Photo: Roberta Franchuk, Pembina Institute
Pembina report calls attention to escalating freight emissions

Most Canadians don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the carbon footprint of freight. But we should and we must think about it, according to Bora Plumptre, Eli Angen, and Dianne Zimmerman, authors of The State of Freight: Understanding greenhouse gas emissions from goods movement in Canada. This comprehensive new research report was released in June by the Pembina Institute and made possible in part by Metcalf Foundation funding.

After the oil and gas sector, transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, accounting for 24 per cent of total emissions. Within it, freight – the movement of goods by road, rail, air, and marine – is the fastest growing segment. Since 1990 emissions from freight have increased 125 per cent. By 2030 these emissions are expected to surpass those of personal vehicles.

“Emissions from goods movement are almost as big as the electricity sector, yet they receive relatively little public attention,” according to Eli Angen, one of the study’s authors.

The problem of increasing freight emissions is serious enough that it could jeopardize Canada’s ability to meet its climate targets under the Paris Agreement. Though the study’s authors conclude that there is “no silver bullet” for reducing freight emissions, they remain hopeful that improvements can be made, and point to paths forward. Jurisdictions like California, for example, are working to improve the environmental sustainability of goods movement.

Closer to home, Ontario’s Peel Region freight-management efforts are cited in the report as a “leading example of what municipalities can aspire to do” through their systematic approach to improving efficiencies of goods movement within their borders. And while the authors state that there is “not always a clear technological ‘solution’,” they point to the addition of SuperTrucks as a move in right direction. Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy has been working with four different major industry manufacturers to improve the fuel efficiency by 50 per cent of Class 8 combo trucks, which currently haul 70-80 per cent of all U.S. freight tonnage.

The State of Freight is the second report in an ongoing series on freight emissions. To download the full report or any other work by the Pembina Institute please visit

Listen to Eli Angen discuss this report on Radio Canada.

Metcalf Foundation activities are continuing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about our response here.