In Ontario, the transportation sector accounts for over one-third of the province’s global warming pollution. And that means that Ontario won’t be able to meet its 2020 target of cutting global warming emissions by 15 per cent below 1990 levels — unless it reduces emissions in the transportation sector.

Putting a price on carbon is one of the most effective ways to reduce transportation-related emissions.  In British Columbia, where there’s a carbon tax of $30 per tonne, gasoline consumption decreased by 12.5 per cent between 2008 and 2013. Over the same time period, B.C.’s economy outperformed the rest of Canada, demonstrating that pricing carbon is not at odds with economic growth. If Ontario’s cap-and-trade system reduced gasoline use by the same amount, carbon emissions from the transportation sector would decrease by 5.5 megatonnes by 2020.

That’s why it’s critical that Ontario’s cap and-trade system is designed properly and covers the transportation sector. In Quebec and California, distributors of gasoline and diesel were exempted from the first two years of cap-and-trade. If Ontario is serious about achieving its 2020 targets, motor vehicle fuels should be covered in the first year of the program. This would immediately align Ontario’s system with systems in Quebec and California, offering companies more flexibility and opportunity to cut pollution and making overall emissions reductions more cost-effective and efficient.

Ontario’s price on carbon must be complemented by other measures to reduce fossil fuel use in the transportation sector. As will be described in more detail below, Ontario’s government should create incentives to encourage lower-carbon modes of transportation, particularly low-emissions vehicles, public transit and smart growth and land-use planning.

Ontario already offers the Electric Vehicle Incentive Program and the Electric Vehicle Charging Incentive Program. These programs allow Ontario drivers to apply for rebates for the purchase or lease of eligible plug-in electric vehicles and charging stations. The programs should be expanded in order to further encourage growth of low-emissions vehicle usage.

Ontario’s 2015 budget designates funds for public transit, including the electrification of the GO network, the construction of regional express rail, and the building of light-rail transit in major cities. The budget takes measures to encourage active transportation and the design of communities that are walk-able and bike-able. These investments will move more people out of their cars and reduce pollution, all while creating jobs and economic activity, and getting more of us to where we want to go faster.

To really drive emissions reductions from transportation, Ontario needs to commit to smart growth and better integrate land-use planning with transit planning. The Greenbelt Plan should be strengthened to permanently protect forests, wetlands and farmland from development, ensuring Ontario maintains the integrity of its carbon sinks. The Places to Grow Plan should ensure communities grow in more sustainable ways and avoid building more car-dependent sprawl subdivisions. And climate change should be accounted for across government decision-making, including decisions on transit and land-use planning. (More compact communities produce three times less carbon emissions than car-dependent sprawl subdivisions.)

Reducing GHG emissions in the transportation sector generates an array of co-benefits that make Ontario cleaner, healthier, and more productive. Investing in public and active transportation improves quality of life and reduces health costs related to dirty air, car-dependent communities, and pollution. A report by the Medical Officers of Health in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) estimates that the health care costs associated with the lack of alternative transportation options are $4 billion per year. Meanwhile, traffic congestion costs the GTHA $6 billion annually in lost productivity. That number is expected to grow to $15 billion per year by 2031.

Reducing transportation pollution will improve our environment and our economy. If Ontario is serious about achieving its 2020 targets, transportation fuels need to be included in the cap-and-trade system from the outset. And revenues from cap-and-trade should complement investments already being made in public transit and smart growth.

All Ontarians can benefit from climate action. Cutting carbon in Ontario’s transportation sector means we can spend less time on congested highways and more time enjoying the economic, social, and environmental benefits of a low-carbon future.