image: Pat Whelan , Unsplash
Reducing road-based transport emissions will require a range of solutions, such as mandatory greenhouse gas emission standards, an increased uptake of electric vehicles, investment in EV charging infrastructure as well as in sustainable public transport powered by electric buses, light rail and trains.
In conversation with:
ClimateWorks Cities Team
Explained: How important is Green Transport?
Transport is the fastest growing and third largest source of emissions in Australia, with around 20% of emissions coming from the sector. Transport emissions have increased by at least 63.5% (39.0 Mt CO2 e) between 1990 and June 2019. As emissions in other sectors are reducing, transport is set to become the source of an even bigger proportion of emissions. While transport has a lot of work to do to reach a 1.5C pathway, the solutions to get us there are largely already known.
Shifting to lower emissions intensive modes, like public transport, walking and cycling is critical to reduce emissions, and these need to be appropriately funded. It would be great to see the shifts that many of us have made to walking and cycling during COVID locked in and built on. Having strategies in place to get us feeling comfortable back on public transport will be critical too. Infrastructure and transport services shape the transport options available to us. If transport planning and funding took into account all emissions from transport, better low emissions options would be available. Efficient and reliable electrified public transport systems, such as light rail, bus, metro and long-distance rail networks, can shift individuals from private road transport. Creating attractive public transport networks means improving service frequencies, reliability, accessibility and those last mile connections. Cities and regions can transform transport behaviours quickly with leadership, resourcing and implementation of safe and convenient walking and bike infrastructure. Reducing the overall car trips we are taking is needed to not only reduce emissions but to also ensure the transport system runs efficiently. A well-designed approach to demand management like road pricing can help manage emissions as well as congestion. This can help public transport move more efficiently but also poses a potential funding stream for sustainable transport – like London’s successful congestion charging scheme.
Yes! The solutions absolutely exist, but to get there we need a combination of sustainable transport options and demand management (which means engagement from our government to shape the regulatory environment). Achieving emissions reductions in transport needs a suite of measures that work together to reduce emissions, while still providing an efficient transport network. Shifting passengers from road transport to shared public transport modes can reduce emissions, address health and equity issues, support local jobs and create more liveable cities. In Australia, there is growing interest from state and local governments to do more to reduce transport emissions. It’s great to see electric bus commitments, safer bike lanes rolling out across cities, and commitments to power our public transport with renewable energy. However, ongoing lack of ambitious national policy means there is still a lot of work to do in the transport sector. Australia’s road vehicle fleet is one of the most energy- and emissions-intensive fleets in the world. Australia is one of only two developed countries without vehicle emissions standards, a policy tool that supports manufacturers to bring more clean and efficient vehicles to the Australian market. Our neighbours in New Zealand have recently released a new EV package including a Clean Car Standard and Clean Car Discount, which will put a fee on sales of new high polluting cars, the revenues from which will be used to fund subsidies of new lower-emissions vehicles, helping avoid five million tonnes of emissions. We could have similar policies here in Australia that would benefit the environment, manufacturers and our back pocket.
Advocating for more ambitious electric vehicle policy, by writing to your local MP and engaging with government on transport, is one of the best things you can do to make EVs more affordable, as quickly as possible. In Australia right now, electric cars make up only 1.57 per cent of the vehicle fleet. As EVs increase in the market, more lower priced options, including second hand vehicles will become available. To increase the options available and drive uptake, Australia needs clear policy direction, including a national emissions standard. ClimateWorks analysis has modelled four pathways to net zero by 2050 for Australia, which showed between 50 and 76 per cent of new car sales in Australia must be electric by 2030. We’ve got a long way to go – but with political engagement, we can get there! Using financial incentives is an important way to bring down the upfront cost of electric vehicles until price parity is reached. It also encourages vehicle manufacturers to introduce more models, increasing choices and supporting associated investment such as charging infrastructure, or skills and training for mechanics and dealerships. Incentives and subsidies need to sit within a broader electric vehicle strategy that covers infrastructure, regulation, education, road pricing and targets. For Australia to adequately address transport emissions, a supportive zero-emissions vehicles policy is long overdue.
It’s true that some areas of transport have less mature zero-emissions solutions and we don’t yet have all the answers – long-distance heavy transport like aviation, shipping and long-haul trucks are still some of the most challenging transport issues to solve at scale. A lot of research and development is going into this right now, as well as the roll out of zero-emissions options in these spaces where viable. For example, in 2019 international shipping conglomerate Maersk announced plans to develop commercially viable zero-emissions shipping vessels by 2030, and lead industry collaboration and research into new fuels in order to meet a net zero emissions by 2050 commitment. In 2021, they updated their strategy to announce a carbon-neutral vessel would be launching in 2023, seven years ahead of schedule. They cited higher expectations from customers, investors and employees as the reason the industry is pushing for climate action to happen faster. Advocating for government and industry support of these efforts is critical to keep us moving forward and ensuring that the sector is ready for rapid uptake of these technologies in the future. Right now, Australia needs to plan for reducing demand on emissions-intensive types of transport. This might include shifting the norm to alternative options in the future, such as avoiding passenger trips by using teleconferencing. Taking an international example, France has recently moved to ban flights that could be taken by a 2.5 hours train. Shifting to more efficient zero-emissions travel by rail can have an immediate impact. For example, in relation to freight, one additional rail service is estimated to take 54 trucks off the road in Sydney.
One great source is “Moving to Zero”, ClimateWorks recent report on accelerating the transition to zero-emissions transport. Also, ClimateWorks cities team is building a multi-year ambitious program to tackle transport emissions. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to hear more.
Explained: Electric Vehicle FAQs
This is a very important point! We recognise that a key barrier to the adoption of EVs in Australia is the state of the nation’s charging infrastructure. Despite growth in charging stations since 2018, Australia currently has less than 2,500 public charging stations. To combat this, we need investments in the establishment of a fast-charging infrastructure on, or in proximity to, the national highway network will help to reduce consumer anxiety about EV range. This, along with consumer incentives, can help to drive the uptake of electric vehicles in Australia.
When it comes to operating costs, electric vehicles are actually cheaper and more reliable than conventional cars, due to lower maintenance costs as well as electricity being cheaper than fossil fuels. In terms of purchasing an electric vehicle, the Federal government could incentivise electric vehicles in programs like the Instant Asset Tax Write-Off Scheme, and as seen in Norway they could purchase or import taxes, no annual road tax, no charges on toll roads or ferries, and free municipal parking to name a few. In addition to creating incentives, the expansion of global electric vehicle production will bring down electric vehicle costs down rapidly.
Electric vehicles are in essence a large battery attached to an electric motor with wheels. When the EV is not being used, its battery can function to store electricity generated by a home’s solar panels or to discharge its power back into the grid to provide an increase in available power during times of high demand. Power contracts between the EV owner and their electricity retailer can be designed to allow for the purchase of this kind of electricity and further reduce the owner’s power bills.
An EV is only as ‘green’ as the electricity used to charge it. If that power comes from rooftop solar, it’s already 100% renewable. However, when it is being charged from mains power, the carbon impact will depend on the energy mix in the overall grid. This is why the decarbonisation of the electricity system is so critical: it is a necessary condition for the decarbonisation of nearly all other sectors, including transport.
When internal combustion engine cars were first invented, the refuelling and maintenance infrastructure we now take for granted didn’t exist either. But within a generation there were networks of service stations across the country. The same dynamics will be at play as EV uptake rises, demanding government support to build the infrastructure that will take us from polluting fossil fuels to clean, green electric transport.
Due to lack of government incentives and subsidies for electric vehicles , they can have a higher upfront cost than their fossil fuel counterparts, raising the barrier for consumers. The majority of the 28 electric vehicle models available in Australia in 2021 cost over $60,000. In contrast, highly emitting petrol and diesel dual-cab utes in Australia are subsidised and incentivised through mechanisms like the Instant Asset Tax Write-Off Scheme, meaning a web developer earning $100,000 per annum can purchase a $150,000 ute and instantly write it off, effectively bringing their taxable income down to a net loss of $50,000, meaning they pay no tax that financial year.
To make electric vehicles more affordable to the Australian public and incentivise electric vehicle uptake, the Federal government could include electric vehicles in programs like the Instant Asset Tax Write-Off Scheme. Alternatively, it could take inspiration from countries like Norway which offers no purchase or import taxes, no annual road tax, no charges on toll roads or ferries, and free municipal parking to name a few.
In addition to creating incentives, the expansion of global electric vehicle production, design optimisation, and declining costs of batteries, which are the most expensive component of electric vehicles, will bring electric vehicle costs down rapidly. By 2025, electric vehicles are anticipated to be in a similar cost range or even cheaper than conventional cars. However, the urgency of the climate crisis means we cannot afford to wait.
When it comes to operating costs, electric vehicles are actually cheaper than conventional cars, due to lower maintenance costs as well as electricity being cheaper than fossil fuels. On average, operating costs of electric vehicles are less than half of conventional vehicles.
Another key barrier to the adoption of EVs in Australia is the state of the nation’s charging infrastructure. Despite growth in charging stations since 2018, Australia currently has less than 2,500 public charging stations. Thus, investments in the establishment of a fast-charging infrastructure on, or in proximity to, the national highway network will help to reduce consumer anxiety about EV range. This, along with consumer incentives, can help to drive the uptake of electric vehicles in Australia.
To increase the adoption of electric vehicles, governments at all levels should consider incentives which reduce the barriers to EV adoption and/or provide additional benefits to early adopters:
* instant rebates or tax credits to reduce costs
* exemptions from vehicle registration or tolls
* free or reduced cost parking
* reserved EV parking spaces in municipal lots (with or without chargers)
* an expanded charging network within and between cities and towns
Mandatory greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles
Australia is one of the only OECD countries without mandatory greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles. Mandatory greenhouse gas emission standards or vehicle efficiency standards are government policies or regulations that require car manufacturers to lower emissions of new cars over time. These apply to over 80% of the world’s car market, including the United States, Europe, Japan, Korea, China, India, Canada and Mexico.
Due to the lack of mandatory emission standards, Australian vehicles emit more pollution per kilometre than comparable countries, producing 46% more greenhouse gas pollution than vehicles in European countries, for example.
The Australian government needs to introduce and strengthen mandatory greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles as soon as possible. Introducing strict standards can prevent up to 65 MtCO2 of emissions by 2030. On top of that, mandatory emission standards would also reduce fuel costs, saving an estimated $8,500 over a vehicle’s lifetime.
National electric vehicle target
While electric vehicle sales in Australia have tripled from 2,216 in 2018 to 6,718 in 2019, Australia still lags behind other countries with electric vehicle sales only accounting for about 0.6% of new car sales. In other developed nations, the proportion of electric vehicle sales is around 2.5% to 5% of new car sales, with the notable exception of Norway, where electric vehicles accounted for 54% of new car sales in the year 2020.
To accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, federal and state governments around the world, such as China, California (USA) and Quebec (Canada) have set specific targets to increase electric vehicle sales. Australia has not set a national electric vehicle target, which according to carmakers, is restricting the supply of electric vehicles to Australia. Global production of electric vehicles is expanding but is still limited by the developing nature of the industry and its supply chain. Due to the lack of government policies in Australia, electric vehicles are instead allocated to markets with supportive policy signals for the sale of low or zero-emission vehicles.
In order to increase the number and models of electric vehicles on the Australian market, and in turn increase sales, the Australian government needs to set an ambitious national electric vehicle target. A number of countries aim to ban fossil fuelled (petrol, gas and diesel) cars, including Norway (by 2025), India (by 2030), The Netherlands (by 2030), United Kingdom (by 2040) and France (by 2040).
Running on renewables
Due to the high proportion of car users, Australian roads are often congested at peak times, which in turn increases travel time. Alongside population growth in Australian cities, demand for public transport is increasing. In order to reduce numbers of vehicles on the road and aim to bring transport emissions to zero, the Australian government should invest in sustainable and efficient public transport solutions.
Australia has one of the lowest uptakes of public transport per capita, and Australian cities have much lower walking and cycling rates than European cities. Thus, we require a major mode shift from car travel to public and active transport. Federal and State Governments can play an important role in encouraging a mode shift through both city infrastructure planning and efficient transport planning. Cities can improve their walkability and cyclability by removing road and parking space to accommodate pedestrian and cycling paths. This would encourage residents and visitors to choose active transport over driving.
The key to encouraging higher levels of public transport use is providing services that enable people to travel from any part of the city or its suburbs to any destination in a direct, efficient and cost-effective way. This can be achieved through creating a “network effect”, resembling a grid or web pattern criss-crossing the city, with frequent and reliable services across a series of well-designed connection points, and coordinated timetables that enable quick interchanges.
Public transport services, such as buses, trams and trains, can be powered by renewable energy, such as in Melbourne where the city’s trams are powered by solar energy City buses are well suited to switching to electric vehicles, because of their known routes and timetables. In fact, Sydney already has two bus routes serviced by a fully-electric bus, the 859 and the 858, with another seven electric buses joining the city’s fleet by the end of the year. Installing charging infrastructure as well as solar panels on bus terminals and interchanges can support growing electric bus fleets, while some electric bus models can drive up to 1,700 km on a single charge, meaning they could operate throughout the day without needing charging.
Globally, China is leading the way in the deployment of electric buses. In 2017, the city of Shenzhen in China became the first major city in the world to switch its entire bus fleet to electric. More than 34 cities around the world are following suit and have pledged to buy only electric buses from 2025 to reduce pollution. Canberra’s trams are already powered by 100% renewable energy and the city is also planning to shift to electric buses.
To create a zero emission public transport system that can move us within and between suburbs, we need elected officials at all levels of government to:
- increase service, with more routes, to more places, coming more often
- electrify the service, whether that’s buses with overhead wires, battery electric buses, or electric urban and inter-urban trains
- commit to using 100% renewable electricity to power these public transport networks
In conversation with:
Head of Research and Investigations at Greenpeace Australia Pacific
Explained: Greener Transport, Generally
Each bicycle on the road is one less car on that same road. This not only relieves traffic snarls but reduces the pressure on public roads and related infrastructure, not to mention the physical health benefits to the cyclist. A win-win situation if ever there was one!
The Melbourne-Sydney air corridor is the second busiest in the whole world, with around 54,000 flights made each year. However, a high speed rail link between the two cities – like Japan’s Shinkansen or France’s TGV – could reduce overland transport times from around 12 hours to as little as 110 minutes: far faster than flying when the time taken to clear airport security and other flight checks are taken into account. High-speed rail stations can also be located much more centrally because they don’t suffer from the noise pollution of aircraft, further reducing travel times to and from one’s destination.
Fair question! Decarbonising the transport sector will simultaneously require government targets and incentives. Decarbonising domestic aviation and shipping will require further investment in research and development to advance alternative fuels and electrification in these sectors. Emission reductions across all sectors can be achieved through a combination of Federal and State Government policies, as well as through investment, consumer demand, and advocacy, driven by businesses and individuals.
Good question! While studies have shown that there will be a role for electrification in aviation, further investment in research and development is required to progress this technology for the aviation sector. Electric-powered passenger planes that currently carry up to 20 people are already in use for short haul routes in Norway, for example. However, the most impactful change we can make is to reduce demand for flying by building alternatives, like high speed rail, where possible. In the mean time, alternative fuels provide the main viable solution to significantly reduce aircraft emissions.