In late November 2020, Banff National Park announced an ambitious goal to become net zero, or carbon neutral, by 2035. The decision comes on the heels of a report that Canada’s oldest national park is also the North American leader in transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In fact, while Banff is the sixth most visited national park in the continent, it generates GHG that are five times higher than the Grand Canyon, the U.S. national park with the highest emissions.
A research team at the University of Calgary calculated that transportation alone around Banff National Park generates nearly 105,000 metric tons a year of CO2, more than 95 per cent of that produced by the park’s 4.2-milllion annual visitors. The majority of the emissions are generated outside of the actual townsite by visitors travelling to various landmarks within the park, such as Moraine Lake, a 144 km round trip from Banff.
The researchers contrasted Banff with Zion National Park in Utah, which has similar topography and number of annual visitors, but produces 63 times fewer GHGs. Zion lowered its GHG emissions by prohibiting private car access to key points of interest within the park and introducing a hop-on, hop-off shuttle service for visitors to reach those locations.
“Our research shows that shuttle-only service to Lake Minnewanka and Johnston Canyon using plug-in electric or hydrogen electric buses would reduce visitor transportation emissions in the park by about 20 percent,” says the University of Calgary’s Dr. David Layzell, who lead the research project.
Not only will the plan be better for the environment, it will lead to a more enjoyable experience for visitors. A 2019 survey found that 30 percent of park patrons cut their visit short due to traffic congestion, and 20 percent said that congestion would keep them from visiting again.
Banff’s project could also become a pilot for other attractions and communities looking for ways to reduce traffic congestion and GHG emissions. “We hope to build upon the town’s efforts…to make the park a sustainable testing ground for the rest of Canada,” says Jan Waterous, managing partner of Liricon Capital, which owns Banff Train Station and the Mt. Torquay Ski Resort and was a sponsor of the report. “If Banff National Park can’t become Net Zero by 2035, then Toronto and other large cities across Canada don’t stand a chance.”