Transport Emissions Policy: Kicking the Big, Growing Can down the Road

Transport has Australia’s biggest emission reduction task – and little government support.

The 2017 Review of Climate Change Policies released over Christmas presents a re-hash of current policies and policy reviews, deferring new progress to after the 2019 federal election. Transport emissions will continue growing at record levels in the meantime, begging the question:

How long can we keep kicking the transport emissions Can down the road?

Australia’s Fast-Growing Transport Emissions

trend target 2

Transport is the main culprit in Australia’s rising greenhouse gas emissions story, it’s emissions now at record highs driven by ever-growing demand for freight and passenger movement. The sector contributes 18% of Australia’s emissions and has the largest abatement task ahead to help meet Australia’s reduction targets – one third of Australia’s total task to 2030. With Australia’s Paris commitment effectively a ‘floor’, our reduction targets will increase in ambition. To meet science-based targets that will slow down climate change below 2 degrees warming, Australia’s abatement task should be doubled.

Either way, there’s much work ahead for the Transport sector.

This without considering emissions from the long shipping and air routes we depend so heavily on for trade. Shipping remains the only industry without global legislation to limit or offset greenhouse gas emissions.

can small      Global policy challenge

“Of all the myriad ways that energy is produced and used,

transportation has the greatest promise to change our lives for the better,

and yet it is languishing under business as usual.” – Rocky Mountain Institute

Neglecting Transport in climate policy is a global problem starting to get some attention. The Bonn COP23 climate negotiations in November introduced several transport initiatives to achieve the Paris 2050 goal of a net zero emission world economy, noting “without rapid and ambitious mitigation action, transport emissions could more than double by 2050”.

Far from its climate policy leadership a decade ago, Australia is stuck with growing transport emissions, relying on voluntary action with no strategic goals or policy to reverse the trend.

Change will come with China’s emissions trading scheme, where scope 3 emissions from transporting bulk minerals to market may be counted in Chinese carbon footprints, applying a carbon price that exposes our policy vulnerability and drastically reduce competitiveness.

can medium      Weak current policy

black spot

Transport is trapped in a carbon policy Black Spot nation-wide, often specifically excluded from energy policies at federal and state levels, while energy and emissions are a side show in transport policies. Vague notions of improving productivity and supporting low emission technologies instead of clear emission reduction targets and integrated supporting actions.

How much decarbonising of transport is evident in the policies identified by the 2017 climate policy review?

POLICY REVIEW TABLEThe industrial sector needs huge amounts of carbon offsets for Australia to meet its 26% emission reduction target by 2030, but with large volumes of low-cost offsets available from the land sector, Reputex expects no Transport abatement in its ACCU supply curve outlook.

Business-as-usual won’t accelerate take-up of new technologies, practices, or – critically – management focus; a bold strategic vision is needed.

can big jpg      2018 opportunity & risk

Several current policy reviews can together help address the task effectively at least cost:

POLICY REVIEW TABLEThey offer hope that 2018 could instead be a year for strong policy action, integrating suites of co-ordinated measures at all levels of government to guide and provide certainty for business investment in low carbon transport.

With the fastest growing emissions of any sector, Transport has the biggest decarbonisation task of them all. When the Can gets so big we can’t kick it any further, we may look back to 2018 and ask why we didn’t address it sooner, when action was less difficult and expensive than when we’re further down the road.





How to lift energy productivity in Freight Transport

A Roadmap to double energy productivity in Freight Transport by 2030” is now released for comment, and yours will be most welcome.

Urgent action is needed to generate more economic value from the energy used to move freight in Australia, as congested cities increasingly constrain productivity across the economy. Decisions made today can lock-in energy-intensive freight transport activities for decades.

Published by the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity using extensive consultation with leading transport businesses, industry associations and government stakeholders, the roadmap aims to agree actions and priorities for both industry and government under the National Energy Productivity Plan (NEPP).

Transport is now Australia’s largest energy user, and with the freight task to grow 25% over the next decade, it will have ever-greater influence on congestion, climate change, air pollution and economic productivity across all sectors. The transport sector has some of the most cost-effective opportunities for energy and emissions savings, yet as the NEPP 2016 annual report notes, raising energy productivity in freight and commercial transport relies largely on voluntary action, and little progress is being made.

The Roadmap considers trends that will shape future energy use in the sector, including increasing urbanisation, a shift to renewable energy, vehicle electrification, connectivity and intelligent transport systems, automation and business model transformation. It gauges the extent of improvements possible via known technologies; it highlights the uncertainty expected from various levels of disruption that is coming; and it identifies measures to help the transition to a much more energy-productive freight sector.

Key suggestions will be incorporated into its final version, so please check it out and contribute your ideas.


Shipping’s Growing Carbon Gap


On the face of it, Shipping is the most efficient of freight transport modes. Intermodal shipping containers kick-started rapid growth in trade globalisation 60 years ago, and container ships, tankers and bulk carriers have been getting bigger ever since. Carrying more freight with less fuel on a tonne-mile basis, shipping has the highest energy productivity of all transport modes.

Yet looks can be deceiving. While international shipping contributes 2.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, business-as-usual could see this explode to a whopping 18% by 2050. As trade growth increases demand, today’s fleet burns the dirtiest transport fuels, and a new report shows the market doesn’t reward ship owners who invest in the latest fuel- and carbon-efficient technologies.

When you consider the scale of the sector’s emission reductions that need to start now to contribute to the COP 21 Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C to 2°C global warming, there’s clearly an enormous decarbonisation gap that threatens to strand shipping assets in a nightmare of devaluations if potential regulatory policies come into play. Current freight flow stoppages due to Hanjin Shipping’s bankruptcy show the disruption shipping company failures can cause.

Markets don’t reward efficiency

The UCL Energy Institute report paints a sad 10-year picture of free-market myopia that finds the latest fuel efficient ships have no better market performance in terms of revenue or usage than vessels with decades-old technologies.

So why wouldn’t cheaper-to-run ships be used more than old ones? Well, today’s record-high shipping capacity drives a low freight rate market, so owners of highly efficient ships must match reduced market rates while passing on fuel savings to charterers, who get the win-win all to themselves.

OK, with fuel prices low the past few years I can understand fuel efficiency has less profile now, but back when capacity was less, charter rates higher and fuel through the roof the report shows it still didn’t seem to get much consideration from charterers. And operating speeds were found to be slower for the more efficient ships, when I would’ve thought the opposite. If fuel cost is barely being considered, maybe its significance in vessel operating cost structures isn’t as big as you’d think, especially in the charterers’ or cargo-owners’ total end-to-end cargo delivery costs.

Market inaction breeds future risks

Shipping customers doom themselves to higher costs over the long term by not incentivising efficient newbuilds and retrofits now.

Current regulation such as the Energy Efficiency Design Index will take forever to have much effect, so if the International Maritime Organisation can’t show improvement in the industry then a UN/State/regional-level carbon price may be forced upon it.

The RightShip GHG Emissions Rating system aims to fix information barriers but the information’s importance needs to influence charterers so they demand GHG ratings or validated fuel efficiency numbers from owners before contracting. Charterers and brokers need to understand the value/net benefit in whole-of-contract-life cost terms, and clearly now only Cargill, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and others who use the RightShip ratings system do.

But do these customers actually pay a premium for the good GHG Rating ships they’re using? Their market power allows them to screw rates down as well as anybody. Given GHG Rating users handle 20% of world trade, the report shows no benefit is flowing through to ship owners in better rates or utilisation, leaving little incentive for new fuel efficiency investments or substandard vessels to leave the market.

Who will lead change?

Community expectations to close the decarbonisation gap will come to bear on shipping from governments, investors and from within.

While further regulation may be justified, a mandatory efficiency standard will be difficult to apply to old vessels. Ultimately it might take a carbon price passed directly to charterers supported by voluntary Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator and Existing Vessel Design Index measures with in-service validation and benchmarking to force and help charterers change their decision-making.

Investors increasingly vote with their wallets to make boards respond to green preferences that are rationally based on financial sustainability and managing risks in a zero carbon future.

Owners of efficient ships must better promote their value proposition that reduces costs, positions for green demand and lowers regulatory risk for customers and the industry. Cargo owners, charterers, brokers, ports, banks, industry associations, suppliers and employees can all influence fuel efficiency improvements in the shipping fleet.

The oversupply of ships that helped take down industry giant Hanjin Shipping can only be fixed by scrapping old inefficient vessels, and the shipping market must take the lead now for its long term benefit.