Electric Cars Will Not Be Sufficient to Reduce Emissions From Transportation 

The progress that has been made toward achieving Australia’s new emissions decrease goal of a 43% decrease by 2030 (from the levels in 2005) has been decidedly mixed. In recent years, there has been a reduction in the emissions produced by the electricity sector, but it appears that the upward trend in emissions produced by another major sector, transportation, will continue.

There is a common belief, which is inherently urged in some nations, that it is possible to simply cut back on emissions from transportation by increasing the number of people who drive electric vehicles that are powered by renewable energy sources. On the contrary, lowering global emissions from transportation will necessitate numerous policy changes as well as investments in infrastructure across a variety of fronts.

However, the most recent decades have been covered by an absence of activity. The International Energy Efficiency Scorecard for 2022 reveals how far Australia has fallen behind other countries in terms of energy efficiency. In terms of total energy consumption, Australia placed 18th out of the top 25 countries in the world and 23rd for transportation.

In the evaluation of transport, Australia received a score of 0 out of a possible 9 points on 5 of the requirements. These issues included a lack of standards for fuel economy in 2025, reduced electric car sales share, poor average fuel economy for light cars, a lack of standards for fuel economy in heavy vehicles, and no savvy cargo programs.

It has been acknowledged by the federal government that effective standards for vehicle fuel economy have been long overdue. Lowering emissions from vehicles is important because they were responsible for 45 percent of all emissions from transportation before COVID was implemented, but this is only one piece of the solution.

It will be years before electric vehicles and cars that are more fuel efficient than those that are currently on the market can replace those that are less efficient. Recent evidence also suggests that increasing the price of gasoline alone won’t be enough to curb the use of vehicles and the emissions they produce.

What Other Options Do We Have?

Up until 2009, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics (BITRE) published reports on the topic of lowering the emissions produced by various modes of transportation. It was determined that “effective road pricing restructuring” (to solidify the correlation between expenses to drivers, travel times, and distance) presented “the largest potential for lowering carbon emissions from transport.” The proposals included “no regrets” metrics such as increasing the amount of freight that is transported by rail.

Only a few measures, such as requiring cars to display their fuel efficiency ratings and lowering the speed limit in urban areas to 50 kilometers per hour, were put into effect. As a consequence of this, BITRE data demonstrate that overall emissions from transport have increased by approximately 19% between the years 2005 and 2019.  Cars contributed 16% of the growth, articulated trucks contributed 16%, and domestic aviation contributed 50% of the growth.

The following was mentioned in the ministers’ foreword to a consultation paper that was just released for the upcoming National Electric Vehicle Strategy:

“In today’s market, Australians have access to some of the most polluting vehicles available anywhere in the world. New passenger vehicles sold in Australia have, on average, emissions that are approximately twenty percent higher than those sold in the United States and approximately forty percent higher than those sold in Europe. When it relates to emissions from transportation, we need to get up to speed with the world at large. ”

What Exactly is Going on in Other Countries?

Measures that have been successful in other countries include the improvement of public transportation and the implementation of congestion pricing in major cities (charging drivers for travel during peak traffic times).

A further measure that was suggested by public transport ministers approximately 20 years ago was to switch from having high annual license fees to having higher fuel excise taxes. This would imply that individuals who drive their vehicles fewer miles do not end up footing the bill for individuals who drive their vehicles more frequently.

An Emissions Reduction Plan has also been implemented in New Zealand. This plan has “a focus on reducing dependence on cars and delivering significant change in walking, cycling, and public transport,” among other goals. The transport actions have set a goal to reduce the total number of vehicle kilometers traveled by the light fleet of cars by twenty percent by the year 2035.

This lofty goal is supported by a variety of other initiatives, such as land-use planning, which aims to shorten the distances that individuals need to travel in order to reach their places of employment, as well as other services and conveniences.

Transporting Goods by Rail and Sea Rather Than by Truck

It has been said a number of times that “without lorries, Australia stops.” However, the transportation of haulage by truck has become much more convenient over the previous 3 decades as a result of significant improvements to the road system and the development of bigger and heavier trucks. This convenience, however, comes with a number of associated costs.

The consequence of having more lorries on the roads is one of the costs. The higher emissions are an additional expense. When compared to shipping freight by rail or sea, transporting goods by truck requires three times as much energy and results in three times the amount of emissions produced.

We did the math, and we determined that if train lines were to reclaim a 50% proportion of the cargo on just the Sydney-Melbourne route, it would result in a reduction of emissions of more than 300,000 tonnes per year. This is the same as removing approximately 100,000 cars from public circulation.

Keeping a Lid on the Emissions Caused by Air Transport

Even though domestic flights were responsible for just 9% of all transport emissions in Australia prior to the implementation of COVID, a 50% rise in air pollutants from 2005 to 2019 necessitates action on the part of the government to limit further expansion. The fact that most people in Australia travel between major cities and regional hubs by airplane makes this a difficult task to undertake. Other nations, such as France, are taking measures to restrict the use of short-distance aviation routes when rail travel is available.

According to the Findings of the International Energy Agency, Worldwide

“Rail travel is the best energy-efficient and least carbon-intensive method of transporting for people, and it is only 2nd to shipping in terms of its ability to carry goods.”

The Bundaberg to Brisbane route is one example of a corridor in which an enhanced rail network competes with domestic aviation. Trains that ran more frequently and at a faster speed would be well garnered on numerous other routes, such as the one connecting Canberra and Sydney. This would also reduce emissions.

Throughout a longer time frame, there will be a requirement for a specialized high-speed railway system between Melbourne and Sydney. This service will involve electric trains traveling at speeds greater than 250 kilometers per hour. There is potential for the travel time to be reduced from 11 hours to approximately six hours within the next four years if rail improvements and tilt trains are implemented in the medium term.