On Friday Transport Minister Michael Wood released a Ministry of Transport ‘green paper’, which outlines “potential policies and pathways to a net zero emissions by 2050 – called Hīkina te Kohupara – Kia mauri ora ai te iwi: Transport Emissions: Pathways to Net Zero by 2050.
“Reducing emissions across the transport sector is an enormous undertaking, but it is achievable and will help support our economic recovery,” Michael Wood said.
“The transport sector currently produces 47 per cent of New Zealand’s CO2 emissions and between 1990 and 2018, domestic transport emissions increased by 90 per cent.
“We’ve already taken steps to reduce emissions but Hīkina te Kohupara shows we have to go much further.
“The pathways laid out in the report show it’s possible to meet our emission reduction targets, but big changes will be needed in the coming decades. There will be some hard choices to make, but it’s obvious we can’t continue with business as usual.”
Both the Minister and Ministry make it clear that this green paper, or discussion document if you will, is not government policy but given the work behind it, as well as the work being done by the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and local government, it’s hard to see how much of it wouldn’t eventually form part of their policy. I think it also highlights the value in letting officials say what they really think rather than trying to fit to the ideology of the government of the day.
The report shows that based on current projections, including a increasing rate of electric vehicle uptake, that if we don’t do anything different then by 2050 we’ll still be nowhere near our needed net zero emissions.
The key reasons our emissions are so high is nothing new, and laid out below.
Our per capita transport emissions are high in comparison to other countries
Our per capita transport emissions are high in comparison to other countries Aotearoa has the fifth highest per capita rates of CO2 emissions from road transport in the 43 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries with data for road transport emissions. The top four countries were Luxembourg, the United States, Canada and Australia. Our high per capita transport emissions are a result of several factors, including:
- Heavy reliance on fossil fuels for transport. Electricity and biofuels are less than 0.1 percent of the transport fuels used in Aotearoa. In comparison, in Sweden, renewable fuels are 14.7 percent.
- Poor fuel economy of light vehicles entering our fleet. In 2020, light passenger vehicles (cars and SUVs) entering our fleet had an average reported emission intensity of 158 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre travelled (g CO2/km); and the figure was 219 g CO2/km for light commercial vehicles (vans and utilities) entering the fleet. In contrast, it was 122 g CO2/km for cars and 158g/km for light commercial vehicles registered in 2019 in Europe.
- Reliance on road freight. Seventy percent of our freight moves by road, 16 percent by rail and 14 percent by coastal shipping, reflecting the needs of our more dispersed population when compared to Europe. In Europe, 50 percent of the freight task moves by road, 37 percent by shipping and just over 12 percent by rail.
- Many of our urban areas are characterised by sprawling low-density land-use patterns supported by motorways. This has contributed to vehicle dependence and has limited the potential for public transport and active transport use.
- Decades of private vehicle oriented transport planning and funding have encouraged car use over alternatives. For example building extra lanes to solve traffic problems rather than changing how we travel.
The Ministry have used an Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework to come up with their recommendations.
Transport emissions are driven by transport activity (number of trips and kilometres travelled), mode share (percentage share of different modes), energy intensity (quantity of fuel used per kilometre) and carbon intensity (emissions from quantity of fuel per kilometre)
The ASI framework addresses each of these four elements:
- Avoid – improve the overall efficiency of the transport system through interventions to reduce the need to travel and trip lengths.
- Shift – improve the efficiency of trips by promoting mode shift to low carbon modes, such as walking, cycling, public transport, coastal shipping and rail freight.
- Improve – lower the emissions of transport vehicles and fuels.
From these they’ve come up with three key themes for how we address emissions. Themes 2 (Improving our passenger vehicles) and 3 (Supporting a more efficient freight system) are largely what we’ve seen before, with things like improving the uptake of electric vehicles, improving the efficiency of non-electric vehicles etc.
Theme 1 is where the Ministry differs from previous reports, such as the draft recommendations from the CCC, is it sees a much greater role for changing our urban form and mode shift in reducing our emissions. We think the Climate Change Commission was extremely unambitious on this and placed far too much reliance on electrifying the vehicle fleet. As a later part of the Ministry report states “Avoiding activities that produce emissions is, on balance, a more effective strategy than minimising the emissions from those activities“.
The Ministry’s suggestions on how we change the way we travel are summarised below (from page 35) and picks up on many of the things we talk about on a regular basis. It’s music to our ears seeing the Ministry pick up on these points and the detail behind them, which is discussed on subsequent pages.
I also quite like this little graphic showing the progression from movement focused streets to people focused ones, though it should perhaps also show some trains/buses and off-road cycleways on those sections on the left.
There’s so much of the detail behind all this I’d like to cover here but if I did this post would be way way longer than it already is.
The Ministry have taken the themes and applied different weightings to come up with four potential pathways for reducing emissions, with the fourth developed after the release of the CCC’s draft recommendations. These are described below:
- Pathway 1 assumes ‘avoid’ and ‘shift’ initiatives (Theme 1) play a significant role in reducing transport GHG emissions. This pathway requires reducing nearly 30 percent of the light vehicle kilometres travelled by 2050 through reducing trip distances and encouraging mode shift to public transport, walking and cycling. It also requires higher mode-shift from road to rail and coastal shipping.
- Pathway 2 assumes ‘improve’ initiatives (Theme 2) play a significant role in reducing emissions than Pathway 1. This pathway requires a larger number of electric vehicles with greater use of biofuels in the short to medium terms. There is also emphasis on ‘improve’ initiatives for freight.
- Pathway 3 assumes ‘improve’ initiatives (Theme 2) play a more significant role in reducing emissions than the other pathways. In this pathway, bringing more EVs into New Zealand transport system compensates for the limited avoid and shift changes. There is also much more emphasis on ‘improve’ initiatives in freight.
- Pathway 4 gives even stronger weight to ‘avoid’ and ‘shift’ initiatives (Theme 1) than all other pathways. This includes assuming that ‘avoid’ and ‘shift’ interventions happen more swiftly, bringing forward their impact on emissions and that the clean car policies will be very successful in accelerating the uptake of electric vehicles. This pathway requires reducing nearly 40 percent of the light vehicle kilometres travelled by 2035 and over 55 percent by 2050. In the long term, the greater impact of ‘avoid’ and ‘shift’ initiatives reduces the number of vehicles that need to be electrified.
Pathway 4 is the only one that meets the 2035 target set out by the CCC.
What’s more, from an infrastructure point of view, Pathway 4 is also the cheapest.
While there are four pathways, there will obviously be bits taken from all of them in the policy changes that we will eventually see. But it seems that through this work the Ministry, or at least one part of it, have come to the realisation that we’ve ultimately got two choices:
- Carry on largely the way we have been, spend more money and yet fail to meet our targets and obligations while retaining most of the other negative outcomes from our transport system, or;
- Change our towns and cities which will not only reduce our emissions but also improve a host of other outcomes, such as liveability, health and economic measures.
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