Australian cars emit 23 per cent more carbon dioxide than their European counterparts, while vans and utes are almost 40 per cent worse, new figures collected by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries reveal.
It’s the first time the FCAI has published these figures and the results show how far behind Australian cars are from other markets, thanks to the country’s absence of fuel emission standards.
In 2020, new light passenger cars and small SUVs in Australia emitted on average 150 grams of CO2 for every kilometre travelled. That was 23 per cent more than the same category of vehicle in the European Union, which emitted 122.4 grams of CO2 per km in 2019.
The difference was even more stark for heavy SUVs, utes and vans, which in Australia emitted on average 218 gCO2/km, 38 per cent more than their European counterparts, which emitted on average 158 gCO2/km.
The European Union has strict limits on how much CO2 new cars can emit, and hefty fines for car makers that exceed the limits. Australia, by contrast, has no CO2 targets at all, meaning car makers have an incentive to dump their dirtiest cars here.
On top of that, the notoriously poor quality of Australian fuel means many of the newest and most efficient models simply can’t run on Australian petrol, and fuel bills for cars are up to $600 more per year than they might otherwise be. As well, health authorities say emissions from cars and trucks kill more than 1,700 people a year in Australia.
The stark gulf between Australia and Europe shows how big an effect this policy vaccum is having on transport emissions, which have continued to increase steadily and now make up around 20 per cent of total emissions.
Under the Paris Agreement, the federal government has an economy wide greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. But it has no specific target for transport, and has tended to focus its policy ideas and rhetoric on electricity emissions and carbon sequestration through tree planting.
The FCAI says passenger cars and small commerical vehicles covered in this survey make up 10 per cent Australia’s total CO2 emissions.
FCAI chief executive Tony Weber says the car industry is desperate for some regulatory intervention from the federal government, warning without it consumers would miss out on the best and most efficient international models – including petrol-burning cars, electric vehicles and hybrids.
“By regulating this space, of the limited number of low emissions vehicles available, we’d get a higher proportion allocated to the Australian market,” he said.
This, he said, would allow the industry to “bring the best technology to Australian consumers, and we can play our role in reducing CO2 emissions”.
“Our view is the government should determine the level of CO2, and our members should provide the technology mix. Give us the target we will give you the tech solution,” Weber said. He also said the government should also address the quality of Australian petrol, which he said was the worst in the OECD.
His comments echo the frustration expressed by Volkwagen, which yesterday warned without policy intervention it will not bring its latest EV models, the ID.3 and ID.4, to Australia for years.
The FCAI has its own voluntary targets, which would see the average CO2 emissions per kilometre drop 4 per cent every year and get below 100 grams by 2030.
Europe this year introduced its latest target for new cars of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre. Unlike the FCAI’s voluntary target, in the EU car makers that fail to meet the target are fined – basically a carbon tax tailored to cars. Fines start at €5 for the first gram per kilometre of exceedance per car, rising to €15 for the second g/km, €25 for the third g/km, and €95 for each subsequent g/km.
However, tentative moves by the current Coalition government for fuel emissions standards were dropped several years ago under pressure from the Murdoch media. And the government’s new Future Fuels Strategy offers no incentive for electric vehicles.
The FCAI will release model-by-model CO2 emissions data next month.
James Fernyhough is a reporter at RenewEconomy and The Driven. He has worked at The Australian Financial Review and the Financial Times, and is interested in all things related to climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy.