Submissions are due on the Climate Change Commission’s draft advice to Government this Sunday (28 March), so if you haven’t started reading it, time to start.
Here is the Commission’s webpage linking to the advice report, the evidence report (in chapters), the consultation questions, and to how to make a submission itself.
The chapters that include mention of transport are:
- In the advice report itself: chapters 3, 5, 6
- In the evidence report: chapters 4b, 7, 8, 9, 17
It’s great we have the Commission bringing the topic to the public’s attention. Their work will undoubtedly get New Zealand on a better climate planning pathway. Their presentation to the Council’s Environment and Climate Committee meeting in February was excellent. They’ve been effective at getting across the urgency of responding to the emergency.
The commission are genuinely seeking comment and information about their modelling, assumptions and conclusions. In terms of engagement, I’ve been impressed with their level of openness and willingness to listen – to both public opinion and to contestable evidence.
Paul Winton of the 1Point5 Project has undertaken an in-depth analysis of the Commission’s evidence. He has concluded that the emissions pathway Aotearoa needs to take must involve much bigger emissions reductions. Here are some of the contributing factors to this:
The Climate Change Commission’s (CCC) first principle says Aotearoa must adopt actions that contribute to the global effort to limit warming to 1.5°C. This doesn’t mean adopting the average emissions reductions pathway required. The Commission acknowledges “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” New Zealand is clearly a relatively wealthy, industrialised country and must do better than the global average because we have both the responsibilities and capabilities to do so.
Yet the emissions pathways actually examined by the Commission only involve following the global average.
Also, as Paul advised me:
The Commission has used the IPCC Scenarios for Low or Limited overshoot. This is not consistent with a conservative approach advocated by the CCC as all bar one of these scenarios depends on large scale deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). CCS does not yet exist in an economically and adequately scalable manner and therefore its implied inclusion by the CCC introduces significant risks to reaching 1.5C. The CCC should therefore set targets and budgets well below those implied by IPCC Low of No Overshoot of 1.5C scenarios.
Transport is highly sensitive to the budgets. When the budgets are corrected, transport will be a sector that will need to decarbonise first. The 1Point5 Project’s analysis confirms their initial position that we need to decarbonise transport by 2030.
This has major implications for the advice the commission has given, which has relied heavily on electrification and road pricing for reducing transport emissions. Asking an affluent minority of New Zealanders to buy electric vehicles sounds reasonable, but it cannot scale up to 100%.
Some countries can rely more on electrification. Norway, for example, has a low car ownership rates (51% compared to our 86%), a fleet that is already lower emissions than ours, and they have already invested and transformed to achieve significantly improved safety and modeshift outcomes. We haven’t. Norway will still find it difficult and expensive to achieve decarbonisation via electrification, but it is a luxury they can consider. New Zealand cannot. If all cars were new the cost to the public would be well over $230 billion. The Climate Change Commission believes the minimum cost will drop but it is speculation as to whether the average price paid would be much below this and even if costs could be substantially reduced by drawing on second hand cars, the figure is still extraordinarily high.
New Zealand has a dysfunctional transport system in need of overhaul. We need to change our system for health, safety, access and economic wellbeing. Electrification cannot deliver this transformation; for us, electrification is an important solution for mopping up the remaining emissions reductions still required after systems change.
I used this chart on Saturday’s post, but it’s worthwhile showing again. Todd Litman describes that of the two main decarbonisation options, electrification is not a strategy that delivers all the benefits (which New Zealand so desperately needs):
Electrification must be targeted towards the hardest to electrify vehicle types and the vehicles used for tasks that are hardest to modeshift. We cannot expect the general public to continue to accept an unhealthy, inequitable, expensive and unsafe car dependent transport system, and also lump them with the decarbonisation costs of having to purchase new, even more expensive vehicles, in order to participate.
Pragmatically, EV uptake is a long term game.
Pricing will be useful, but it requires people to have transport choice so they can avoid driving. The Commission needs to advise the Government to press ahead with plans to make our cities suitable for active and public transport modes – they need to be compact, liveable and safe for people walking and cycling. There is no time to wait for the funding provided by the pricing to provide us with safe choices; the earlier we start providing them, the more easily can pricing be implemented equitably.
So why has the Commission’s advice been so focused on EV’s and pricing? As I understand the situation, the sector advised them that only a small %age of emissions could be achieved through modeshift, and the Commission accepted this without modelling different scenarios.
So we need to dig in a little to the unhelpful assumptions held in the sector. Here are some of the issues I’ve discovered when looking at the emissions modelling for Auckland:
I was advised by Auckland Transport:
One scenario modelled included improving public transport so that fare, frequency and access barriers are removed. This scenario didn’t show significant reduction of emissions.
This is at odds with the OECD’s study, Decarbonising Urban Mobility with Land Use and Transport Policy – The Case of Auckland which showed the public transport improvements package could achieve a 40% drop in emissions. True, this drop was over 30 years, not 10, but the modelling was very conservative. It didn’t consider actual customer experience and advanced network design improvements, and – being undertaken before the declaration of the climate emergency – didn’t consider a more radical pathway based on the need to decarbonise transport by 2030. It also didn’t have the benefit of the massive changes in transport planning that have been happening overseas due to Covid.
With widescale bus priority (including bus bollards), Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to reduce traffic congestion (allowing buses to move more freely), a full focus on customer safety and experience, all-day services, many more frequent routes, and with swift changes in land use to encourage modeshift from driving to public transport (eg significant removal of parking to remove some of the bias in preferences) a substantial part of these public transport emissions can in fact be achieved by 2030.
Yet Auckland Transport dismissed simple public transport improvements I suggested to help bring emissions down on the basis that:
the 70% driving modeshare means it is difficult to get public sentiment to change rapidly
In other words, Auckland Transport refrained from modelling the potential technical solutions, believing the public are unwilling to change. That was not the job they were tasked with. Politicians are tasked with achieving the public buy-in, and will need to engage experts at behaviour change, psychology and even marketing. The results of Auckland Transport’s modelling, therefore, are simply a measure of the organisation’s unwillingness to change the status quo.
On modelling the emissions reductions possible from active travel, Auckland Transport said:
the problem with considering walking for emissions reductions is that their contribution to mode share of distance travelled is so small that even doubling the amount that’s walked has negligible effect on emissions
Auckland Transport cannot plan on relying on a larger emissions reduction from walking and cycling improvements than what the model showed
Again, this explains the poor advice given to the Commission. Auckland’s street network is deeply deficient. Once people feel safe walking and cycling, including to the bus or train, many driving trips can be dropped. Auckland Transport are only acknowledging the direct switching from driving to active travel that enabling safe and attractive active travel will allow. But there are other mechanisms they’ve ignored:
- replacing long vehicle journeys to distant activities or retailers with short active journeys to local activities and retailers, and
- replacing long vehicle journeys with public transport journeys because the first and last legs by walking or cycling are now possible.
As the International Transport Forum’s Phil Goodwin says:
A frequent criticism is that the aim of reducing car use by increasing walking and cycling will bear most on shorter trips, with therefore inadequate reductions in mileage. This is where the deeper commitment to ‘taking the targets seriously’ becomes important. Superficial analyses typically assume (though they rarely make this explicit) that the number and distribution of journey lengths stays constant. But entirely orthodox modelling indicates that if all travel is becoming more expensive, there will be more short trips and fewer long ones. What this should mean is that the policy interventions necessary to increase the walking share of trips will also, at the same time, increase the number of journeys to nearby destinations and reduce those to distant destinations, which can have the desired effect of reducing overall mileage more than any reduction in the number of trips – addressing the criticism above.
The Commission should note that walking, cycling and e-biking can contribute to emissions reductions in a considerable way:
Cyclists had 84% lower CO2 emissions from all daily travel than non-cyclists.
Low traffic neighbourhoods are an obvious way forward for New Zealand. In the UK these are being implemented quickly, at scale, and offer significant reductions in emissions and pollution. The cobenefits of decarbonising in this way are massive, including reduced injuries and deaths, a far more pleasant environment, improved equity, reduced car ownership, significant modeshift from driving, reduced vehicle travel both in and around each low traffic neighbourhood, improved public health, and reduced crime. Through good coordination with “first responders” they improve response times. They also require and benefit from good engagement with local people with mobility issues.
And of course, emissions can be reduced by the traffic evaporation that can be achieved through removing traffic lanes and entire highways.
Matt included in Friday’s post an illustration that some in the sector don’t understand traffic evaporation. In fact, Auckland Transport doesn’t even accept induced demand. They told me:
Sprawl roads don’t induce trips. The trips are induced by the new development and population. Roads are just a way to carry those trips.
This significant misunderstanding alone means the Climate Change Commission should ignore Auckland Transport’s advice on how to decarbonise transport.
Finally, land use. The Climate Change Commission advice acknowledges the importance:
we need to ensure a stronger and more deliberate relationship between urban planning, design and transport immediately.
In general, however, they don’t seem to have acknowledged that our growing cities can change their urban form relatively quickly – something I discussed on Saturday’s post.
Here are the wise words from the OECD report into Auckland:
Urban structure has long been known to affect the carbon footprint of a city. The predominance of a low-density residential development pattern, also known as urban sprawl, is statistically associated with a steep increase in per capita GHG emissions from the transport sector… the relationship between density and transport-related energy consumption is highly non-linear: very high fuel consumption is observed in areas of low population density… Moreover, urban development patterns are an integral part of successful public transport systems, namely because these systems are more expensive to provide in low-density areas. Thus, policies that increase population density may reduce the subsidies public transport requires
And I spotted this chart yesterday from a study of 700 cities, that shows urban infill is considered the most important policy for greenhouse gas reduction. I haven’t read the work yet:
This doesn’t surprise me because sprawl affects many aspects of greenhouse gas emissions – not just transport. And, as the OECD study on Auckland found:
An important finding of the analysis is the synergetic effects between targeted densification programs and the transport policy package.
Please find time to read the Climate Change Commission advice and submit. The Commission have done a fantastic job with the limited resources they were given. Our future depends on our helping them to get the details right.