Quebec’s ban on new gas-powered cars by 2035 won’t get province to emission reduction targets, experts say

The Quebec government wants to get more people into electric cars and power more industries and homes with hydroelectricity as part of a commitment to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Premier François Legault announced his government’s long-awaited plan to tackle climate change this morning, 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 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.

Legault blamed the previous Liberal government for the province’s failure to meet its 2020 targets.

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

Experts not impressed by government plan

Catherine Gauthier, who heads the environmental lobby group ENvironnement JEUnesse, said the Legault government’s plan lacks ambition.

“The Quebec government wasn’t able to demonstrate that its plan for a green economy responds to the demands of climate science,” said Gauthier.

Prior to the announcement, Pierre-Olivier Pineau, one of Quebec’s most prominent energy policy experts, said electric-vehicle technology is already developing at a rate that will make it dominant by 2035.

Making a big deal out of the ban, said Pineau, makes the announcement look more innovative than it actually is.

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 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.

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