Australia does not have a clear strategy to decarbonise transport. That’s a problem because without a plan, we’re slowly adopting clean technologies like electric cars, trucks and buses.
It prevents us from meeting our climate obligations. And it makes us pay exorbitant prices for imported oil at the fuel pump, as well as the cost of groceries and services.
The good news? In the past year, 18 transport and energy experts have made this independent science-based summary of what is possible now in clearing land, sea and air transport and what will become possible in the coming decades.
Our plan lists policy priorities at all levels of Australian government. Together, these policies could enable the delivery of a net-zero transport system by or before 2050, and Australia could reap major economic, social and environmental benefits from the transition.
The pandemic has shown us how governments and experts can work together to tackle tough challenges. We can do that here too. We can draw on the knowledge of transport and energy experts, engineers, planners and economists to develop the science-based net-zero transport strategy that Australia urgently needs.
Why we need to reduce transport emissions quickly
Today, most of our transportation depends on fossil fuels. That makes it one of Australia’s most emission-intensive sectors. Worse, transport emissions are predicted to continue to increase until at least 2030during the most critical decade in the fight to slow climate change.
By 2030, transport emissions could grow to a quarter of the country’s domestic emissions. Australia has a highly polluting, inefficient fleet 90% dependent on imported fuel† These two factors mean that many Australians have been hit hard by unprecedented fuel prices†
Switching to clean transport is a win-win-win situation: we can cut emissions, cut commuting costs and increase Australia’s fuel security in a highly uncertain geopolitical time.
How can Australia reduce transport emissions?
To start this shift, we need to have a clear vision for decarbonising transportation quickly. Our framework consists of three steps:
- avoid: where possible, avoid transport trips and shorten travel distances, such as by working from home
- shift: switch as much as possible to more efficient modes of transport such as e-bike, public transport and walking for most trips that are unavoidable
- Improving: Increasing the energy efficiency of transport in Australia by using low and zero emission vehicles such as electric cars, electric buses and electric trucks.
We need to invest in transformative technologies to accelerate the transition, such as electric vehicles for land transport, and electric, hydrogen, ammonia, sustainable biofuel and synthetic fuel options for shipping and aviation.
This approach is in line with current world best practice. The largest global clean transportation agency says the electrification of transportation is… one of the most important technology to decarbonise the sector.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that electric vehicles offer the greatest decarbonisation potential for land transport on a life cycle basis† The more difficult challenges will be to find ways to run shipping and aircraft without fossil fuels. For this we have to invest in finding the solutions.
As if saving the world from the worst of climate change isn’t enough, the economy has changed dramatically.
Far from a long-term cost to Australia, but a quick move to clean transport could save us nearly half a trillion Australian dollars by 2035. Of this, nearly $300 billion is the amount we save the health system by removing deadly pollutants from the air.
Australians can also save some $2,000 every year in lower fuel and maintenance costs for electric cars. If all cars in Australia were electric, it would save more than $30 billion a year.
It may not surprise you to hear, but Australia is woefully behind the rest of the world in this transition. For example, we are one of the few countries without mandatory fuel efficiency standardswhich has left us with a dirty and inefficient fleet.
To date, neither the coalition nor current Labor policies go far enough to achieve net zero transport emissions. Our next government must commit to ambitious policies to support the rapid decarbonisation of transportation.
Where to from here? The roadmap to achieve net-zero transport by 2050
To reach net zero for land transport by 2045 and for all transport by 2050, we need evidence-based strategies.
Since we are starting almost from scratch, we can only make this turnaround with an ambitious transport policy. These would include:
- clear targets for each transport sector to achieve net zero transport by or before 2050
- new financial incentives to help households and businesses switch to zero-emission transport
- new sales mandates and fuel efficiency targets to drive innovation and increase the supply of zero-emission vehicles
- investing in clean transportation manufacturing and recycling industries so we can build batteries locally, produce renewable fuels and build electric vehicles by 2030
- infrastructure and policies to support active transport, low-emission zones and road pricing reform.
To tackle the more difficult-to-decarbonise sectors of shipping and aviation, we need:
- research, development and investment in low and zero emission options, coupled with zero-emission fuel mandates
- renewable hydrogen clusters to support wider decarbonisation of the economy and low- and zero-emission shipping and aviation.
Lucky for us, we have a lot of resources to draw from to create this better system. We have a natural resources able to support clean transport not only locally but globally. We will have access to massive amounts cheap, renewable energythat we can use to power mining and refining of critical resources, convert water into green hydrogen, produce batteries and build our own zero-emission vehicles.
This is all possible. But time is short. We must seize this opportunity to clean up our transportation industry while creating new jobs, improving our national security and purifying the air we all breathe.
- Jake Whiteheadresearcher e-mobility, The University of Queensland† Bjorn SturmbergResearch Leader, Battery Storage & Grid Integration Program, Australian National University† Donna Green, associate professor, researcher for UNSW Digital Grid Futures Institute; Associate Investigator NHMRC Center for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research, Associate Investigator the ARC Center of Excellence for Climate Extremes, UNSW Sydney† Emma Rachel WhittleseaProgram Manager – Climate Ready Initiative, Griffith Universityand Liz Hannahonorary associate professor, Australian National University
- 1 Why we need to reduce transport emissions quickly
- 2 How can Australia reduce transport emissions?
- 3 Where to from here? The roadmap to achieve net-zero transport by 2050