Freight emissions could be a major roadblock to Canada’s Paris Agreement commitmentsNew report highlights growth of goods movement emissions in Canada, and possible solutions

June 14, 2017

Photo: Roberta Franchuk, Pembina Institute

TORONTO — Carbon emissions from freight, or goods movement, — that’s including road, rail, air and marine — are growing, and are set to exceed passenger emissions by 2030, as highlighted in a new report from the Pembina Institute. If this trend isn’t addressed quickly, it will make reaching our climate targets under the Paris Agreement more difficult.

The State of Freight: Understanding greenhouse gas emissions from goods movement in Canada looks at factors driving the increase of emissions from goods movement, current policy and programs across the country, and makes key recommendations for solutions moving forward.

The environmental impact of freight is less in the spotlight, with most policy and public attention on passenger emissions – rightfully so, as historically it has been the largest source of transportation emissions. However, the report points to the need for equal attention to be directed at freight emissions. Progress would bring environmental, health and economic wins, including relieving road congestion, cleaner air, more cost-efficient business practices, and more.

The possibilities to make the necessary deep emissions cuts are very much within reach, and in some cases already underway: ensuring that the announced federal carbon price and clean fuels standard are effective will be key. As well, improved municipal freight planning will be integral to making the sector more efficient over the long term.

The report also proves that economic growth does not need to be sacrificed to make environmental progress – many of the emissions reduction strategies highlighted revolve around actions to reduce the carbon intensity of freight transport, and not necessarily focused on decreasing the volume of goods movement. 

Quick facts

  • Freight, including road, rail, ship and plane, accounted for 10.5 per cent of total emissions in Canada in 2015, barely less than emissions from the electricity sector. Heavy duty trucking alone made up 9 per cent of those emissions.
  • At 24 per cent, transportation is the second highest source of emissions in Canada, and freight is the fastest growing segment within the sector.
  • Historically, passenger emissions have been the largest source of transportation emissions, but freight is projected to rise, and surpass passenger emissions in 2030.
  • The Canadian economy relies on freight: in 2016, Canada’s exports and imports were valued at $521.3 billion and $547.3 billion respectively.


“Emissions from goods movement are almost as big as the electricity sector in Canada, yet they receive relatively little public attention. The good news is that solutions are within our reach. Federal, provincial and municipal governments and industry all have a role to play, and in many cases are already making progress, like the clean fuel standard, vehicle efficiency standards and the federal SmartWay program. We’re excited to continue working with governments and industry, and building public and policy awareness to make sure freight doesn’t stand in the way of Canada meeting its climate goals.”
— Eli Angen, Ontario regional director, Pembina Institute



Visit the Pembina Institute’s website to download a copy of State of Freight.


Kelly O’Connor
Communications Lead


Report: Improving Urban Freight Efficiency (April 2017)

Blog: The environmental weight of freight (October 2016)


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