It’s essential for Canada to deliver on a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate this year if it wants to stay true to its commitments under the Paris Agreement, Équiterre mobility analyst Andréanne Brazeau writes in a recent post for Policy Options.
“With an ambitious new climate plan to help Canada achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, two provincial bans on gas-powered cars set to take effect in 2035 and 2040, and a new U.S. president who plans to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles, momentum is growing for reducing transport emissions in North America,” she writes. But Canada isn’t even on track to bring ZEVs up to 30% of vehicle sales by 2030, when a 50% threshold is what it would take to get on track for a net-zero economy.
To date, the country’s performance has been anything but stellar, Brazeau adds: Electric vehicles made up just 3.5% of the light-duty vehicle market in the first half of last year, and transportation emissions rose 54% between 1990 and 2018.
“Moreover, Canadian vehicles have quite a reputation, currently recognized as the world’s dirtiest by the International Energy Agency,” she notes. “Decarbonizing transport would not only help Canada reach its climate goals, but it would also translate into health and economic benefits for Canadians, including better air quality.”
Other essential policy tools like carbon pricing and ZEV purchase incentives are already in place, a clean fuel standard and new charging infrastructure is on the way, and automakers have invested in new EV manufacturing capacity in Ontario, Brazeau says. But “as concrete and ambitious as these commitments sound, spending millions of dollars will neither be sufficient to future-proof Canada’s auto industry nor give it the green boost it needs to address its current EV supply shortage and meet its electrification targets.”
To fill that gap, “ZEV standards require that an increasing share of vehicles sold by auto manufacturers be zero-emission,” she writes. “They have proven to be efficient in leading EV manufacturing jurisdictions such as China, the European Union, and California. Ten U.S. states also have a ZEV standard,” along with British Columbia and Quebec.
She adds that a Canadian ZEV mandate would help “progressively shift North America in the direction of electrification,” while giving automakers the coveted “climate of certainty” that would enable them to sell the same mix of vehicle models across the continent.
While federal Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has expressed openness to a ZEV mandate, Brazeau cites research pointing to the urgent need for fast action. Quebec, with a ZEV mandate in place since 2018, now accounts for 57% of the country’s EV fleet. But across the country, under current policies, Transport Canada says only 5% go 10% of light duty vehicle sales in 2030 would be zero-emission.
Which means that “a series of isolated and uncoordinated measures would simply not be enough,” Brazeau concludes. “While a standard is no silver bullet, placing it at the core of a more comprehensive national ZEV strategy would benefit Canada’s GHG emission reduction efforts and help address Canada’s ZEV supply issue. If Canada is to meet its climate targets, it needs to get on the electrification highway. Targets are not enough. As any driver knows, having a destination is one thing, but holding a map guarantees arrival.”