On Sunday the Climate Commission released their draft advice and supporting evidence to the government on how to meet our domestic 2030 and 2050 emissions targets. In their words:
It includes advice on the first three emissions budgets and on policy direction for the Government’s first emissions reduction plan. Together, these lay out the course for reducing emissions in Aotearoa and set the direction of policy that Aotearoa takes to get there.
Of most interest to us is the section on Transport, buildings and urban form.
As we know, transport makes up an increasingly large share of our overall emissions and is the single highest contributor in Auckland.
Transport emissions have been a major and growing contributor to our total greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1990 and 2018, domestic transport emissions have increased by 90%. Transport currently contributes about 37% of long-lived gases. Transport has been the most rapidly increasing source of emissions. Out of the 35.1 megatonnes (Mt) of gross carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions Aotearoa produced in 2018, approximately 16 Mt were from transport
Road transport is the main source of emissions from transport. Cars, utes, vans and SUVs are the predominant cause of these emissions, though emissions from trucks have doubled in the last 20 years.
Road transport is further broken down by type of vehicle and light vehicles make up 53% of the total.
Notably international aviation and shipping are omitted from this report, which is quite significant given we rely on both of those methods heavily in our trade with the rest of the world.
The commission have highlighted that this is in large part the result of increasing our auto-dependency.
Rates of vehicle ownership have also increased. There were 2.7 million vehicles in Aotearoa in 2001, by 2018 there were 4.3 million and the fleet size increased faster than the population over the same period. In addition, Aotearoa has a predominance of used imports and slow fleet turn over. The average vehicle is driven until it’s about 19 years old and this average is gradually increasing.
There has been a modest increase in vehicle distance travelled per person for all vehicles: from about 9,400km per person in 2001 to about 10,000km per person in 2018.
One consequence of our heavy dependence on private vehicles is traffic congestion. Aucklanders’ travel time increased by 31% due to traffic congestion according to the TomTom Traffic Index. Extra fuel use and increased emissions often come with congestion.
While 85% of our population live in urban areas, Aotearoa is a sparsely populated country. A household’s transport choices often depend on where in the country they live, their proximity to economic and social activities and the services available. Some communities have a high dependence on vehicles for transport. For many rural communities public transport is often not practical and private transport is relied on, including for to access public transport.
Other groups, for example low income households and people with disabilities or limited mobility, children and older people often also have limited transport options. Public transport could be insufficient and low emissions cars too expensive. Policies which increase vehicle costs or driving costs may fall disproportionately on low income households, who may also not be able to afford fast broadband, also limiting virtual access allowing remote working or learning. Complimentary policies will be required to mitigate this inequality.
Understandably the commission sees the single biggest thing to reduce transport emissions is the electrification of the vehicle fleet, and is calling for the import of fossil fuelled vehicles to be banned from 2030-35 – which is roughly in line with what many other countries are also proposing. They also say that to achieve our targets, 40% of the light vehicle fleet will need to be electric by 2035.
However, they also note the need for other options
Electric vehicles are an important piece of the puzzle, but that does not take away how important it is to reduce emissions from other areas of transport and to give New Zealanders choices to reduce transport emissions.
Our transport system is dominated by private vehicles. Reducing the number of cars on the road and developing a more accessible transport system is an effective way to reduce emissions that has many co-benefits.
A successful outcome would be that transport emissions are reduced by cities and towns that are designed for liveability and ease of getting around. Active transport, such as walking or cycling are simple ways to reduce emissions. Where walking, cycling or working from home is not possible, public or shared transport are an attractive choice. A very important part of the move to a zero emissions transport system is to enable policies that work together well.
However, urban form and planning is a long term and evolving process and public transport systems take time to build up. Behaviour change also takes time. People will continue to rely on private transport until public transport services and infrastructure is provided so people find public transport, walking and cycling convenient, safe and enjoyable. There are also areas where using public transport is not practical and ultimately some people want and need to use their own cars. We see electric vehicles as an important part of the solution but they are not to be seen as a ‘silver bullet’.
It is important to address the real or perceived inequality associated with electric vehicles. Policies that support the transition to a low emissions future should operate by reducing social inequities rather than exacerbating them. Additional benefits of improved air quality and ongoing savings from the lower fuel and maintenance costs that electric vehicles provide can benefit low income households most.
They give these specific policy actions as a response to that.
One area I think they’ve missed is around the encouragement of e-bikes. While they call for measures and incentives (including monetary) to increase the uptake of electric cars, and they call for more cycling, they’ve missed an opportunity combine these suggestions with incentives towards e-bikes – which can be a gateway drug towards cycling more and for many existing owners they often end up replace a car.
One thing I think is positive is that they’ve linked together transport and urban form. They note how our cities have sprawled out which has made alternatives to driving increasingly difficult and that shifting towards more compact urban design could be a key long-term goal of urban planning – which will come as no surprise to readers of this blog.
According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
“Urban planning that decreases the need for carbon-intensive transportation in the long term – such as compact, pedestrianised cities and towns – plays an important role in limiting future emissions. Such planning, coupled with policies that encourage improve fuel efficiency; zero emission vehicles; and model shifts toward walking, cycling, public transport, and shorter commute distances, is key to decarbonisation.”
As the quotation highlights, higher density is not the only aspect of urban planning that influences emissions. Density needs to be coupled with quality infrastructure for walking, cycling, and public transport, as well as street designs that make walking and cycling safe and pleasant.
It’s also good that then linked this to other positive outcomes – this first quote from the Public Health Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health in 2010
“If designed appropriately, urban form and transport can increase physical activity, improve air quality, reduce road traffic injuries, increase social cohesion, and achieve maximum health benefits from services and facilities. Urban form can also help create a sense of place. This is important for the health and wellbeing of all populations living in urban areas, especially Maori”
Many parts of Tāmaki Makaurau and other major urban centres, where largely lower socioeconomic groups live, have been under invested in for decades in terms of transport amenity. To prioritise investment into public transport in areas of high social deprivation would benefit low emission economy targets. Prioritising areas such as South Auckland and West Auckland would reduce carbon and be beneficial for social and health purposes.
In short, a shift toward compact urban design can offer both lower emissions and a higher quality of life.
They give these actions as a result.
Overall I think the Climate Commission have made a good start. Even just sticking to this topic there is a heap of good quotes and I could have included a lot more.
In saying that, in some senses the advice is almost not ambitious enough, relying too much on business as usual. We think with the right focus, priority and investment in walking, cycling and public transport we could see mode-share increase further and pick up a larger share of transport task, thereby reducing the amount of vehicle fleet we need to convert.
At the same time let’s quickly consider what their suggestions actually mean. For example, holding household vehicle travel levels steady, resulting in a per capita decrease over time, means other than safety and smaller improvement projects, we’re not going to need spend money on big new 4-lane state highways. That alone will free up significant amounts of money to reinvest in alternative modes to help make them more useful and attractive. When it comes to urban form it also means the council needs to reassess it’s plans for significant and expensive greenfield growth.
The advice is currently out for consultation until 14 March.