The federal government announced Tuesday it’s speeding up its goal for when it wants to see every new light-duty vehicle sold in Canada to be electric.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said that by 2035, all new cars and light-duty trucks sold in the country will be zero-emission vehicles, The Canadian Press reports.
Until now, the government had set 2040 as the target for when it wants to see all passenger vehicles sold to be powered by this technology as opposed to petroleum.
Alghabra cited a recent report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency that says by 2035, nearly all new light-duty vehicle sales would have to be electric to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century.
By 2050, Canada has committed that its economy will either emit no greenhouse gas emissions, or offset the heat-trapping pollution driving climate change by other measures.
Next to the oil and gas sector, transportation has historically been Canada’s second-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, with light-duty passenger trucks and cars together being the largest culprits in that category.
“Let me just say, our target is ambitious, undoubtedly, but it is a must,” Alghabra said of the new electric vehicle target.
“We believe that it’s doable. It needs determination, it needs focus, it needs effort.”
It also needs money.
Alghabra said the government has already poured at least $600 million into a rebate program that offers consumers a break when they buy new electric vehicles in hopes to get more of them on the road.
“We know that we need to do more,” Alghabra said Tuesday, explaining the program will be expanded to include more categories of vehicles, including ones that are used. He didn’t provide a specific dollar figure on what the changes could cost.
The existing program offers buyers an upfront discount of up to either C$5,000 or $2,500, and sellers then have to claim the incentives to be reimbursed.
Federal officials last fall said the rebates have been popular, but warned it wasn’t going to be enough to reach the federal government’s first target of electric cars making up 10% of sales by 2025.
Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said with the tougher goal, the country would work with the United States on fuel efficiency and consult with stakeholders on new regulatory measures.
Those could include bringing in a mandate that would require the auto industry to make or sell more electric vehicles, which proponents of zero-emissions technology say helps to ensure there is more supply when consumers are in the market for a new vehicle.
“It is a mandatory target,” Wilkinson said of the 2035 goal.
“This is where the world is going. This is where the where the world needs to go.”
Clean Energy Canada Senior Policy Advisor Joanna Kyriazis said electric vehicles comprise about 3-4% of car sales in Canada, a far cry from the 2025 goal of 10%. Yet EV sales in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany have seen a big jump, which she said shows Canada’s new target needs to be supported by policies that see more of these vehicles available for purchase on dealership lots, more charging infrastructure, and incentives aimed at electric trucks and SUVs.
“It’s great to have a new, more ambitious target, but really, that target means nothing if we don’t have a clear plan and policy pathway to get there,” said Kyriazis.
In Halifax, the Ecology Action Centre agreed the announcement should have included specific mechanisms to hit the new deadline. “The accelerated target is welcome, but we are running out of time to implement measures that will allow us to meet even our old target,” said climate policy coordinator Kelsey Lane. “The lack of detail in today’s announcement deflates the otherwise welcome news that Canada is strengthening its electric vehicle target, and willing to introduce mandatory measures to get there.”
Environmental Defence Canada Programs Director Keith Brooks applauded the announcement, but said Ottawa can and should be doing more. “As Minister Wilkinson mentioned, there are many countries with a more aggressive target than what Canada just committed to,” he said in a statement. “As a developed country and a major contributor to climate change, Canada really should aim to be among the global leaders when it comes to vehicle electrification and consider an earlier date to reach the 100% EV sales target.”
In a statement, the Global Automakers of Canada said industry shares the government’s goal of “carbon elimination,” but found the announcement lacking details on how to transition to 100% sales of zero-emission vehicles by 2035.
Following Tuesday’s announcement, Wilkinson told CP the change in target date from 2040 to 2035 was intended in part to ensure that many of the gas-powered ones sold before then are retired by 2050, given an average lifespan of roughly 15 years.
“By and large, the gas cars will be done by 2050. They will simply be too old,” he said. But “if we don’t make progress on transportation, we do not meet our climate targets, simply full stop.”
The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press on June 29, 2021.