Fighting climate change starts with how you get around

Did you know that a standard gas-powered vehicle emits 3 tonnes of CO2, or the equivalent of the weight of an elephant, a year?

It’s true. A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This number can vary based on a vehicle’s fuel, fuel economy, and the number of miles driven per year. (1)

You are here probably because you have picked up one of our car bumper stickers, are curious about the statistics, and maybe about what you can do to reduce your impacts on the environment and fight climate change in your own way. Below you will find information about how personal vehicles contribute to the global climate challenge, and some proposed solutions that you, in your own way, can reduce your carbon footprint.

Ecology Ottawa is a local environmental non-profit working to make Ottawa the green capital of Canada. Contact us to learn more about how you can get involved in protecting our local environment and fighting climate change in Ottawa. 

Transportation and climate change

Climate change is happening, and we know human activities are responsible for the large-scale changes we have seen in global temperature, sea level, weather patterns, frequency of extreme weather events, among others. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we need to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to avoid the worst of the climate impacts. That means a fundamental change to the energy we use, how we build our cities, and how each of us get around.

Changing our reliance on gas-powered vehicles is one of the most significant climate actions one can make in their daily life. Across Canada, transportation accounts for 24% of our greenhouse gas emission, over half of this is from personal vehicle (2). In Ottawa, transportation makes up a startling 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions (3). 

To learn more about what the government of Canada is doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, visit:

There are many ways you can take action in your daily life to reduce the carbon footprint related to transportation. The list below, although nowhere near comprehensive, is a good place to start. 

Switch to alternative modes of transportation

For decades, North American streets – and by extension, our communities – were designed around the car. Decades of over-emphasis on the car has resulted in isolated communities, dangerous streets, a loss of precious greenspace, congestion, air pollution and severe funding challenges for public transportation. It has also contributed to the climate crisis by privileging car transportation as part of the day-to-day travel decisions of every resident of the city.

The easiest and most affordable step is to switch to other modes of transportation, including walking, cycling and public transit, when you need to get around.

Walking and Cycling

Ottawa is blessed with a network of walking and cycling paths, built and maintained by both the City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission. Explore your cycling paths in Ottawa with this cycling map. You can also learn more about the winter cycling network, how walking cycling infrastructure connects to transit and other modes of transport by visiting the City of Ottawa’s website

Public Transit

In Ottawa, OCTranspo is the main public transit, in addition to the Gatineau bus system, STO. Start exploring various bus routes near where you live and consider integrating public transit into your daily commute. 

The City of Ottawa is also in the midst of building a comprehensive light rail transit (LRT) network which would dramatically scale up the city’s public transportation capacity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buses and cars. Stage 1 of the plan, scheduled for completion in late 2018, is currently underway. Stage 2, which would extend LRT to the western, eastern and southern ends of the city by 2023, has been agreed to in principle by all three levels of government and is slated to move ahead. Stage 3, extending to Kanata, is the next big challenge on the table. 

Advocate for better sustainable transportation infrastructure

Bad transportation choices can constrain a city’s options and lead to long-term problems. The more we design sprawling car-centric communities, the more we make transit unaffordable and walking or cycling unsafe. Because people are more reticent to use active transportation when the options at their disposal are dangerous or inconvenient, congestion levels continue to rise as people stick to their cars. 

The City of Ottawa understands the need for active transportation, but still continues to make planning decisions that go against the sustainable community design we need: walkable, cycling communities well connected by public transit. By letting your representatives know you care about the future of active transportation in Ottawa and that you want to see more investments in walking and cycling networks and accessible and affordable public transit.

Switch to an electric car

Alongside a good network of public transit and walking and cycling infrastructures, electric vehicles (EV) is also part of the solution to transition away from fossil fuels. EVs, or vehicles that produce zero carbon emissions are becoming increasingly efficient, cost-effective and viable as an alternative.

EVs have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine, and a battery instead of a gasoline tank. In addition to zero carbon emissions, this has the added benefit of making electric vehicles safer and lighter than gas-powered cars. Quieter too! Electric vehicles can be charged at home, or at any number of public charging stations.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your impact on our environment and help fight climate change in your daily life, consider purchasing an electric car the next time you need to buy a new vehicle.

Do you have range anxiety? – The Province of Ontario invested more than $22 million in 2017-2018 for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure across the province. This will greatly expand the reach of the charging station network, making electric vehicles a more viable option for more people. Plus, Ottawa already has a growing network of stations, see the map below.



Map data courtesy of Plugshare.