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Peter Boag is president and CEO of the Canadian Fuels Association.

Governments around the world are increasingly focused on climate change ahead of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP21 may be a defining moment in charting the road forward. The Canadian delegation will be led by our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Whatever emerges from the talks will be influenced by the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – specifically, that keeping the global temperature increase within 2 degrees Celsius will require GHG emission reductions of 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

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A new report by the Conference Board of Canada explores that challenge. It examines the most promising initiatives and technologies, and finds that an 80-per-cent transportation-emission reduction target for Canada is unrealistic. Converting all passenger transportation to zero-emission modes would still leave Canada well short of this goal. Even a 50-per-cent reduction will be costly and require not only a significant cut in transportation activity, but also a break in the traditional connection between economic growth and transportation demand.

The Conference Board report highlights the difficulty for policy makers: Transportation is a significant contributor to emissions in Canada and around the world. It's also vital for a strong economy and decent quality of life. How can we achieve meaningful emissions reductions without constraining our economy and compromising our ability to travel?

Targets are essential. But they must be realistic and set in conjunction with clear, practical plans on how to achieve them. An aggressive aspirational target in the absence of such strategy is a formula for failure. Kyoto is a good example.

It's time to learn from what has been achieved and what is attainable. Transportation systems are already becoming cleaner from effective regulation and significant innovation. Automotive technology advances are making a difference – optimizing the efficiency of conventional vehicles is a promising option in reducing GHG emissions.

In the absence of some new and as yet unknown technological breakthrough, incremental technology developments will deliver significant emission reductions. For example, improved power-plant efficiency, lower weight and reduced aerodynamic drag will help conventional internal-combustion powered vehicles in the 2017-2025 model years contribute GHG reductions of approximately 174 megatonnes. That is roughly equivalent to a year of emissions from Canada's entire transportation sector.

Demand-side management of transportation is a key challenge and opportunity if we hope to accelerate emission reductions. We must begin to think differently about where we live and work, how we drive, what transportation mode we choose and how much we are prepared to pay for our transportation options. The goal is to grow a sustainable transportation system that balances Canadians' environmental, economic and social aspirations.

Our collective efforts to achieve a sustainable outcome must be founded on three key actions:

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  • Explore, define and evaluate GHG emission-reduction pathways in collaboration with all stakeholders before targets are set.
  • Recognize Canada’s productivity and competitiveness as core considerations in the development and implementation of a national GHG-reduction strategy.
  • Ensure that sound science and cost-benefit analyses drive decision-making and are transparently shared with citizens.

Transportation's carbon footprint will shrink and the fuel mix will diversify in the decades ahead, but petroleum will remain the dominant transportation fuel. The industry I represent helps keep Canada on the move. We are committed to working constructively with governments and others to achieve a sustainable, lower-carbon transportation future for our country.

Our industry is not responsible for setting targets. But as Canadians, we are responsible for helping governments set realistic ones and exploring ways we can work successfully together toward solutions.

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