Between 2010 and 2014, provincial governments from Ontario westward, as well as the federal government, implemented renewable fuel standard (RFS) regulations.  Targeting both gasoline and diesel, the stated goal for these standards has been the presumed greenhouse gas emission reductions that come with ethanol and renewable distillate content, with rural economic opportunity to supply the mandated renewable content often mentioned as an ancillary benefit.

This importance to the local agricultural economies of RFS can be seen in their provincial implementation.  The highest ethanol content standards in Canada come from the prairie provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan while from Quebec eastward, as well as the territories, no such standards exist.

Disconnect Between RFS And GHG Emissions Reductions 

While the design and regulatory justification for RFS regulations usually cited the pressing need for GHG emissions reductions in the transportation sector, most RFS regulations don’t actually specify any GHG reduction requirements in determining which renewable fuels may be eligible under those standards.   (There are two notable exceptions:   Alberta’s RFS requires renewable fuels to have a 25% lower GHG emissions rate than baseline fossil fuels and Ontario’s Greener Diesel regulations, which is similar).

LCFS Flexibility in GHG Reductions 

In contrast to the RFS regulations, British Columbia has adopted a low carbon fuels standard (LCFS), consistent with that existing in California.  Under the LCFS, transportation GHG emissions may be reduced using a number of options, from natural gas, hydrogen and electricity, to ethanol and renewable distillate.   (The regime, in fact, includes other market mechanisms to also bring down GHG emissions reduction costs).

Nationwide Transportation GHG Reductions Through LCFS 

If the goal of RFS is truly GHG emission reductions, and the recent announcement of a national carbon price surely reaffirms its sincerity, in spite of some sabre-rattling to the contrary, then BC’s LCFS and not conventional RFS, would seem to be the path towards cross-country implementation.


Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm's Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on environmental issues and has authored numerous publications including recent publications in the Environment and Climate Change Law Review, Detritus – the Official Journal of the International Waste Working Group, Chemical Watch, Circular Economy: Global Perspectives published by Springer, and in the upcoming Yale University Journal of Industrial Ecology’s special issue on Material Efficiency for Climate Change Mitigation. Mr. Cocker maintains a blog focused upon international resource recovery issues at