The auto industry – from manufacturers to suppliers – is faced with the largest transformation of its history. The future of the internal combustion engine, private ownership of cars, and even driving itself as an expression of individuality and personal success are all in question.  Germany and Canada both have car industries of vital importance to their economies. Never before have these carmakers been confronted with so many simultaneous challenges.

Up to this point, environmental and climate policies in western countries have not been the driving force behind this transport transformation. Instead it is largely China, the world’s largest market for motor vehicles, which is forcing automakers to switch gears. China’s mega-cities, traditionally choked by off-the-scales air pollution, increasingly give a glimpse of where this transformative journey will take us: Towards electric mobility, shared motorized- and non-motorized vehicles, and the integration of a wide array of mobility options.

If western policymakers put in place the right framework, we can improve the quality of life in urban centres in places like Canada and Germany in similar ways. Public space that until now has too often been dedicated to parking and roads dominated by single-occupant vehicles could be filled with public life again – without limiting our mobility. The mobility transition also has the potential to lower the energy demand of the transportation sector to the point where it can be covered by carbon-neutral sources. To ensure that this potential is realized is the task of the energy transition in transport. Only if these two developments – the shift to zero-emissions, shared transportation options and the supply of zero-emissions energy – take place in tandem, can they limit transport-related emissions sufficiently for Germany and Canada to reach their climate targets.

In Canada, the transport sector contributes roughly the same share of carbon emissions as in Germany. However, in Canada transport-related emissions have grown considerably since 1990 while Germany’s have stagnated. This underlines the enormous challenge Canada faces in doing its fair share of limiting global warming.

The German non-profit Agora Verkehrswende and the German development agency GIZ (German Corporation for Cooperation) recently presented a joint research report on transport-related climate policies among the G20 countries. Launched on the sidelines of the COP23 climate conference in Bonn, the analysis also included the Canadian government’s commitment to complete a Zero Emissions Vehicle Strategy in 2018 – an important signal to industry stakeholders and international peers. Let’s hope that the result will truly accelerate Canada’s move away from fossil fuel-powered transportation.

The transport transformation has arrived on the political agenda – in Canada, in Germany, and around the world. Those who tackle the challenge head-on have much to gain. Those who refuse to will be on the losing side of history.

Christian Hochfeld is the Managing Director of the German non-profit Agora Verkehrswende, which recently published “12 Transport Transformation Insights.” 

You can find the G20 transport-policy analysis here.