A new study from the Climate Council has highlighted the surge in transport emissions in Australia, which is taking the country further away from its weak emissions targets and underlying the case for a switch to electric vehicles, and more renewable energy to charge them.
It also underlines the case for a smarter approach to public transport – less money on roads, and more on public and “active” infrastructure – such as public transport, walking and cycling.
The report from the Climate Council, released on Thursday, says that Australia’s transport related greenhouse gas pollution levels increased 3.4 per cent in the year to December 2017 and are responsible for one hundred million tonnes of greenhouse pollution every year.
That makes transport the second higher polluting sector in the country with 18 per cent of all emissions, after electricity (33 per cent)
But while cities such as Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra are taking steps towards renewable powered public transport, such as Melbourne’s solar powered tram network, more needs to be done to facilitate the shift to zero carbon transport.
The report echoes the findings of every other report that has looked at EVs in Australia – the country is lagging behind the rest of the world, and is the only western country that has no clear incentives to take up the technology.
Sales represent just 0.2 per cent of total vehicle sales, with just 2,284 sold in 2017. Even New Zealand, which has a national target of 64,000 EVs by 2021, sells nearly double that number.
“Australia is stuck in the slow lane on transport pollution,” says Greg Bourne, the former chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, a Climate Councillor and one of the key authors of the report.
The report notes that the federal government needs a plan – a clear climate and transport plan.
It suggests vehicle emissions standards, planning for and investing in infrastructure to enable more people to walk, cycle and use public transport, powering cars, buses and rail with renewable energy, and incentives for increasing the uptake of electric vehicles.
It urges state and federal governments to follow in the path of the ACT government, which is looking to zero carbon transport, just as it has on electricity.
“Federal, State and Territory governments (should) introduce targets to drive uptake of electric buses, trucks, cars and bicycles powered by renewables. Electric vehicle targets can be established for specific sectors and government operations, including public transport systems and government vehicle fleet purchases.
Right now, Australia ranks behind Russia, Mexico and Indonesia on transport efficiency because of its high polluting cars, its high car use, a low share of trips taken by public transport, and low capital spending on public transport compared to roads.
Australia is the only western country not to have emissions standards on cars, and tentative moves to discuss the idea were shouted down last year by the Murdoch media and conservative politicians who branded such proposals as a “carbon tax” on wheels.
Those conservatives now have control of the government.
Prime minister Scott Morrison says he has no plans to address emissions in his energy policy, or more generally, and has made it clear that the Coalition government will not increase its Paris targets, as most countries will be under pressure to do in coming years. Conservatives want Australia out of the Paris target.
The Climate Council report says if strict emissions standards were introduced, Australia could prevent up to the equivalent of 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
“This is equivalent to the annual emissions from seven Liddell power stations. Urgency is key. Mandatory emissions standards have wider benefits, reducing fuel bills for car owners, saving an estimated $8,500 over a vehicle’s lifetime,” the report says.
The report says as electric vehicle uptake grows, this must be accompanied by new, additional investments in renewable energy.
“As electric vehicles are an additional source of electricity demand, it is important that new renewable electricity sources for charging electric cars are additional to those that would otherwise be provided, so as not to undermine pollution reductions being made in the electricity sector,” it says.
A recent report by the Australian Energy Market Operator, which predicts more than half Australia’s private fleet will be electric by 2038, says this will add around 15 per cent to total grid demand. If carefully planned, however, it will not add to peak demand, and could in fact strengthen the grid.
“Now is Australia’s opportunity to cut greenhouse gas pollution from transport while moving people in our cities more efficiently, reducing urban air pollution and noise and saving commuters money,” Bourne says.
“Australia’s growing cities are starting to see breakdowns in the performance of the current transport systems.
“Stress, congestion, air pollution, noise, ever increasing public space dedicated to roads, and the high cost of private transport are all exacerbated by our current reliance on roads and high polluting cars.”