Quebec's push to go electric won't get province to emission reduction targets, experts say

·3 min read

The Quebec government wants to get more people into electric cars and power more industrial production with hydroelectricity as it aims to meet the province's greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Premier François Legault announced his government's long-awaited plan to tackle climate change on Monday, after one of the main elements was revealed over the weekend: a ban on the sale of new gas-powered vehicles, starting in 2035.

The government is devoting $6.7 billion over the next five years to deal with climate change. The bulk of that money will go to subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles.

Climate change experts and environmental activists say that won't be enough to put the province on track to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 29 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030. They say more money should be invested in public transit and climate change mitigation.

The ban on gas-powered vehicles will not extend to commercial vehicles, nor the sale of second-hand cars.

Legault said at Monday's news conference he chose to focus on incentive-based policies, rather than taxation, to change people's behaviour. He said the plan was made with the regions in mind and is fitting with the "way Quebec is."

"People have no choice to have a pickup or a car. And very often also people having less means, they are the one who would be most affected," he said.

Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada
Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada

Legault blamed the previous Liberal government for the province's failure to meet its 2020 targets. He said his government would seek to further capitalize on the province's access to hydropower in the coming years.

Environment Minister Benoît Charette said the provincial government will give an update on the progress of its emissions reductions on an annual basis.

Here are some of the key targets included in the plan:

  • Reduce GHG emissions by 37.5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

  • Achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

  • Put 1.5 million electric vehicles on the road in Quebec by 2030.

  • 55 per cent of city buses and 65 per cent of school buses electrified by 2030.

  • 100 per cent of governmental cars, SUVs, vans and minivans electrified in 2030.

  • 50 per cent reduction of emissions related to heating for buildings by 2030.

Experts not impressed by government plan

Jérôme Dupras, a professor at l'Université du Québec en Outaouais and the Canada research chair in environmental ecology, said there's no evidence the province will be able to meet its targets.

"First observation: the plan for a green economy will not make it possible to achieve the GHG reduction targets set by the Government of Quebec," he said.

Chloe Ranaldi/CBC
Chloe Ranaldi/CBC

The environmental lobby group ENvironnement JEUnesse had hoped to see a ban on new gas-powered vehicles earlier, in 2030, and more aggressive measures against pollution.

"I wish we could have seen something about reducing our consumption," said Catherine Gauthier, who heads the group.

"For now, we haven't seen any such ambition in the plan."

Between 2007 and 2014, Quebec cut its emissions output by about 10 million tonnes. But between 2014 and 2017 (the latest figures available), emissions actually increased slightly.

That increase has coincided with record-level gas consumption as Quebecers buy more and more sport utility vehicles.

As it stands, more than 40 per cent of Quebec's greenhouse gas emissions come from the transport sector, especially fossil fuel-burning cars and trucks.

Patrick Bonin, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, said the province needs to put more money into public transit — including Montreal's yet-to-completed light-rail network, the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) — to keep cars off the road.

"We will need much more metros, tramways, bus lanes, possibly an extension of the REM to make sure that public transit is more competitive," he said.