Driving down emissions

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Targeting the tailpipe makes a lot of sense for a lot of very good reasons, writes Scott Willis. 

Scott Willis
Scott Willis
I was an intern at the European Parliament in 2003, as part of a New Zealand-European exchange programme. A curious fact about the European Parliament is that each month the Parliament packs up and heads from Brussels (Belgium) to Strasbourg (France) for a few days. Anyway, my politician gave me a free day to explore Strasbourg and my enduring memory of that day is of trams and buses dominating the streets, circulating endlessly, cyclists, low traffic-congestion and great city walking.

Anyone who has travelled in Europe or Asia or virtually anywhere else in the world apart from Australia and America will recognise the more diverse landscape of mobility in those places. Why is it so damn hard to diversify and decarbonise our transport system in New Zealand?

The recently released electricity inquiry by the Interim Climate Change Committee has a lot to say about transport (and a lot to say about how difficult moving to 100% renewable electricity would be - but that's for another time).

As the report notes, "Transport currently contributes about 20% (16 Mt CO2e) of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas emissions, and is also the most rapidly increasing source of emissions. The modelling shows that accelerated electrification of transport could reduce transport emissions by about 6.4 Mt CO2e in the year 2035, relative to current levels."

Essentially, the Accelerated electrification report is arguing that rather than focusing on 100% renewable electricity to reduce emissions, it will be easier to work on transport and process heat: "electricity generation is responsible for only 5% of New Zealand's emissions, whereas transport and process heat account for nearly 30%".

There's a lot more that can be said about this, but for now I want to concentrate on transport because in the past fortnight two other government announcements hint at the road ahead.

The first was the announcement by Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter of the new feebate scheme designed to lower transport emissions. This isn't an electric vehicle subsidy scheme as such. Instead it's a fuel-efficient vehicle policy that puts a fee on imported high-emissions cars and uses that extra fee to reduce the cost of imported hybrids, electric cars, and other efficient vehicles.

There's been the usual political scaremongering about the scheme, but most commentators recognise that this is a very minor adjustment that should have been done years ago. Alongside the scheme is a new "clean car standard" requiring imported vehicles to be lower in emissions. For too long New Zealand has been a dumping ground for dirty, high-emission vehicles, given our lack of effective fuel efficiency standards. Reducing emissions is obviously critical for the planet but more efficient cars are also cheaper to run and so better for our wallet.

Genter followed that up by announcing a new road safety strategy consultation called "Road to Zero" that is likely to assist the transition to zero carbon. One of its guiding principles states: "Our road safety actions support health, wellbeing and liveable places" and you can bet that means active and public transport. Indeed, one of the immediate actions proposed is to "[e]nhance safety and accessibility of footpaths, bike lanes and cycleways" and we all know that we need to get more active to improve health and wellbeing as well as help the planet.

At the European Parliament it is common to hear three or four different languages being spoken in the space of a few metres. Everyone who works there speaks at least three languages so that diversity enhances democracy. At present, we need our own politicians to converse more, rather than feign deafness or talk past one another. There is no more important time to take action on reducing emissions and mobility is one of the easiest things to tackle.

Submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill closed on Tuesday (it's actually called the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill, which is a bit of a mouthful). And over the next wee while the Environment Select Committee will consider public submissions, hear from submitters and eventually, in late 2019 complete the process with Parliament voting the Zero Carbon Act into force.

We can be sure that the small actions now in play (the feebate scheme, the clean car standard, the Road to Zero strategy) will pick up momentum and join other, larger actions that fall out of greater policy coherence to help New Zealand play its part in limiting global warming to 1.5degC once the Zero Carbon Act is confirmed.

For my part, I want to live in a city where electric buses share the roads with cyclists and scooters, where it makes more economic sense for me to use public transport than to own a car, and where the road is considered a shared carriage way. I'd love there to be a rail-car at the weekends in addition to electric buses to service our outlying areas, connecting with a free bus loop in the central city.

This may not be as fanciful as it seems. Work has started on a Barnes Dance crossing at the Cumberland and Albany St intersection that will improve safety of cyclists and pedestrians and therefore help improve active transport options. We already have other successful Barnes Dance crossings in the city. Earlier this year the Dunedin City Council adopted a resolution to develop a free central city bus loop service and in June the council approved a preliminary design for an upgrade of George St to create a more vibrant central city prioritising pedestrians and cyclists. What we need now is greater collaboration between the Dunedin City Council and the Otago Regional Council to find effective ways to fund and improve our public transport system and progressively decarbonise it.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I aim to go on a short road trip. I intend to drive my Nissan Leaf all of 1.5km down the road to the entrance to Waitati to meet and welcome Wiebe Wakker, a Dutchman travelling the world by EV to promote e-mobility and sustainability. His motto? Plug me in ...

For more

1. The feebate scheme and clean car standard consultation closes August 20: https://tinyurl.com/y5jcdaty

2. Consultation on the ‘‘Road to Zero’’ strategy closes August 14: https://tinyurl.com/yyy56tql

3. The Interim Climate Change Committee reports on Agriculture and Electricity: www.iccc.mfe.govt.nz

4. More about Wiebe Wakker and the Plug Me In project: plugmeinproject.com

Scott Willis is the project manager of Blueskin Energy Ltd. Each week in this column, one of a panel of writers addresses issues of sustainability.



“Why is it so damn hard to diversify and decarbonise our transport system in New Zealand?”
That’s a real easy question if you want to deal with NZs reality instead of idealism.
NZ was settled and developed in the mobile, Industrial Age. European cities were built when transport was slow and expensive so the roads are narrow, population is dense and bulk freight was by barge on waterways built for the purpose.
Also our terrain is hilly and geology misshapen so our housing and roads are all over the place. Biking sounds nice but that hilly ground and distances, kills it for all but the fittest.
I really enjoyed my time in European cities too but I’d never presume their transport solution could be imposed on NZ.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter