Freight Transport needs a Finkel clean energy target

As another Australian energy policy neglects Transport, our highest energy using sector, we now await the outcomes of the climate change policies review to arrest the sector’s rising emissions intensity and declining fuel security.

Under our Paris Agreement commitments we need to halve per capita emissions and a two-thirds reduction in emissions intensity of all economic activity, so for the freight and passenger transport sectors to contribute their shares, ambitious, effective and integrated government policies at many levels will be critical. To reach the required emissions reduction trajectory, one estimate is that one billion tonnes CO2-e needs to be reduced from the Australian economy by 2030. With Transport contributing about 18% of Australia’s current annual emissions (93 of 527 Mtco2e), its share would be 180 million TCO2e reduced by 2030, roughly 12 million tonnes pa.

Current Policies Inadequate

Under the Emissions Reduction Fund transport methods, only three projects have been contracted to deliver a total of 1.2 million tonnes CO2-e contracted over 7 years, averaging 170,000 TCO2-e p.a., about 1.5 per cent of the average required annual mitigation for the transport sector. Greater mitigative action from the sector is needed, and quickly, because the long lives of transport vehicles such as trucks, buses, trains and ships, and their enabling infrastructure, means that decisions made over the next few short years may lock-in emissions-intensive transport equipment for decades.

Use of low carbon transport fuels such as biodiesel, natural gas and ethanol has declined significantly in recent years, due to a variety of factors including low oil price, technology performance and a lack of refuelling infrastructure and supply chain development, and the continued closure of local refining capacity means imported fossil-based fuels are relied upon for freight transport more than ever. An assessment of transport energy productivity growth, like those undertaken for other critical networks in the electricity, water and gas sectors, would better inform climate change policy development for transport generally, showing productivity growth or deterioration trends in network efficiency and its impact on national productivity and emissions.

New Policies & Infrastructure

Enhanced incentives and support are needed to dramatically improve emissions reduction activities in a sector that will grow 25% in the next decade. Freight transport needs policy leadership and strategic vision with clear objectives for energy use and emissions reduction with a single source of overall responsibility to integrate programs at all levels.

Significant freight infrastructure capacity building projects that dramatically improve the business case for shifting freight to less emissions-intensive modes should be of the highest priority to change business-as-usual growth in road freight and its consequences for greenhouse gas emissions, congestion, air pollution and road safety. Initiatives could include increasing rail payload capacities and more dedicated rail lines between ports and hinterland intermodal terminals, while re-building capacity for domestic shipping will need strategic investment in dedicated coastal shipping terminals for intermodal and roll-on/roll-off cargoes and regulatory change that currently limits is use.

Key policies required to effectively and sufficiently encourage emissions reduction in freight transport include:

1. Establish an explicit carbon pricing mechanism
2. Make the ERF more financially attractive for transport projects
3. Encourage mode shift with full cost-reflective road pricing, specific mode shift incentive schemes and including key opportunities under the ERF land and sea transport method
4. Fuel-efficiency standards for light commercial and heavy vehicles
5. Incentives for accelerated retirement of older rail and heavy road vehicles
6. Measure productivity and productivity growth in the transport energy network
7. Freight transport efficiency remains one of the largest opportunities for additional initiatives under the National Energy Productivity Plan, and the 2XEP Freight Roadmap details a list of 70 initiatives that could also be included in the NEPP or other existing policies for government and industry to action together. A key for these will be piloting the use of the Australian Standard for Transport Energy Audits, a world-best practice standard developed by an Australian government-industry partnership that will underpin many emissions reduction measures.

Taking a Finkel-like approach by establishing clean energy targets and a single point of responsibility for their achievement are critical first principles for freight transport to help Australia reach its emission reduction goals for 2030 and beyond.