Public policy think tank the Grattan Institute has turned its attention to Australia’s transport sector, declaring state and federal governments must step up their regulatory efforts to help fast track the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) if the nation is to have any chance of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
In a new report, the institute has called for Australian governments to introduce policies to limit the effects of the transport sector which it says was responsible for almost 20% of Australia’s emissions in 2020.
The Towards Net Zero report, authored by Tony Wood, Alison Reeve and James Ha, calls for governments to make zero-emissions vehicles cheaper and make it easier for drivers to charge their EVs at home, at work, and on the road and also recommends abolishing import duty to give Australians access to a greater range of EVs.
The report also recommends the phasing out of all petrol and diesel cars, saying the federal government should impose a mandatory emissions limit on Australia’s light vehicle fleet and reduce the limit to zero by 2035.
“The best policy would be an economy-wide emissions price,” the report reads. “But we need to accept the regrettable reality that neither side of Australian politics is going to introduce an emissions price any time soon.
“So the best way to cut transport emissions is to supercharge the switch to electric cars.”
Figures provided by the institute show annual emissions from transport grew from 82 million tonnes in 2005 to 101 million tonnes in 2019. Emissions dropped by 7 million tonnes in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the federal government predicts they will rebound and reach 100 million tonnes by 2030.
“The best way to cut transport emissions is to switch to zero-emissions vehicles, mainly battery EVs, in the light vehicle fleet,” the report says.
“The range, performance, upfront price, and total ownership costs of zero-emissions vehicles are rapidly improving. But relying on technology and market forces alone won’t be enough to get on track for net zero by 2050.
“Australian governments can and should act now to create momentum towards the net-zero goal.”
The institute said Australia needs a national fleet emissions standard for new passenger and light commercial vehicles, and the standard should tighten to zero emissions by 2035.
“This would signal an end date for the sale of new petrol and diesel light vehicles, consistent with other major economies and with International Energy Agency advice,” the authors wrote.
“And it would encourage car manufacturers to supply low- and zero-emissions vehicles that meet Australian consumers’ range and performance demands.”
EVs made up just 0.7% of new car sales in Australia in 2020, compared to 3% in New Zealand, 11% in the UK, and 75% in Norway.
The report recommends governments encourage a thriving market for zero-emissions vehicles by exempting them from “inefficient taxes” such as import duties, luxury car tax, and motor vehicle stamp duty.
They should also ensure drivers across the country have somewhere to charge EVs, calling for a change to construction codes to require all new buildings with off-street parking to include electrical cabling to allow for an appropriate number of future EV chargers; require all leased dwellings with off-street parking to have at least one electrical outlet near the car park by 2030; and ensure convenient, local vehicle charging is available by 2030 for all residents of homes without off-street parking.
The institute also called on governments to use their own fleet purchasing power to encourage better performance from manufacturers.
“Some state governments have already set targets for electric vehicles in their government fleets,” the report says. “Others should follow suit when fleet contracts are next renewed”.
The report also recommends increasing the truck width limit in Australia from 2.5m to 2.6m to ensure any zero-emissions heavy vehicles made for Europe or the United State can be used in Australia without expensive modifications.
The recommendations are included in first of a series of five reports the Grattan Institute plans to publish in the lead-up to the international climate conference in Glasgow in November, showing how Australia can build momentum towards net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The other four reports will cover industrial emissions; agriculture and land use; the role of offsets; and the electricity sector.
Over the next decade, Australia’s electricity emissions are projected to fall substantially, but the Grattan Institute expects the next four largest emissions sources in Australia will either grow or plateau at best.
“Australia has suffered more than a decade of policy uncertainty on climate change,” the report says.
“Despite increasing international ambition and increasingly urgent calls for action, political differences between and within major parties have held back progress. Nevertheless, converging international and domestic political pressures have created a window of opportunity for progress on climate change policy.
“Action today is crucial to avoid locking in emissions for decades to come, and to ensure the transport sector contributes to Australia reaching net zero by 2050.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is “preferable” but has so far resisted growing international pressure to commit to the target.
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