In the coming years, Canadian governments will be investing in programs and policies to kick start our economy and get people back to work. As professionals who are deeply concerned about the threat posed by climate change, we see these post-COVID-19 investments as an opportunity to transition away from fossil fuels, retrain workers displaced by the transition, and create new opportunities for young people.
We are inspired by the Building Back Better report (Torrie, Bak and Heaps) that estimated that the federal government could create more than five million job-years of employment by investing $10 billion per year over the next decade to green Canada’s power grid, electrify the transportation sector, and upgrade our homes and workplaces by 2030. These investments, accompanied by supportive policies, could put us on the path to a net zero future, save Canadians $39 billion per year in fuel costs, and create millions of high-quality jobs.
The electrification of Canada’s transportation sector – that is responsible for one quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – is a pivotal part of that plan. The “Building Back Better” report estimates that we could reduce GHG emissions by 63 million tonnes (Mt) per year if by 2030 all new cars and SUVs and 75-80% of all new trucks were electric. These reductions represent one third of the GHG emissions from Canada’s transportation sector. This plan would also create approximately 474,000 jobs and save drivers about $11.7 billion per year on fuel costs. Torrie, Bak and Heaps estimated that the Canadian government could foster and support this transition by investing $12 billion over five years.
Implementing this plan would also produce significant health benefits to Canadians. Air pollution across the country is still responsible for nearly 15,000 premature deaths each year, and a much higher number of hospital admissions, emergency room visits, asthma days, and sick days. Traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) is a major health concern in Canada. Many studies have found that people who live within 50-1,500 metres of major roads and highways are exposed to significantly higher levels of air pollution. In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) alone, it is estimated that TRAP is responsible for about 700 premature deaths, 2,800 hospital admissions, and $4.6 billion in health-related costs, each year.
The global COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the impact of air pollution on public health. New studies suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases death rates from COVID-19, with one study estimating that air pollution could be responsible for 15% of the global deaths from COVID-19.
While air pollution is unhealthy for everyone, it poses a greater risk for some people. Young children, older people, and those with pre-existing health conditions are more sensitive to the negative effects of air pollution. In addition, a number of groups within Canada – such as lower-income populations, newcomers, racial minorities, Indigenous Peoples, and people with other health conditions – are more vulnerable to air pollution because they already experience higher rates of illness, chronic diseases, and premature deaths because of social disadvantages.
The introduction of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) is expected to produce both significant air quality health benefits and climate benefits. A study conducted for the GTHA estimated that over 445 premature deaths could be avoided each year if all of the cars, SUVs and transit buses in the GTHA were replaced with ZEVs.
Use your voice to support greater investments, and the policies needed, to promote zero-emission vehicles to create healthy, green and just communities.
The Canadian Health Association for Sustainability and Equity (CHASE), the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) and the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA), have collaborated on a series of factsheets and ackgrounders on investments that have the potential to improve public health, decrease health inequities, and promote climate action. This is the third in that series.
Additional information on this topic is available in a Backgrounder on the health, social and climate benefits associated with ZEVs (complete with references), and a Factsheet that provides a high-level summary of those benefits for the public. Please share these materials through your networks and feel free to post links to them on your websites.