Canadians are breathing cleaner air. Here's why

Jan 21, 2016   | Categories: Environment, Issues
Canadians are breathing easier than they have for decades.
Since 2003, air emissions from refineries have fallen significantly: sulphur oxide dropped 47 per cent, nitrogen oxide fell 41 per cent, and volatile organic compounds are down 48 per cent.

At the same time, since 2005, on-road emissions have plummeted. Sulphur dioxide in particular has dropped 90 per cent, a truly massive improvement.

The push to clearing the air began in 1991, when Canada and the United States established the Air Quality Agreement (AQA), in an effort to address air pollution on both sides of the border.

The agreement, at first, focused on reducing acid rain, and then was expanded to address ground-level ozone, a big contributor to smog.

By 2014, the AQA reported considerable improvement in air quality, such as the reductions in sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds. But the transportation industry isn’t resting on its laurels. There is still more to do.

Next steps in clearing the air

Coming up next is a new phase in clearing the air, known as Tier 3 standards. Part of this phase is the New Sulphur in Gasoline Regulations, which, starting in 2017, will cut sulphur in gasoline by a further 70 per cent.

That’s saying something, since the Tier 2 vehicle standards implemented in 2005 had already cut sulphur emissions by 90 per cent over 1993.

New, sulphur-reduced fuel formulations will power the new and improved vehicles of the future. Vehicle manufacturers are bringing in advanced emission control technologies, which will require new fuels to function effectively.

These new vehicles, also regulated under the Tier 3 phase, will contribute to reductions in smog-forming pollutants of up to 80 per cent over the previous Tier 2 levels. The new vehicle regulations, and therefore new vehicle technology, will begin to kick in in 2017 and be in full force by 2025.

“The Tier 3 standards are the most stringent smog-related emission standards in the world,” noted Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association.

Refineries doing their part

Canada’s transportation fuel industry has worked with vehicle manufacturers for decades, to keep improving fuel efficiency and quality.

But  our commitment to cleaner air goes beyond improving the performance of fuels. Since 2000, the industry has invested $10.4 billion in environmental stewardship, leading to significant emission reductions. Carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 12 per cent since 1990 due to these investments. In fact, refineries account for only 2.5 per cent of GHG emissions.

Tier 3 and vehicle efficiency standards are made possible by the harmonization of regulations in Canada and the U.S. Harmonization is very important, because regardless of which side of the border we live on, we all breathe the same air.

And cleaner air means better health. New fuel and vehicle standards are expected to provide about $7.5 billion in health and environmental benefits from 2015 to 2030.

Now that’s a breath of fresh air.

Read more about what refineries are doing to clear the air in our blog about reducing GHG emissions, and what Canada is doing to help the transportation industry get greener.

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