Zero-Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) – Good for Health and the Planet!

Over the coming years, governments will be investing in programs and policies to kick start our economy and get people back to work. The electrification of Canada’s transportation sector (that is responsible for one quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions) needs to be a pivotal part of that plan. By investing in zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) and implementing supportive policies,1 Canadian governments can dramatically reduce GHG emissions and air pollution, while creating hundreds of thousands of jobs2 and significant fuel savings for consumers.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS ALREADY HARMING PEOPLE IN CANADA

On a global scale, climate change is already having a catastrophic impact on human health. In 2018, nearly 300,000 people around the world died prematurely because of hotter temperatures resulting from climate change.3 And yet, increasing temperatures is only one of the many risk factors presented by climate change.

In different parts of Canada, climate change has contributed to an increase in the frequency and intensity of floods, wildfires, hurricanes, ice storms, and heat waves, over the last several decades.4 These events have exposed millions to extremely high levels of toxic air pollution,5 forced hundreds of thousands of Canadians to evacuate their homes, and left hundreds of thousands without power for extended periods. Climate change is also melting permafrost in the far north, increasing sea levels on three coast lines, and extending the range of vector-borne diseases.6

While climate change can harm the health of everyone, it has a greater impact on some. Young children, older people, and people with pre-existing health conditions are more sensitive to heat waves and wildfire smoke. Indigenous Peoples in Northern communities can experience increased food insecurity as melting permafrost and shifting plant and animal populations disrupt their access to traditional foods. In addition, people who live on lower incomes may not have the resources to protect themselves or recover from extreme weather events.7

The costs of weather-related disasters fuelled by global warming are considerable. The number of catastrophic events has more than tripled since the 1980s. Over the last nine years, these events have resulted in $14 billion in insurance costs in Canada, an increase of 1,250% since the 1970s.8

ZEVS REDUCE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

In order to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that all countries must reduce climate emissions by 45% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050.9

The transportation sector is the second leading source of the GHG emissions that cause climate change and is responsible for 26% of all of Canada’s GHG emissions.10 Over the last 20 years, GHG emissions from the transportation sector have increased by nearly 30% as SUVs and trucks, with their higher emissions, have become more popular.11

Switching from a gas-fuelled car to a ZEV can cut GHGs by 34-98% depending on the source of the electricity. The cleaner the electricity grid, the greater the reductions.12

A national modelling study found that: if all new cars and SUVs sold by 2030 were 100% electric, GHG emissions could be reduced by 33 million tonnes (Mt) per year, and if 75-80% of all new trucks were electrified by 2030, GHG emissions could be reduced by 30 Mt per year.13

Combined, these reductions (63 Mt) represent 34% of the GHG emissions from Canada’s transportation sector (185 Mt in 2018) and 8.6% of the GHGs from all human activity in Canada (729 Mt in 2018).14

TRAFFIC-RELATED AIR POLLUTION – SIGNIFICANT HEALTH CONCERN

Air pollution continues to be a significant health risk in Canada; responsible for approximately 14,600 premature deaths each year from heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.15

High-volume traffic corridors are a major source of air pollution in Canada and a principal source of variation in levels of air pollution within urban centres. Many studies have demonstrated that those living within 50-1,500 metres of major roads and highways are exposed to significantly higher levels of air pollution.16

Traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) is strongly associated with increases in asthma exacerbations and the incidence of asthma in children, reduced lung function,17 and morbidity and deaths from cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.18 TRAP is a serious concern in Canada because about 10 million people live within 500 metres of a major highway or 100 metres of a major urban road.19

In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) alone, it has been estimated that TRAP is responsible for approximately 700 premature deaths and 2,800 hospitalizations each year due to heart and lung conditions; health-related impacts valued at $4.6 billion per year.20

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the impact of air pollution on health. New studies suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution results in increased death rates from COVID-19, with one study estimating that air pollution contributed to 15% of deaths from COVID-19 around the world.21

ZEVS CAN REDUCE AIR POLLUTION

Increasing the proportion of ZEVs on Canadian roadways is expected to produce significant air quality health benefits. These will vary depending upon the emissions associated with the electricity grid in each province.  A modelling study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto found that a substantial number of air pollution-related premature deaths could be avoided each year in the GTHA if gasoline-and diesel-fuelled vehicles were replaced with electric-powered vehicles.

Using vehicle statistics from 2016 and electricity emissions based on Ontario’s electricity grid in 2019, the study estimated that each year:

  • 313 premature deaths could be avoided, producing $2.4 billion in social benefits if 100% of the cars and SUVs were replaced with electric-powered vehicles
  • 157 premature deaths could be avoided, producing $1.2 billion in social benefits if 50% of the cars and SUVs were replaced with electric-powered vehicles
  • 68 premature deaths from TRAP could be avoided, producing $500 million in social benefits if 20% of the cars and SUVs in the GTHA were replaced with electric-powered vehicles; and
  • 143 premature deaths could be avoided, producing $1.1 billion in social benefits if 100% of the public transit buses in the GTHA were replaced with electric-powered vehicles.22

ZEVS CAN REDUCE HEALTH INEQUITIES

While air pollution is unhealthy for everyone, it presents a greater risk for some. Young children, older people, and those with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma are more sensitive to the adverse effects of air pollution.23

In addition, a number of groups within Canada – such as lower-income populations, newcomers, racial minorities, Indigenous Peoples, and people with other health challenges – are more vulnerable to air pollution because they already experience higher rates of illness, chronic diseases, and premature death because of social disadvantages.24

These disadvantaged groups are also more likely to live near highways and major roadways that expose them to higher levels of air pollution. A few studies have found that lower-income neighbourhoods are more likely to be located in closer proximity to areas of high traffic density than are higher-income neighbourhoods.25 For example, a study found that the lowest-income neighbourhoods in Toronto and Montreal were 3.5 and 2.8 times (respectively) more likely to be within 200 metres of a highway than the highest-income neighbourhoods.26 Given their increased vulnerability, lower-income populations and those who live near highways will likely experience greater health benefits from the replacement of gas-and diesel-fuelled vehicles with ZEVs.

ZEV INVESTMENTS CAN SUPPORT A HEALTHY, GREEN AND JUST RECOVERY

While ZEVs are currently more expensive than many gasoline- and diesel-fuelled vehicles, analysts in the field expect that they will become the most economic choice within five years as battery prices decrease. Over the past 10 years, battery costs decreased from $30,000 to $4,100 for small carS in response to scaled-up production and reductions in material costs. Rebates and progressive taxes would help support this transition.27

Investments in ZEVs have the potential to create many jobs for people in Canada. Over that last twenty years, vehicle manufacturing in Canada has decreased by 37% and jobs in the auto sector have fallen from 172,000 to 133,000. In California, where there are supportive regulations and rebates, there are now 275,600 jobs in the ZEV sector.28

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, CHASE, Nov 2021

Adapted from the Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) – Good for Health and the Planet! – developed by CHASE with the CPHA and the OPHA in Feb. 2021.

References

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  2. Torrie R, Bak C, Heaps T. 2020. Building Back Better with a Bold Green Recovery. Synthesis Report. June.
  3. Watts Nick et al.  2020. The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: responding to converging crises.  Review.  The Lancet.
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  19. Health Canada 2020 Traffic-related Air Pollution: Asthma, Allergies and Lung Function. Jun
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  26. Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Undated. Urban Physical Environments and Health Inequalities.
  27. Carrington, Damian. 2021. Electric vehicles close to ‘tipping point’ of mass adoption. The Guardian. Jan 22.
  28. Torrie R, Bak C, Heaps T. 2020. Building Back Better with a Bold Green Recovery. Synthesis Report. June.