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Canada: The World does NOT need more Canada—at least when it comes to cars

Written by: Robert Skinner

Canadians tend to blush and swoon whenever some foreign notable heaps praise on the country.  Bono, then Obama before the Canadian Parliament, sent the country into a collective eye lash flutter with “the World needs more Canada”.  After the 300-strong Canadian delegation to the Paris climate conference in 2015 dazzled the other delegates with our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)—oddly by promising to meet the previous government’s emissions target—Canada magically jettisoned its status as a climate pariah.   Polls consistently tell us that Canadians believe climate change is a major concern and that something needs to be done about it. Really?  Let’s look at our choices for our private vehicles to see if we are a model for the rest of the world.

The IEA recently updated the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) on the progress of key metrics of new registrations of Light Duty Vehicles (LDVs) in 53 countries[1].  As one might expect the countries with low fuel costs (including taxes) continue to score the worst on metrics to do with fuel economy.  Those countries are Australia, Canada and the United States.  The table below is drawn from the GFEI data and compares these three with France and Germany, and with the range for all 53 countries in the study.

Source of data,

As a summary statement, the following should make Canadians blush alright, but not with pride.  We should be embarrassed.  Of six new vehicle metrics, Canadians are leaders in five—at being the worst (shown as shaded blocks)!

Climate-concerned Canadians bought the most LDVs per 100,000 population, with the greatest footprint, the highest power, the largest engine displacement, highest fuel consumption and therefore greatest CO2 emissions per km travelled. And on all metrics we have got worst since 2014.

Only on Average Curb Weight of new LDVs have we shuffled down the podium to second place (by the USA); of these five countries Australia recorded the greatest weight increase since 2014.  The weight of newly registered LDVs has increased in all countries since 2014.  So the world’s buyers of new LDVs are also ‘bulking up’. Japan is often cited as a model country among advanced economies when it comes to energy efficiency.  The average weight of new LDVs in Japan since 2014 has increased by 9%, the greatest increase among the 53 countries, tied with Egypt.

Prior to 2014, CO2 emissions per km in Canada had been on the decline; from 235 g in 2005 to 203 g in 2014.  Since then emissions levelled off then increased to 206 g CO2/km in 2017.

So, are Canadians simply being economically rational when it comes to our pursuit of the mobility and hedonic ‘services’ we derive from vehicle choice?  The price of crude and therefore gasoline dropped in 2014 therefore  we responded accordingly and bought larger, heavier less fuel-efficient vehicles.  After all, the marginal operating cost might not be all that greater.

Alternatively, we thought, “why not buy a large, roomy SUV? It might be my last chance.”

Or, while agreeing that climate change is an important issue, we concluded that other consumers will forgo the truck or SUV and buy a sub-compact for the greater good.

Or, perhaps our sub conscious absolved us from matching what we do with what we believe, rationalizing that now that there is a progressive government in Ottawa they have promised to look after climate change for us.

Or, the reality behind this collective cognitive dissonance might be that the majority of Canadians simply don’t give a tinker’s damn about climate change but being earnest and always polite (another cliché trait that when remarked upon by foreigners sends us into a cluster blush) will always tell pollsters that we really do care.

In any event, the objective facts seem to say that the world does not need more Canada when it comes to our new vehicle preferences.