Gasoline sales plunge to lowest level in 20 years during first year of pandemic

A man prepares to fill his car's gas tank in Toronto. (Michelle Siu / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Pandemic lockdowns that left Canadian cars sitting idle in driveways and garages for weeks on end last year pushed gasoline use to its lowest level in two decades.

Statistics Canada data show Canadians bought 38.6 billion litres of gas in 2020, 14 per cent less than the year before and less than in any other year since 2001.

Translated into greenhouse gas emissions, the reduction of about six billion litres of gasoline is about the same as taking 3.1 million cars off the road.

Every province saw gas purchases fall but the biggest drop came in Ontario where the lockdowns lasted longer than in most other provinces and drivers bought 18 per cent less gas than in 2019.

A study in the journal Nature Climate Change earlier this year said emissions likely fell seven per cent globally in 2020, almost entirely because of public health measures to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

But Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager at the Climate Action Network Canada, says without structural changes to how Canadians get themselves from place to place, emissions cuts caused by the pandemic are unlikely to be permanent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2021.