In 2020, Quebec announced they will ban the sale of gas-powered cars and begin the transition towards the sale of only “zero emission vehicles” by the year 2035. Initially, the government intended for the goal to be met by 2030, but soon pushed it back by five years. This law intends to help with Quebec’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 37.5% by 2030. After the announcement, Premier Legault mentioned that this new law will only move Quebec about halfway towards their total greenhouse gas reduction commitment. Legault, however, plans to compensate for this large gap in expected emissions reduction through hopeful technological progress in the next fifteen years.
There are many concerning aspects of Quebec’s newly introduced climate policy. Initially, the announcement sounded proactive and commendable. But with further investigation, the policy outline appears to be vague and intended to be met many years down the line, meaning the current administration will not be responsible for seeing it through. In addition, Canada has a bad track record with upholding climate policy. In 2022, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s opening statement at a news conference said “Canada has consistently failed to meet its climate targets despite numerous plans and commitments.” He also urged Canadian officials to take their policy targets seriously, saying the country must “translate its commitments and plans into real action and results.” Through the Commissioner’s urgent statement, it is justifiable to question his faith in his own government’s ability to stick to their word.
Through the Commissioner’s urgent statement, it is justifiable to question his faith in his own government’s ability to stick to their word.
Both climate advocates and Quebec residents in general have raised many concerns following the announcement of the new climate policy. One unclear aspect is the lack of definition about what is considered an electric vehicle. Conflicting “zero emission vehicle” (ZEV) definitions are circulating from various Canadian agencies. For example, Transport Canada considers a ZEV as “a vehicle that has the potential to produce no tailpipe emissions”, emphasis on the word potential. If the law was to permit the sale of plug-in hybrids, the law is no longer zero emission, as hybrids go about 400 to 600 miles on a tank of gas, versus the typical 200 to 400 miles. Hybrid vehicles rely on the diligence of the owner to be effective. If not electrically charged, they emit just like regular gas cars, effectively making no difference.
In addition to the frequent use of vague terms and buzzwords, a problematic aspect of this new law is its lengthy timeline. A policy intended to be fulfilled fifteen years from now lacks the appropriate sense of urgency that the climate crisis requires. It isn’t that this policy and others like it were made disingenuously, but rather, that it is difficult to put into action due to its large scale. Legault stated that “We have a duty to the next generations,” and is motivated to implement climate policy to protect them. He acknowledges the threat that climate change poses, including the threat to his own children. Yet, this is not enough to motivate immediate action. The fifteen year plan is difficult to grasp and the burden of transitioning to a carbon neutral economy falls on the next administration.
It isn’t that this policy and others like it were made disingenuously, but rather, that it is difficult to put into action due to its large scale.
A Harvard Business Review article discusses the common inability to perceive what we are personally capable of. This leads to unachievable goals being confidently set, whether that be on a personal level or the global stage. While the law certainly has potential to be effective, humans tend to fall short when they try to reach these lofty goals. Similar to New Year’s Resolutions, lofty goals are rarely met, even when made with good intentions. Whether it is a student promising themselves on January 1st to get straight A’s or a government announcing an ambitious climate policy to be met in twenty years, these goals are set with intentions of being met. By the end of the year, we are a different person with little memory of making such resolutions. Similarly, in 2035, a new administration will be in place and could easily fail to implement the policy made fifteen years prior.
A vague law set to be reached fifteen years from now is not the type of governance that will protect us from the devastation of climate change. The urgency of this issue demands real, implementable, immediate, and active solutions to this serious problem.