The transport sector is Australia’s second fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions and yet we still don’t have any standards which apply to new vehicle fuel efficiency.
Road transport contributed 16% to total CO2 emissions in 2000 and this grew to 18% in 2010 and 21% in 2016.
We are the only OECD country with no minimum fuel standard while more than 80% of the global vehicle market has adopted fuel standards. We have had standards for many years relating to other vehicle emissions such as nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and particulates.
Standards in other countries
The EU applied mandatory standards from 2009 requiring a light vehicle fleet average of 130 g CO2/km by 2015 and 95 g/km by 2020–21.
These standards have been further developed requiring a reduction by 15% by 2025 and 37.5% by 2030 relative to 2020–21. Standards will also be applied to heavy vehicles.
The USA has had voluntary standards since 1975 that have not been effective. In 2012 standards were introduced including a reduction by 3% each year after 2012 applied to each manufacturer. They are enforced with the potential of the loss of licence to sell vehicles. The effective standard is slightly higher than applies to the EU. However President Trump is now threatening to loosen the standards.
Testing methods are problematic
The sources used for this article comment on ongoing issues with the testing methods being used to monitor vehicle fuel use.
The standard methods used in Europe were developed in the 1970s. They are called the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC) and they have been found to be unrealistic because they assume that the car is being driven at a constant speed with mild acceleration. Actual consumption that has been tested in real conditions show the gap is getting worse and is now believed to be about 40%.
The sources don’t explain why the gap is getting worse apart from the legal methods of manipulating the tests, e.g. by using low-resistance tyres. The latest EU standards will require cars to have on-board monitoring systems in future.
Clearly there is a need for proper testing of on-road vehicle emissions. One wonders about the accuracy of the greenhouse gas reporting for Australia’s transport emissions. The same applies to reporting by other countries.
The standards are applied on a fleet wide basis but then manufacturers have to apply the standard to their individual range of vehicles. The projection of future emission levels requires an estimate of the nature of the vehicle fleet that is a combination of several cohorts of ages of vehicles plus the average distances travelled by each type of vehicle.
The current situation is that in 2017 Australia’s light passenger average CO2 emissions were 172 g/km compared with 118.5 g/km in the EU. In the case of light commercial vehicles Australia’s average was 222 g/km compared with 164 g/km in the EU.
In addition to the lack of efficiency standards, according to a report from Transport Energy/ Emissions Research  several other factors contribute to Australia’s higher vehicle emissions:
- Use of heavier and greater engine capacity cars such as SUVs (even in comparison with the USA). It is reported that in 2017 the average fuel use in Australia was 20% higher than in the USA. This trend is getting worse.
- Use of automatic transmissions that are reported to be less fuel efficient.
- Greater distances travelled. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that total travel by passenger vehicles in Australia was 142 billion kilometres in 2000. This has been growing to 176 billion kilometres in 2016, an increase of 24%.
- The most fuel efficient model choices in Australia are not as efficient as in Europe leading to the suggestion that manufacturers are taking advantage of our lack of mandatory standards.
- Our vehicle fleet is older than in other countries and turnover is slower so it takes longer for the benefit of newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles to flow through to the fleet as a whole. Conversely driving a vehicle for a longer period could produce lower emissions when allowance is also made for the emissions during manufacture.
It is also suggested that Australians are paying paying about 30% more for fuel than they should (provided better fuel efficiency doesn’t encourage more driving).
Australia’s attempts to introduce standards
Australia has had voluntary efficiency standards since 1978 that were equivalent to 195 g CO2/km (2000) and 161 g CO2/km (2010) but these have not been achieved.
In 2010, the ALP government decided that mandatory CO2 emissions standards would apply to new light vehicles from 2015, i.e. a national fleet wide average of 190 g/km in 2015 and 155 g/km in 2024. However, the change in government in 2013 meant the standards would not see the light of day.
Several reports have been written analysing the options for introducing standards.
The Climate Change Authority produced a report in December 2016 that proposed that the first phase of mandatory standards be introduced with effect from 2018, by which time local manufacture of automobiles was expected to have ceased.
The standards would progressively reduce CO2 emissions from new light vehicles to 105 g/km in 2025, almost half the then current level of 192 g/km. This 2025 standard would broadly bring Australia into line with the USA and still trail the tighter EU targets by several years.
A Ministerial Regulation Impact Statement found that the introduction of a standard of 105 g/km phased in over 2020–25 would cost $16.2 billion compared with no standards but would lead to:
- national fuel savings of $27.5 billion
- reduce greenhouse gas emission by 65 Mt by 2030
- create an overall net benefit to the economy of $13.9 billion
This calculation allowed for a cost of carbon emissions of about $50/tonne.
The Automotive Association has lobbied against the proposal on the grounds that cars will be more expensive. Implementation of a standard to reduce CO2 emissions to 105 g/km is estimated to increase the average cost of a new car in 2025 by about $1500. This, however, would be offset several times by fuel savings of about $8500 over the life of the vehicle, leaving motorists better off.
How about electric vehicles?
The rollout of electric vehicles in Australia is being held back by their cost and lack of recharging stations. Labor’s election proposal to require that 50% of new passenger vehicles sold be electric vehicles by 2030 was hysterically dismissed by Scott Morrison. He claimed the policy would make life impossible for tradies as the ute would be uneconomic and it would spell the end of the weekend trip away in the SUV.
Of course this was all nonsense as the cost of electric vehicles is coming down rapidly and is expected to be similar to internal combustion engines by 2025. We might even revive the local manufacturing industry? In any case perhaps it would be a good idea to hire a large SUV for a weekend trip rather than driving these large vehicles around to drop the kids off at school or commute to work.
One question about the use of electric vehicles is the carbon emissions if they are being recharged using electricity from the current high use of coal-fired generation. The data I have found indicates that electricity consumption to run an electric vehicle could be 6–10 Kw h per 100 km. Currently Australia’s emissions from electricity generation is 800 g/Kw h. So that equates to carbon emissions from electric vehicles of 48–80 g/km.
The available evidence suggests that legislative action regarding vehicle CO2 emissions is long overdue. The federal government must take action to ensure total CO2 emissions from road transport are reduced by introducing emission standards and by taking several additional measures such as increasing public transport and reducing distances driven.
Introducing these new regulations quickly is a priority because it takes years for them to actually work their way through the market to the new vehicle fleet.
 Transport Energy/Emission Research Pty Ltd Vehicle CO2 Emissions Legislation in Australia – A Brief History in an International Context
The speaker at STEP’s AGM on 30 October was Lesley Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biology from Macquarie University, who has been studying the impacts of climate change on ecosystems for many years. She has been a leading contributor to reports produced by several expert bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Australia’s Climate Commission. She gave a stark outline of the changes to ecosystems that have been happening and the prospects in years to come under the possible scenarios for temperature increases.
The global body assessing the issue of climate change is the IPCC. Their reports are published after rigorous analysis of thousands of scientific reports.
Early in October the IPCC released a special report commissioned at the breakthrough 2015 summit that brokered the Paris climate agreement. It sets out the key differences between the Paris agreement’s two contrasting goals: to limit the increase in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels (mid-nineteenth century) to ‘well below’ 2°C, and to ‘pursue efforts’ to limit warming to 1.5°C. The agreement also aimed to increase the capacity of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change and provide finance for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Emissions Reduction Commitments
The 196 countries signing the agreement made statements of commitments to reduce emissions by 2030. However the national pledges that have been made are not enough to remain within a 3°C temperature limit let alone a 2°C limit. They are not even enforceable. The only result of not meeting the commitment is to be named and shamed.
Australia’s commitment was a reduction of 26 to 28% below 2005 levels. We were making progress towards that goal when the carbon tax was introduced but we have gone backwards since 2014 with a reduction of only 11% by 2017. With current policies we haven’t a hope of meeting the goal.
What is the Expected Impact of 1.5°C of Warming?
Although the Paris agreement aims to hold global warming as close to 1.5°C as possible, that doesn’t mean it is a ‘safe’ level. In 2017 the increase in global average temperatures reached 1°C. Communities and ecosystems have already suffered significant impacts from extreme weather events and drought. If the planet continues to warm at the current rate of 0.2°C per decade, we will reach 1.5°C of warming by around 2040.
But there is a lag between the timing of carbon emissions and temperature increases. The IPCC uses the concept of a carbon budget, the projection of the quantity of emissions that can occur in order to limit warming to a certain level. At current emissions rates, within the next 10 to 14 years there is a two-thirds chance we will have used up our entire carbon budget for keeping to 1.5°C. It is inevitable that temperatures will increase by more than 1.5°C unless policies are implemented now to reduce emissions drastically as quickly as possible.
What Difference does 0.5°C Make?
Impacts on both human and natural systems would be very different at 1.5°C rather than 2°C of warming. The report tries to quantify the differences to give a tangible scale to the information. For example:
- The proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2°C. Food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty.
- At 2°C extremely hot days such as those experienced in the northern hemisphere this summer, would become more severe and common, increasing heat-related deaths and causing more forest fires. Extreme heatwaves will be experienced by 14% of the world's population at least once every five years at 1.5°C but that figure rises to more than a third of the planet if temperatures rise to 2°C.
- But the greatest difference would be to nature. Insects, which are vital for pollination of crops, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2°C compared with 1.5°C.
- More than 10% of corals have a chance of surviving if the lower target is reached but 99% could be lost at 2°C, a disaster for the Great Barrier Reef. It is notable that the bleaching events in the last two years have killed about 50% of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef.
- Sea-level rise would be 10 cm higher by 2100 with the extra 0.5°C. That doesn’t sound much but it would affect 10 million more people by 2100 and the number affected would increase substantially in the following centuries due to locked-in ice melt.
- Marine fisheries would lose 3 million tonnes at 2°C, twice the decline at 1.5°C.
- The Arctic has been warming two to three times faster than the world average. Sea ice-free summers would come once every 100 years at 1.5°C, but every 10 years with half a degree more of global warming leading to greater habitat losses for polar bears, whales, seals and sea birds.
Fundamentally the message is that it is worth the effort to implement the measures necessary to keep warming below 1.5°C.
Can we Limit Warming to 1.5°C
Put simply, it is not impossible that global warming could be limited to 1.5°C. But achieving this will be profoundly challenging. If we are to limit warming to 1.5°C, we must reduce carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, reaching near-zero by around 2050. Most economists say putting a price on emissions is the most efficient way to do this.
By 2050, 70 to 85% of electricity globally will need to be supplied by renewables. Lesley Hughes pointed out that 90% of current coal reserves and 85% of gas reserves will have to stay in the ground. Transport will need to convert to electric vehicles and much greater use of public transport. Sustainable agriculture is a puzzle to be solved.
Reducing commercial, manufacturing and household energy demand is an important part of the equation. Reducing food waste, improving the efficiency of food production, and choosing foods and goods with lower emissions and land use requirements will contribute significantly.
Carbon dioxide removal technology will also be needed to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. But the IPCC’s report warns that relying too heavily on this technology would be a major risk as it has not been used on such a large scale before. Carbon dioxide removal is an extra step to keep warming to 1.5°C, not an excuse to keep emitting greenhouse gases.
Taking such action as soon as possible will be hugely beneficial. The earlier we start, the more time we have to reach net zero emissions. Acting early will mean a smoother transition and less net cost overall. Delay will lead to more haste, higher costs, and a harder landing.
Australia Government’s Response
Australia does not have a credible emissions reduction policy and they no longer have a body that can provide independent scientific advice on the response to climate change. Lesley Hughes was a member of the Climate Commission that was established by the Gillard government but was abolished by Tony Abbott. It was replaced by the Climate Change Authority that has been progressively stripped of scientific expertise and funding by the current government.
The government has decided to remove any emissions reduction target from the highly fraught energy policy and we still don’t have a remotely credible long term electricity policy. The other major economic sectors that need to reduce emissions, such as transport and manufacturing have been put in the too hard basket. The Emissions Reduction Fund is a farce.
Prime Minister, Scott Morrison (and the mining industry) rejected the findings of the IPCC report that coal-fired electricity must be phased out by 2050. Voters at the recent Wentworth by-election disagreed. The next election is due in 2019. We all need to tell the candidates that we want action now!
Note that there is still a body providing expert advice to the public on climate change. The crowd-funded Climate Council was established in 2013 in response to the Government’s abolition of the Climate Commission. Professor Lesley Hughes is one of this body’s councillors.
The Australian and Queensland governments are still pushing for the Adani mine to go ahead and are bending over backwards to make this possible. The local native title holders are opposed but the Australian government is trying to legislate away the aboriginal rights.
We still haven’t heard if the Northern Australia Investment Facility will provide a concessional loan of $1 billion to finance the rail line from the Carmichael Basin to the port at Abbot Point on the Great Barrier Reef.
Queensland has offered financial inducements such as the deferral of royalty payments and no payment will be required for the mega litres of water that will be drained from the Great Artesian Basin. Local farmers are concerned about the effect on their water supplies.
Adani has announced a decision to go ahead in principle. But where will the finance come from when already 16 major banks have declined to participate? They can see that the project is not viable. When will reality hit the politicians?
There are many reasons why the mine will be a disaster:
- Adani has a dubious record that is hard to pin down due to complicated corporate structures and use of offshore tax havens.
- The chief benefit being promoted is jobs, jobs, jobs but realistic figures are for only about 1,500 full-time equivalent direct and indirect jobs as against the hype of 10,000 jobs.
- The Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan, claims that the coal will bring the Indian peasants out of poverty. But solar energy has been shown to be more affordable.
- The mine is a total environmental folly. The opening of the Adani mine and construction of the railway line will open up the whole Galilee Basin that contains enough coal which, if burned, could blow away any hope of keeping global warming within 2°C and undermine any national and state action to tackle climate change.
- The mine threatens the Great Barrier Reef not only because of the increase in sea temperatures from climate change. The recent heavy rains led to coal washing into wetlands next to Abbot Point, the coal loader leased to Adani. Is this an example of worse to come?
- The mine would harm the economy of other coal mining states. The massive increase in production would reduce the coal price for coal mined in the Hunter Valley.
- The current rapid move to renewable energy is likely to reduce demand for coal to the extent that the coal market will collapse. The governments’ support could well be wasted.