Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Nova Scotia's Transportation Sector

Each year, Canada, along with other signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, is required to submit a summary report of its greenhouse gas emissions to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Committee on Climate Change). These reports follow a common format consisting of a series of tables relating to sources and sinks of greenhouse gases (principally carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) expressed in terms of their carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e. The tables fall into several categories, including energy, industrial processes, agriculture, and waste. The broadest of these categories is energy, which lists greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of sources, notably energy generation and transportation. Canada's single, national summary report is compiled by Environment Canada and is based upon provincial and territorial summary reports. The most recent report, for 2001, shows a slight decrease in emissions for both Canada and Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia's greenhouse gas emissions rose almost 8 percent between 1990 and 2001, from about 19.4 to 20.9 Mt (megatonnes or million-tonnes). Emissions peaked in 2000 at 21.6 Mt. The decline in emissions between 2000 and 2001 is attributable, primarily to the sharp rise in energy prices between 1999 and 2000, and, to a lesser extent, the completion of the Sable offshore energy project

Although Nova Scotia's emissions are dwarfed by those of most other provinces, the fact remains that Nova Scotia's emissions are increasing rather than decreasing. If Nova Scotia is to meet Canada's emission reduction target (94 percent of 1990 emissions by 2012), provincial emissions will have to decrease to 18.2 Mt -- a drop of nearly three megatonnes.

Almost all of Nova Scotia's emissions are due to the consumption of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas). Although all sectors of the economy are responsible for part of these emissions, the bulk of the emissions are due to electrical generation and transportation.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector are caused by the combustion of petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel. For every litre of fuel consumed, about 2.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. The average distance driven by a car in Nova Scotia is 20,000 kilometres per year, meaning that a vehicle with a fuel economy of 10 litres per 100 kilometres will release almost five tonnes of carbon dioxide during this period.

The following table shows the change in emissions in selected categories of the transportation sector since 1990, reflecting the evolution of transportation in Nova Scotia. For example, emissions from the Gasoline Automobile category have decreased significantly while the greatest growth in emissions is in the Light Duty Gasoline Trucks category (that is, minivans and SUVs), highlighting the popularity of light duty trucks over automobiles. The popularity of Off Road vehicles is also shown by an increase in emissions. Nova Scotia's reliance on imported goods (including food) from outside the province has resulted in an increase in emissions from Heavy Duty Diesel Vehicles.

Light Duty Gasoline Trucks0.9391.39048%
Off Road0.4170.58340%
Heavy Duty Diesel Vehicles0.7901.06034%
Diesel Automobiles0.0260.0299%
Domestic Aviation0.4960.438-12%
Domestic Marine0.6150.536-13%
Gasoline Automobiles1.6801.450-14%

In addition to the decrease in emissions from Gasoline Automobiles, declines were also recorded in the Domestic Aviation and Domestic Marine categories. These mirror changes in the Nova Scotian economy, with the cessation of Air Atlantic's regional service and the decline of offshore fishing.

As there is a direct relationship between the volume of fuel used in the transportation sector and the corresponding amount of greenhouse gases, reducing emissions will require:

Since widespread use of non-petroleum-based fuels in the transportation sector are still many years away and it is unrealistic to expect all Nova Scotians to abandon their vehicles for more fuel-efficient ones, other methods must be employed to meet these objectives.

It is simplistic to expect drivers of light trucks and automobiles to 'drive less' and switch to other modes such as walking, bicycling, or public transport without the infrastructure or facilities to support these changes. If a region is not served with an adequate public transportation system, the people living there cannot be expected to abandon their vehicles.

If Nova Scotians expect reductions in the province's transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, it will be necessary for the province to adopt policies that encourage more multi-passenger vehicles, discouraging single occupancy vehicle use.

There are, of course, other benefits to changing the way people and goods are moved around Nova Scotia. With an aging population and the likelihood of rising fuel prices, changes to our transportation system now with help Nova Scotians in the future.

Published in Atlantic Transportation Journal - December 2003.