Transport has Australia’s biggest emission reduction task – and little government support.
The 2017 Review of Climate Change Policies released over Christmas presents a re-hash of current policies and policy reviews, deferring new progress to after the 2019 federal election. Transport emissions will continue growing at record levels in the meantime, begging the question:
How long can we keep kicking the transport emissions Can down the road?
Australia’s Fast-Growing Transport Emissions
Transport is the main culprit in Australia’s rising greenhouse gas emissions story, it’s emissions now at record highs driven by ever-growing demand for freight and passenger movement. The sector contributes 18% of Australia’s emissions and has the largest abatement task ahead to help meet Australia’s reduction targets – one third of Australia’s total task to 2030. With Australia’s Paris commitment effectively a ‘floor’, our reduction targets will increase in ambition. To meet science-based targets that will slow down climate change below 2 degrees warming, Australia’s abatement task should be doubled.
Either way, there’s much work ahead for the Transport sector.
This without considering emissions from the long shipping and air routes we depend so heavily on for trade. Shipping remains the only industry without global legislation to limit or offset greenhouse gas emissions.
Global policy challenge
“Of all the myriad ways that energy is produced and used,
transportation has the greatest promise to change our lives for the better,
and yet it is languishing under business as usual.” – Rocky Mountain Institute
Neglecting Transport in climate policy is a global problem starting to get some attention. The Bonn COP23 climate negotiations in November introduced several transport initiatives to achieve the Paris 2050 goal of a net zero emission world economy, noting “without rapid and ambitious mitigation action, transport emissions could more than double by 2050”.
Far from its climate policy leadership a decade ago, Australia is stuck with growing transport emissions, relying on voluntary action with no strategic goals or policy to reverse the trend.
Change will come with China’s emissions trading scheme, where scope 3 emissions from transporting bulk minerals to market may be counted in Chinese carbon footprints, applying a carbon price that exposes our policy vulnerability and drastically reduce competitiveness.
Weak current policy
Transport is trapped in a carbon policy Black Spot nation-wide, often specifically excluded from energy policies at federal and state levels, while energy and emissions are a side show in transport policies. Vague notions of improving productivity and supporting low emission technologies instead of clear emission reduction targets and integrated supporting actions.
How much decarbonising of transport is evident in the policies identified by the 2017 climate policy review?
The industrial sector needs huge amounts of carbon offsets for Australia to meet its 26% emission reduction target by 2030, but with large volumes of low-cost offsets available from the land sector, Reputex expects no Transport abatement in its ACCU supply curve outlook.
Business-as-usual won’t accelerate take-up of new technologies, practices, or – critically – management focus; a bold strategic vision is needed.
2018 opportunity & risk
Several current policy reviews can together help address the task effectively at least cost:
They offer hope that 2018 could instead be a year for strong policy action, integrating suites of co-ordinated measures at all levels of government to guide and provide certainty for business investment in low carbon transport.
With the fastest growing emissions of any sector, Transport has the biggest decarbonisation task of them all. When the Can gets so big we can’t kick it any further, we may look back to 2018 and ask why we didn’t address it sooner, when action was less difficult and expensive than when we’re further down the road.