significant drop (622 kt) in emissions in 2005 was in line with the softer growth (compared to the previous year) in fuel consumption and higher fuel prices during that period. 6 

The three most significant year-over-year increases during the period happened in 1998, 2002 and 2007. The increase in 1998 was associated with one of the three lowest gasoline prices during the entire period under study. 7  The increase in 2002 happened in the context of increasing personal disposable income, a significant rise in personal expenditure on new cars (11%, the highest since 2000) resulting in a higher number of less fuel-efficient vehicles in operation, and longer distances travelled given relatively lower gasoline prices. 8 

During the same year, there were 39,863 (11%) more station wagons and 479,877 (19%) more pickup trucks in operation. Distances travelled by these two types of vehicles increased by 1.8 billion km (33%) and 9 billion km (20%), respectively. The total distance driven by all light vehicles in that year was 290.3 billion km, up 2% from the year before. 9 

The 2007 increase in emission levels took place despite rising gasoline prices. Higher disposable income and significant increases in expenditure on motor vehicles and motor fuels by households were followed by an increase of 466,472 new motor vehicles on the road. 10 

Over half of this additional fleet consisted of less fuel-efficient vehicles such as sport utility vehicles (SUVs), vans and straight trucks. During the same year SUVs were the only vehicle that saw a year-over-year increase in the number of kilometres travelled (12,245 billion km). 11 

2.2  Every dollar of personal expenditure on motor fuels generated 3.2 kg of vehicle emissions

Every dollar of personal expenditure on motor fuels generated 3.2 kilogram of vehicle emissions in 2007. This is alternatively expressed in this study as GHG intensity, which is defined as GHG emissions from private vehicle operation divided by households' expenditure on motor fuels measured in constant dollar expenditure, chained 2002 dollars. GHG intensity remained essentially unchanged from the 2006 level (Table 2).

GHG intensity reached its peak of 3.3 kg in 2004, the same level of intensity recorded for 1990. It should be noted that the peak in 2004 appeared to be the highest despite the significantly higher increases in GHG emission levels in 1998, 2002 and 2007. Intensity levels were offset in these years by relatively higher growth in household expenditures on motor fuels

2.3  Per capita emissions from private vehicles remains high

Canada's per capita GHG emissions reached 2,149 kg in 2007 (Table 3). This was 2% higher than 2006 but 14% higher than the 1990 level of 1,887 kg per capita. The growth in per capita emissions during the 17-year period was mainly attributable to the growth in emission levels, as the otherwise offsetting population growth rate remained relatively flat over the same period.

During this period, emission levels grew 35% (Chart 3), almost twice the growth rate of population, which was up only 19%. It should be noted that every single individual is not operating a vehicle in Canada and thus not contributing to emission levels. Therefore, these per capita emissions figures should be interpreted with some caution. They are used in this study to factor out differences in population levels between geographic regions.

2.4  Lower-middle income households had the highest total vehicle emissions 12 

In 2007, households with annual income of $20,000 to $49,999 (lower-middle income households) contributed the most to vehicle emission levels, accounting for 35% (19,858 kt) of the total (Table 4). Emissions attributed to this income group were highest mainly because of the share of its population (31%), which was the largest of all the income groups. 13 

Additionally, people in this income group are less likely to be able to finance the acquisition and maintenance of newer and more fuel-efficient vehicles, making them dependent on an older fleet with inferior fuel efficiency and higher GHG emissions. 14 

Since March 2007 the Federal Government has offered the ecoAUTO rebate program on a list of qualifying vehicles to encourage Canadians to buy new fuel-efficient vehicles as part of a plan for reducing vehicle emissions. 15 

Using data from the Survey of Household Spending (SHS) and information from Transport Canada's website on the ecoAUTO rebate program and the list of qualifying vehicles, average household expenditure on the purchase of motor vehicles was compared to the annual expenditure required for the acquisition of these vehicles. 16 

The comparison revealed some affordability gaps. In 2007, the group with the highest total emissions (the lower-middle income group) spent only $1,379 on average while the estimated annual expenditure required for the acquisition of the most fuel-efficient vehicle was over $6,000 a year, after factoring the ecoAUTO rebate. This rebate was the highest in 2007.

Acquisition of a comparable vehicle that's relatively less fuel efficient but among the least expensive on the list, required an estimated average expenditure of $3,000 a year, after factoring the $1000 ecoAUTO rebate. 17 

Middle-income households ($50,000 to $79,999) contributed 26% of total emissions (14,886 kt), while high-income households ($100,000 and over) contributed 24% (13,757 kt).

2.5  High-income households had the highest per capita emissions

While representing only 19% of the population, high-income households had the highest per capita emissions in 2007, generating 5,737 kg of GHG per capita (Table 4). This amount was significantly higher than the per capita emissions of 5,102 kg recorded for the lower-middle income group, which was the group with the highest total emissions. In other words, an individual with a private vehicle in a high-income household produced 635 kg more emissions per year than one in a lower-middle income household and 4,031 kg more than one in a low-income household. People in the high-income group were more likely to own less fuel-efficient types of vehicles, such as trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

According to the Survey of Household Spending, high-income households' average annual expenditure on the purchase of motor vehicles in 2007 was $5,611. The annual vehicle purchase budget of this group was within the range of the required annual expenditure for the acquisition of almost any one of the vehicles eligible for the ecoAUTO rebate.

However, whether or not these vehicles meet the personal preferences such as performance, interior features, and other technical requirements of this income group remains an essential question to be addressed by car makers.

2.6  Households in Ontario had the highest total vehicle emission levels

Households in Ontario released 22,384 kt of vehicle emissions from the combustion of gasoline and diesel to the atmosphere in 2007, the highest of all the provinces (Table 5). Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia followed with 12,274 kt, 7,073 kt, and 6,802 kt respectively. Prince Edward Island had the lowest emissions, at 251 kt.

GHG emissions in Ontario and Quebec represented 39% and 21% of total provincial emission levels, respectively. This was in line with the provincial distribution of light vehicle population where the fleet in Ontario made up 37% and in Quebec 23% of the total number of light vehicles in all the provinces.

2.7  Per capita private vehicle emissions highest in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan recorded the highest per capita vehicle emissions, with 2,184 kg per capita, followed by Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. All four provinces were at or above the 2,000 kg per capita mark (Table 5). These provinces were also significantly higher than the overall total provincial per capita level of 1,751 kg. All the remaining provinces were below 2,000 kg per capita, including Ontario at 1,750 kg per capita, close to the total per capita estimate for all provinces.

Although the provincial differences in per capita emissions are not great, the relatively higher figures in Saskatchewan and Alberta are consistent with the high per capita car ownership of each of the two provinces (60%, the highest of all the provinces). 18 

Additionally, fleet composition plays a role in the increased emissions. In Saskatchewan, the oldest vehicle group made up the largest share (27%) of the stock of light vehicles. These are vehicles of model years of 1993 and earlier that have become less fuel-efficient with age than newer cars. 19 

In Alberta, a combination of factors such as the composition of age and body type of vehicles resulted in lower fuel efficiency and therefore higher emissions. In 2007, the oldest vehicle group (model years 1993 and earlier) made up 20% of the fleet. About 58% of the light vehicle stock consisted of station wagons, vans, SUVs, pickups and straight trucks, vehicles that are relatively less fuel efficient. 20 

2.8  Toronto had the highest total emissions

Among census metropolitan areas, Toronto had the highest emissions at 6,760 kt, representing 20% of the total private vehicle emissions of CMAs. It was followed by Montréal at 4,430 kt and Vancouver at 2,599 kt (Table 6).

Large urban centres have higher private vehicle populations and hence have higher emission levels. This is also consistent with the provincial distribution of privately owned and used diesel and gasoline-operated light vehicle populations, where Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, provinces with larger cities, rank at the top (Table 5).

2.9  Montréal had Canada's lowest per capita vehicle emissions, Kingston the highest

Montréal had the lowest per capita vehicle emissions (1,219 kg) among CMAs (Table 6). This was due likely to a more fuel-efficient fleet composition, both in terms of vehicle model year and body type. Montreal also has an extensive public transit system, potentially reducing the need for personal vehicle use amongst its populace. 21 

Out of the 32 CMAs studied, three others were below the 1,500 kg per capita mark: Vancouver (1,228 kg), Quebec City (1,297 kg), and Toronto (1,322 kg). Again, these have relatively more fuel efficient fleet of vehicles. 22 

On the other hand, Kingston and Greater-Sudbury at 3,035 kg and 2,844 kg per capita respectively, were among the CMAs with the highest per capita emissions (over 2,500 kg per capita). This suggests a vehicle fleet that is less fuel efficient, either due to a large number of heavier body types, such as SUVs and trucks, or a greater number of older vehicles in operation, or both. Other factors such as lower urban population density, the availability and the use of public transit also play roles.

There were wide variations among the per capita estimates of CMAs (Map 1). Emission reduction targets of a higher emitting CMA to the national CMA average would differ widely. 23  For example, in order to reduce the per capita emissions of those CMAs with per capita emissions over 1,900 kg to a target of 1,549 kg—the national CMA average—Kingston would have to reduce its total emission levels by 49% (226 kt) and Greater-Sudbury by 46% (205 kt). 24 

3   Conclusion

The findings from the national emissions analysis indicate that, at the national level, emissions from private motor vehicle operations are on the rise and significantly higher than the 1990 level. In 2005, personal vehicle use accounted for nearly two-thirds (63%) of total household emissions, while per capita vehicle emissions increased at almost twice the growth rate of population between 1990 and 2007.

Findings also show that lower-middle income Canadians (as a group) contributed the highest vehicle GHG emissions. This was likely a result of the lack of fuel efficiency of the type of vehicles they drove, mainly due to the age of the vehicle fleet.

Canadians in the highest income bracket were more likely to drive less fuel-efficient types of vehicles, such as trucks and SUVs, and had the highest emissions on a per capita basis compared with other income brackets.

With respect to the regional concentration of private vehicle emissions from diesel and gasoline-operated vehicles, the results indicate that despite the significantly higher total levels of emissions in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, the major CMAs in these provinces have the lowest per capita emissions among all the CMAs.

This can be attributed to the composition of their more fuel-efficient fleet. On the other hand, the study also revealed wide variations among the CMAs. The per capita vehicle emissions of Kingston and Greater-Sudbury were the highest of all CMAs.

Further research might include expanding the scope of the study to incorporate the territories, as well as to provide estimates for the most recent reference year based on data for all fuel types used by on-road vehicles.