Getting on the right track to net zero emissions in Australia’s transport sector
The transport sector is interconnected. So tackling transport emissions must be considered as a whole, too.
While conversation about transport emissions in Australia to date has largely centred around electric vehicles for private transport, action is needed across the whole sector if we are to achieve the critical net zero goal. This complex sector encompasses a number of categories: road, rail, water and air; along with modes that fall within these categories, including cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, airplanes, bikes and walking. Solutions for transport emissions reductions usually consider these modes separately. Yet this approach limits the potential impact of any solution and cannot deliver the scale of change we need. This is because a siloed approach fails to acknowledge the interplay between transport modes and types - for example, the reliance that all modes have on each other through delivery supply chains. Addressing the potential for emissions reductions throughout all transport categories and modes is therefore required, with simultaneous efforts across multiple fronts needed to ensure a cohesive, sector-wide result.
The role of electric vehicles
Australia’s transport sector includes one of the most energy and emissions-intensive road vehicle fleets in the world. Eighty-two per cent of transport emissions come from road-based transport, with 62 per cent specifically from passenger vehicles. Australia can rapidly reduce emissions by electrifying a range of vehicles such as cars, trucks and buses, along with other modes including micro mobility and trains, powering them all with 100 per cent renewable energy. In addition to renewable electricity, hydrogen will also need to be considered for some modes, particularly heavy vehicles and some bus services.
Globally, the electric vehicle market is taking off. Norway has achieved major EV uptake over the last decade by using incentives including: tax reductions and subsidies for vehicles; financial compensation for scrapping fossil-fuelled vehicles; and increasing infrastructure for charging. The USA has committed to using only EVs for government cars and transitioning all public buses, while the UK is offering consumer subsidies and setting dates to end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles.
Currently, electric cars make up 11 per cent of new vehicle sales in the UK and six per cent in China. Meanwhile in Australia, EVs make up only 0.6 per cent of our vehicle fleet. To increase uptake, Australia needs clear policy direction: targets, subsidies and standards that kick-start a local EV market. ClimateWorks’ analysis has modelled four pathways to net zero by 2050 for Australia. Based on these, between 50 and 76 per cent of new car sales in Australia must be electric by 2030, with the higher target of 76 per cent aligning to a scenario that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While it’s certainly achievable, this target is far more rapid than current Australian Government emissions projections, which anticipate 26 per cent of new car sales will be battery electric or plug-in hybrids in 2030. Austroads – representing Australian and New Zealand transport agencies at all levels of government – found that, for all road vehicles to be zero-emissions by 2050, sales of internal combustion engine passenger vehicles must end by 2024.
A potential role for green hydrogen to decarbonise heavy transport
Produced using electrolysis and renewable electricity, there is a strong case for using green hydrogen where electrification is neither viable or feasible, particularly for vehicles travelling long distances. Hydrogen-fuelled trucks, for example, are suitable for long distance journeys, heavy payloads (where the weight of batteries is a disadvantage) and where rapid refueling is needed. In the case of long distance freight rail, hydrogen may aid in the transition away from diesel, as the required refuelling infrastructure could be cost-competitive with electrification. Demand for green hydrogen from harder-to-abate sectors, such as shipping and long-distance air travel is also anticipated.
Australia’s global potential in zero emissions fuel production
Australia has a natural advantage in its vast supply of renewable energy resources. These resources not only create ideal conditions for developing green hydrogen to use domestically, they could help us become a leading global exporter. In addition to its decarbonisation potential, green hydrogen offers many other benefits in areas of job creation and economic growth. But to make these opportunities a reality, Australia must rapidly accelerate development and deployment of a green hydrogen industry, keeping pace with global competitors who are also developing and advancing their own green hydrogen solutions.
As the world transitions to a net zero economy and Australia’s major trade partners commit to net zero by 2050, Australia will only remain a major energy exporter by developing zero-emissions fuel technologies, including hydrogen. This shift requires financial support for research development and commercialisation, appropriate infrastructure, regulation and licencing, and skills development.
Energy related infrastructure can lay the foundations for a zero emissions transport sector
Increasing Australia’s uptake of electric and hydrogen vehicles will also require the creation of significant supporting infrastructure: in homes, workplaces, alongside roads and in other public destinations. Investment in infrastructure is needed across the range of zero emissions vehicles, including trucks, ebikes, buses, trains, ships and planes. Rolling infrastructure out at such a scale requires sector-wide coordination and investment.
An effective emissions reduction strategy goes further than electric vehicles and green hydrogen
While electric and hydrogen vehicles are perhaps the most visible and exciting examples of the changes we need, they represent just one part of the transport decarbonisation challenge and should therefore sit within a broader emissions reduction strategy. This is amplified when you consider the scale of sector-wide opportunities. For example, reducing transport demand and shifting to efficient and shared transport options, such as public transport, could reduce transport sector emissions by 20–50 per cent by 2050.
Building more public transport and active travel infrastructure will be critical. Considering demand management options, such as congestion charging, can also help reduce private vehicle use, avoid unnecessary vehicle travel kilometres, and promote more liveable communities. It will also be critical for the transport sector to consider emissions when deciding which infrastructure to invest in, as such decisions guide our transport choices. Reducing emissions from transport can also impact broader environmental issues beyond energy use, including local air and noise pollution, water use and habitat change. Ensuring these co-benefits are accounted for in decision making can help set cities and communities up for a resilient future.
About the authors:
Helen is ClimateWork’s Transport Program Impact Manager, working with government and industry stakeholders to define a common vision and action plan to move the transport sector to zero emissions.
Helen will chair the Transport and infrastructure working group at the upcoming Impact X Summit Sydney 2021: Climate growth and accelerating pathways to zero emissions. To register to attend the conference, click here.
Rachel works in ClimateWorks’ Cities team, focused on facilitating policy shifts and embedding net zero emissions pathways in key urban sectors including transport and infrastructure.
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