The electric vehicle lobby has highlighted how clean transport can play a major role in lifting Autralia’s climate ambitions, as the federal government comes under increased pressure to set a net zero target for 2050, and improve on its weak interim targets for 2030.
Australia’s current target for 2030 is to cut emissions by just 26-28 per cent, but new research shows that it needs to be lifted to at least 47 per cent, and possibly as high as 74 per cent, to be in line with a 1.5°C target.
Transport is the third-largest source of carbon emissions in Australia, but there is little being down to address this by the federal government, which has no policy in place to support the uptake of EVs, and no restrictions on selling vehicles with high emissions in Australia.
“Accelerating Australia’s inevitable transition to superior electric vehicles is the most straightforward way the federal government can act now to drive down emissions,” says Beyhad Jafari, the CEO of the Electric Vehicle Council. “All it needs to do is look at our friends around the world and follow suit.”
He cites first and foremost improving vehicle efficiency standards.
“The obvious place for Australia to start is to introduce long-overdue fuel efficiency standards, like the ones the US and the EU have had for decades.
“Australia is among the few developed countries on earth where it makes no difference to a car makers whether they sell a dirty, high-emission car or a zero-exhaust alternative. As a result we’re now a global dumping ground for high-exhaust vehicles that can’t be shifted elsewhere.”
Vehicles built to the outdated Euro 5 standard are still allowed in Australia, while Euro 6 has been required in Europe since 2015. A move to transition to Euro 6 was in 2019 delayed until 2027, with claims the local petrol refinery industry needed time to prepare.
This shift wouldn’t of course, be such a dire consideration if a transition to electric vehicles is instead sped up.
“The next obvious change would be to offer clear incentives to consumers to select an EV instead of a carbon-emitting alternative,” says Jafari. “As things stand, global car makers have little incentive to bring their most popular and affordable EV models to Australia, because it makes more sense to promote them in American and European markets.”
In Norway, where three decades of EV policy now mean more than 80% of new cars sold are electric, there are a plethora of benefits for electric vehicle buyers and owners, from lower taxes, free ferry rides and 50% toll discounts, and a cash for clunkers scheme which encourages van drivers to ditch older polluting models.
Jafari says that alongside investment in publicly accessible charging infrastructure, and making sure new buildings are wired up in a way that makes it easy to install home chargers, a positive approach to EVs could also ensure Australia becomes an integral part of a growing industry.
“If the federal government changes course and gets behind EVs now, we won’t just drive down emissions, we’ll encourage huge investment in our EV sector,” he says.
“There is no reason Australia cannot be an important part of the EV global supply chain, but we need a strong local market to spur that investment on.”
Volkswagen Group Australia echoed the call, and appealed for a nationally consistent approach to low and zero emissions vehicle policy, and also took again at Victoria’s road user tax which it branded the “world’s worst EV policy.”
VW has yet to bring in its first fully electric car to Australia, although it intends to bring its first model in 2022, along with three plug-in bybrids.
“We … are confronted by polar opposite approaches in Australia’s two biggest markets,” VGA managing director Michael Bartsch said in a statement.
“Victoria is taxing EVs while these comprise less than one per cent of new vehicle sales. It has ensured that cutting edge plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are doubly taxed by the road user charge and the fuel excise. Old tech hybrids that run on highly sulphurous 91 RON petrol escape this double levy.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.