There was a renewed feeling of optimism at this week’s Emission Reduction Summit in Melbourne, with the COP21 Paris agreement providing a platform of global commitment and inspiration for the “Who’s Who of Climate Change Action” in attendance. Yet as we dined on delicious carbon neutral seafood washed down with carbon neutral fine wine, my thoughts turned to the elephant that wasn’t in the room.
Transport recently surpassed electricity as the largest energy user in Australia, its emissions growing faster than any other sector. Freight will progressively exceed passenger transport energy use as Australia’s freight task grows faster than the economy, expecting to double the 2010 freight task by 2030 and triple by 2050.
Transport is notoriously difficult to decarbonise. Overwhelmingly and increasingly dependent on imported fossil fuels as local oil production drops and refineries close, the low oil price has the biofuels industry on its knees. Gas remains pre-commercial for long-haul trucking, rail and deep sea shipping, with no application to aviation. Our truck and bus fleet is one of the oldest in the OECD, with the average truck 14 years old and the average train locomotive more than 21 years old. Road consumes three quarters of transport energy yet we have no energy efficiency standards for cars or trucks, let alone trains, ships or aircraft.
Unsurprisingly, Transport has some of the largest and most cost-effective opportunities for improving energy productivity across all sectors of the economy.
Aside from the major airlines and a single rail operator, the rest of this vast, diverse sector was notably absent from the Summit conversation. No car or truck makers, no trucking companies, no fuel companies, no public transport agencies and no industry associations.
It’s little wonder there’s only a handful transport projects accessing the Emissions Reduction Fund and Clean Energy Finance Corporation incentives. Understanding the rules and jargon is like learning a foreign language, and it’s all risk with little reward, so the transport sector is just not engaged with the carbon reduction community, despite the financial support it offers.
Nevertheless, energy costs remain a significant and volatile input cost that is often the difference between winning and losing for most transport companies. So how can we better address this elephant of a sectoral opportunity that will be key to achieving net zero emissions?