Air pollutant emissions from the transportation sector

Access PDF (875 KB)

Transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment are one of the largest sources of air pollutants in Canada. Burning fossil fuels to power vehicles and engines causes emissions of many air pollutants. Air pollutants are responsible for the formation of fine particulate matter, ozone, smog and acid rain. They also adversely affect human heath, the environment and the economy.

Key results

  • In 2015, transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment accounted for more than half of total national emissions of carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOX). It also accounted for 17% of total emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • While also a source of emissions of other pollutants, the sectors represent less than 5% of total national emissions of these other pollutants.

Contribution of transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment to national air pollutant emissions by transportation mode, Canada, 2015

Stacked column chart showing the contribution of transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment to national air pollutant emissions by transportation mode. Long description below.
Long description

The stacked column chart shows the contribution in percent of transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment to total national emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, fine particulate matter, sulphur oxides and ammonia in 2015 in Canada by transportation mode: passenger cars and motorcycles; passenger light trucks; large trucks and buses; air, marine and rail travel; and off-road vehicles and equipment, tire wear and brake lining.

Data for this chart
Contribution of transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment to national air pollutant emissions by transportation mode, Canada, 2015
Transportation mode Carbon monoxide (percentage of national emissions) Nitrogen oxides (percentage of national emissions) Volatile organic compounds (percentage of national emissions) Fine particulate matter (percentage of national emissions) Sulphur oxides (percentage of national emissions) Ammonia (percentage of national emissions)
Passenger cars and motorcycles 8.7 2.3 2.5 0.1 < 0.1 0.6
Passenger light trucks 11.1 3.2 2.7 0.1 0.1 0.5
Large trucks and buses 8.4 15.1 1.6 0.6 < 0.1 0.2
Air, marine and rail travel 1.5 23.0 1.2 0.5 1.6 0.1
Off-road vehicles and equipment, tire wear and brake lining 23.6 10.6 8.8 1.2 < 0.1 0.1
Emissions of air pollutants from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment by transportation mode, Canada, 2015
Transportation mode Carbon monoxide (kilotonnes) Nitrogen oxides (kilotonnes) Volatile organic compounds (kilotonnes) Fine particulate matter (kilotonnes) Sulphur oxides (kilotonnes) Ammonia (kilotonnes)
Passenger cars and motorcycles 486 43 46 1 < 1 3
Passenger light trucks 619 61 49 1 1 3
Large trucks and buses 468 285 30 10 < 1 1
Air, marine and rail travel 86 436 22 8 17 < 1
Off-road vehicles and equipment, tire wear and brake lining 1323 201 163 20 < 1 < 1

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.87 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: "Passenger cars and motorcycles" include light-duty vehicles powered by motor gasoline, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas and compressed natural gas engines as well as all types of motorcycles. "Passenger light trucks" include light-duty trucks powered by motor gasoline, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas and compressed natural gas engines. "Large trucks and buses" include heavy-duty trucks powered by motor gasoline, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas and compressed natural gas engines.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2017) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

More information

The mix of fuels used explains in large part the contribution of each transportation mode to emissions of different air pollutants.

Large trucks and buses, and rail and marine mostly rely on diesel fuel. Aviation relies on aviation turbo fuel. These sources are the largest source of NOX transportation-related emissions accounting for 70% (721 kilotonnes [kt]) of transportation NOX emissions.

Passenger cars and trucks mostly use gasoline and are a main source of pollutants, especially in urban centres. In 2015, emissions from passenger cars and trucks amounted to 1105 kt of CO, 96 kt of VOCs, and 5 kt of NH3. This represented 37%, 31% and 75% of all emissions of these pollutants, respectively, from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment.

Other sources (mainly composed of off-road vehicles and equipment)Footnote [1] are also a significant source of pollution. Their combined emissions make up 20%, 44% and 52% of the sector's total emissions of NOX, CO and VOCs, respectively. Emissions mostly come from household use of gasoline- or diesel-powered recreational and lawn and garden equipment and from the operation of agricultural, construction and mining equipment.

The largest source of sulphur oxide (SOX) emissions in the transportation sector is marine vessels. Emissions of SOX from marine vessels decreased by almost 90% between 2014 and 2015 due to the introduction of more stringent regulations.

Changes in emissions from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment

Key results

  • Between 1990 and 2015, emissions of NOX, CO and VOCs from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment decreased by 28%, 62% and 71%, respectively.
  • Since 2000, all pollutants demonstrated the same downward trend in their emissions level.

Changes in emissions of key air pollutants from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment, Canada, 1990 to 2015

Indexed line chart showing emissions changes for three air pollutants from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment. Long description below.
Long description

The indexed line chart shows emissions changes from 1990 to 2015, as a percent of 1990 emissions, for three air pollutants from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment in Canada: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.

Data for this chart
Changes in emissions of key air pollutants from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment, Canada, 1990 to 2015
Year Nitrogen oxides (emissions changes as a percentage of 1990 levels) Carbon monoxide (emissions changes as a percentage of 1990 levels) Volatile organic compounds (emissions changes as a percentage of 1990 levels)
1990 0 0 0
1991 -6 -5 9
1992 -2 -3 9
1993 0 -3 8
1994 6 -7 7
1995 8 -11 7
1996 11 -11 5
1997 18 -10 0
1998 20 -9 -4
1999 23 -9 -11
2000 24 -10 -17
2001 16 -18 -32
2002 11 -21 -32
2003 7 -23 -35
2004 4 -26 -35
2005 1 -37 -43
2006 -4 -40 -46
2007 -6 -43 -48
2008 -10 -46 -49
2009 -18 -49 -54
2010 -16 -52 -55
2011 -19 -57 -63
2012 -22 -59 -66
2013 -24 -60 -68
2014 -27 -61 -69
2015 -28 -62 -71
Emissions of key air pollutants from transportation, off-road vehicles and mobile equipment, Canada, 1990 to 2015
Year Nitrogen oxides (kilotonnes) Carbon monoxide (kilotonnes) Volatile organic compounds (kilotonnes)
1990 1424 7864 1057
1991 1344 7503 1147
1992 1396 7640 1149
1993 1425 7612 1141
1994 1504 7332 1132
1995 1538 7024 1126
1996 1580 7031 1108
1997 1678 7096 1056
1998 1712 7191 1018
1999 1756 7121 937
2000 1760 7066 873
2001 1656 6446 722
2002 1578 6249 723
2003 1521 6034 688
2004 1488 5828 684
2005 1435 4993 599
2006 1367 4717 571
2007 1335 4463 551
2008 1286 4250 541
2009 1164 3975 490
2010 1191 3812 475
2011 1156 3420 387
2012 1106 3192 356
2013 1080 3118 334
2014 1046 3066 323
2015 1026 2982 312

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.67 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Fine particulate matter, sulphur oxides and ammonia are not shown in the chart due to their low share (≤ 5%) of total emissions in 2015.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2017) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

More information

Between 1990 and 2015, NOX emissions reductions were lower than those observed for VOCs and CO.

NOX emissions increased between 1990 and 2000 (24%) due to an increase in air, marine and rail travel and road freight transportation. Emissions from air marine and rail travel represented 42% of transportation-related emissions of NOX in 2015. Changes in air, marine and rail travel thus have a large impact on changes in emissions of NOX. After 2000, new regulations contributed to a decrease in emissions from road freight, while emissions from air travel continued to increase.

Passenger and freight travel emissions are influenced by a variety of factors. These include population and economic growth, volume of passenger and freight travel, vehicle type, emission control technologies, fuel efficiency and fuel type.

The gradual introduction of cleaner technology and fuels for vehicles as a result of regulations was the leading cause of reductions in transportation emissions, despite the economic growth and increase in population and transportation activity that also occurred during that time.

Access PDF (875 KB)

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Privacy statement

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: