Links between fuel consumption, climate change, our environment and health

The transportation sector is responsible for 27 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada. Light-duty vehicles – the cars, vans and light-duty trucks we drive - are responsible for almost half of that total. While automakers have been successful in reducing criteria air contaminant (CAC) emissions from cars and light trucks, fuel usage and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have grown steadily over the past two decades. That's because CO2 – the principle GHG linked to climate change – is an unavoidable by-product of the burning of fossil fuels. Although light-duty vehicles are more fuel efficient than they were in the 1970's, there are many more vehicles on the road today, and we're driving them further than before, thus using more fuel. While much of the energy use in Canada is necessary, there are times when we could use energy more wisely.

The millions of Canadians who drive vehicles every day can take steps to help reduce their fuel use and slow down the rate of climate change by making a commitment to drive more fuel-efficiently. For example, planning trips carefully to combine errands, driving at the posted speed limit, avoiding jackrabbit starts, maintaining proper tire pressure, or even walking or taking a bus can result in significant fuel and CO2 reductions.

One of the easiest actions that Canadians can take – with a simple turn of a key – is to avoid unnecessary idling. Idling is not only a waste of energy and money – after all, we're burning fuel but going nowhere – it is also a needless source of greenhouse gas emissions.

While reducing vehicle idling alone won't solve the climate change problem, it's a step in the right direction and it's easy to do! Keep in mind that if we each do our part, our individual actions add up.

Consider some of the implications of climate change on the environment and our health. The potential impacts include everything from more severe weather events, such as more frequent and intense rainstorms, to rising sea levels, droughts, forest fires and floods.Footnote8

Natural Resources Canada's Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation web site has noted other potential direct and indirect impacts of climate change on our environment and health across all regions of Canada. It is important that all Canadians become aware of the impact of their energy use on our environment and way of life.

Recent Health Canada studies suggest that Canadians can expect a wide range of impacts, some of which are already being felt as milder winters and hotter summers. Hot summers can have significant consequences where, the chemicals in the air that form smog react even faster as a result of higher temperatures. This suggests that GHG emissions can indirectly affect air quality by magnifying the effects of air pollution, thereby posing a risk to human health. Furthermore, this can mean that where smog is already a problem, smog episodes can become worse, affecting both our air quality and health.Footnote9

Given these facts, why would anyone add to the growing problem of climate change by wasting fuel? That's exactly what happens when Canadians idle their vehicles unnecessarily.

If Canadian motorists avoided unnecessary idling for just three minutes every day of the year, it would prevent 630 million litres of fuel from being wasted and 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being needlessly pumped into the environment. Annually, that would be the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars off of the road!

Clearly, individual actions can make a difference when taken by millions of Canadians.

More information on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate change and their impact on the environment and human health is available at:

Health Canada: Understanding the Health Impacts of Climate Change

Health Canada: Climate Change and Health

NOTE: Links to sites external to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) are provided as a convenience and their inclusion in no way implies that Natural Resources Canada endorses or accepts any responsibility for the content or use of these sites. As the organizations that maintain these sites may not be subject to the Official Languages Act, information found on these sites may be presented only in the language in which it was written.