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Zero-emission vehicle regulations pioneered in California could be Canada’s best shot at curbing emissions from its transportation sector, a new study suggests.

Writing in Policy Options, SFU Prof. Jonn Axsen argues that of the 100 or so policies promoting electric vehicles on the books in Canada, Quebec’s California-inspired Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate is proving to be the most effective.

“This is clearly the single most effective electric vehicle policy in Canada, one that requires automakers to sell ZEVs, either electric or hydrogen-powered, as 15 percent of their sales in the province by 2025,” Axsen writes. “From a policy perspective, the ZEV mandate is a thing of beauty. It sends a clear, long-term signal to automakers and other stakeholders that the electric-mobility transition is under way.”

According to the International Energy Agency, EVs must make up 40 per cent of light-duty vehicles by 2040 to keep emissions increases within global climate targets. 

There are more than 100 policies on electric vehicles across Canada, Axsen’s team found while developing an EV “report card” released last year. An “A” grade means the province was on track to meet those emissions reduction targets.

Canada and British Columbia received grades of C-, while Quebec placed highest with a B-.

That province’s ZEV mandate, passed last year after lobbying from EV manufacturer Tesla, borrows from similar regulations in place in California since 1990. Quebec currently has 45 per cent of electric cars in Canada and just 23 per cent of the country’s population.

According to a UBC Transportation Study the transportation sector is B.C.’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2015, twenty-nine B.C. academics signed on to a letter urging Premier Christy Clark to incorporate zero-emission vehicle standards into the province’s climate planning. However, the province has yet to do so.                    

California’s policy “has incentivized innovation globally, in part because it has teeth: automakers choosing not to innovate must buy credits from the other companies, or pay fines,” Axsen writes. “In turn, the more innovative companies are rewarded with the revenue from these credits.” Such policies can complement strong carbon pricing, which can prove politically unpalatable compared EV incentives.

Effective EV policies will be important in greening the transportation sector, which currently contributes around 23 per cent of Canada’s Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) but offers “tremendous opportunities for significant emissions reduction.”

Local initiatives could also help. London and Paris are reportedly considering bans on internal combustion engines in city centres, which would increase demand for hybrid and electric trucks

By Jonny Wakefield, 26 January 2017