Strong targets and national strategies will be necessary to support a wide-scale transition to electric vehicles, a new research report by ClimateWorks Australia has argued, and Australia risks being left behind if governments fail to embrace the sector.
The new analysis published by ClimateWorks Australia, a policy think tank, found that Australia had the third highest transport emissions per capita in the world, behind only the United States and Canada. More than four-fifths of Australia’s transport emissions were from road vehicles, and this was exacerbated by Australia’s high aviation emissions, which are the world’s highest per capita.
ClimateWorks noted that while the Covid-19 had caused significant disruption to the Australian economy, the direct impact on the transport sector, which has seen passenger travel reduce considerably due to movement restrictions, provides an opportunity to reorientate transport systems and technologies towards more sustainable alternatives.
“We’ve certainly seen as a result of Coronavirus, that transport has had to radically shift and that really gives us the opportunity now to refocus our efforts and re-image our transport systems. So that not only can we cut our emissions, and head towards zero emissions in our transport systems, but we can also have quieter, healthier and cleaner cities,” ClimateWorks Australia program manager Petra Stock said.
“By using economic stimulus measures to support sustainable transport, we can also drive jobs and employment.”
While local progress has been comparatively slow by global standards, ClimateWorks said that there were positive signs that people are embracing the shift to lower emissions vehicles, with Australian EV sales more than doubling between 2018 and 2019.
ClimateWorks noted that national coordination is key to accelerating the uptake of electric vehicles, such as through a National Electric Vehicle Strategy that was announced by the Morrison government more than a year ago but has yet to see the light of day.
“When Australia, and the world, transitions into a post-crisis rebuilding period, it will be paramount to avoid ‘locking in’ carbon emissions and instead build a zero-emissions economy.
“Support for building public transport, high-speed rail, active travel infrastructure, incentives for zero-emissions vehicles, and digital infrastructure to support remote working patterns should be prioritised over additional road building, airport expansions or incentives for diesel and petrol vehicles,” ClimateWorks report says.
Increased uptake of electric vehicles will also be key to reaching zero net emissions by 2050, with Australia’s transport emissions showing consistent growth over the last couple of decades.
“A significant transformation is required in the coming decade to set the transport sector on a path to zero emissions. Without strategic intervention, Australia’s transport emissions are projected to grow by 7% this decade, reaching 108 Mt CO2e in 2030,” the ClimateWorks report says.
“By contrast, in ClimateWorks’ 1.5 degrees Celsius compatible pathway, transport emissions peak this decade and then quickly decline.”
According to ClimateWork’s assessment, to successfully limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees, electric vehicles will need to represent at least 50 per cent of all new car sales by 2030. Additionally, all-electric trucks will need to represent at least 25 to 39 per cent of the heavy vehicle market by 2030.
Under a 1.5 degree warming scenario, uptake will need to be even higher, with more than three-quarters of all new cars by 2030 needing to be electric, as well as almost 60 percent of new heavy vehicles.
The shift to all-electric transport will lead to an increase in electricity consumption, which provides a need for the further development of additional wind and solar projects over the next decade, which ClimateWorks sees as an already well-established opportunity to reduce emissions in Australia.
ClimateWorks said that the rest of the world was moving quickly to embrace the emerging electric vehicle industry, and Australia risked missing out if it did not develop meaningful policies to accelerate the transition locally.
“Australia risks falling behind these global efforts. There is a wealth of global support and experience that can be employed to tackle Australia’s transport emissions. Now is the moment to seize the opportunity,” ClimateWorks said.
CEO of the Electric Vehicle Council Behyad Jafari told a briefing organised by ClimateWorks, that supporting the emergence of an electric vehicle industry in Australia would deliver substantial economic benefits, in addition to the reduced contributions to global warming.
“Every other country in the G20 has an electric vehicle policy or incentives, bar Australia. Close to none of those are based purely on environmental concerns,” Jafari said.
Jafari added that there are two forms of economic benefits from the adoption of electric transport; direct benefits in the form of reduced energy costs and fuel consumption, as well as indirect benefits through improved health outcomes and avoided pollution.
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