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Ontario's GHG emissions headed in the right direction, but the trucking sector remains a challenge

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 2/2/2018 11:17:00 AM

One year into its cap-and-trade program, and after four quarterly emission allowance auctions, Ontario has added $1.9 billion to its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account and, according to Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe, has spent the money rather wisely.

Reports on government greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction efforts tend to be dispiriting. The second annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report, “Ontario’s Climate Act: From Plan to Progress”, by Saxe, released January 30, 2018, is more hopeful than many of its counterparts. The economy is growing, emissions are declining and, it appears, programs are delivering on their promise.

There are still bumps on the road, some might even say potholes, particularly on the issue of emissions from freight trucks. Much of the discussion around transportation emissions has revolved around passenger vehicles, but at their current rate of acceleration, emissions from the freight sector are poised to eat up Ontario’s entire emissions target for 2050. Freight emissions are the fastest-growing sector by far in Ontario, and more than doubled between 1990 and 2015. That furious rate of growth should abate under cap-and-trade as fuel prices rise, but cap-and-trade alone won’t be nearly enough, according to the report.

Other government programs designed to curb freight emissions are likely to fail, the report argues. Building more roads to ease congestion actually encourages traffic growth. Ontario’s Green Commercial Vehicle Program, which picks up part of the cost of aerodynamic devices, anti-idling devices, and electric trailer refrigeration units, will lose its effectiveness once similar federal requirements become mandatory. Other subsidies intended to encourage the purchase of alternatively-fuelled trucks may have the perverse effect of actually encouraging manufacturers to produce more conventionally-fuelled trucks, thanks to the interaction of the provincial program with federal truck emissions regulations.

Ontario missed an opportunity when, in January 2017, it shut the door to Toronto’s request for authority to impose road tolls, the report says. Road pricing has proven its worth in the United Kingdom, where emissions from trucking are projected to fall.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Saxe told EcoLog News in an interview. Regulations require buildings in Ontario’s broader public sector (but not government) to disclose building emissions, but not fleet emissions. “First, we’ve got to figure out what we’re doing,” she says.

There are also various private initiatives that show promise, such as Vancouver-based Freightera, which has created a low emission freight marketplace that requires members to disclose their emissions.

Eventually, trucking will have to be weaned off its fossil fuel diet. Saxe mentions hydrogen as one possible solution that makes sense for Ontario – both for trucking and for regional express rail.

“We have an enormous amount of surplus power off-peak,” she says, much of which is wasted. Why not make hydrogen at night?, she asks.

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