Shane Ellison: Transport is 'low-hanging fruit' for tackling climate change
Reminder, this is a Premium article and requires a subscription to read. Auckland Transport could exhaust efforts to reduce emissions while making very little headway, chef executive Shane Ellison says. Photo / Alex Burton OPINION As we stand here at the end of 2020 it is clear that for Auckland to be green, it can't rely on nature alone: truly green cities are created, and this happens through planning, policy, and vision. We have to respond to Covid-19 with economic growth that does not degrade our environment for our tamariki/children and mokopuna/grandchildren. Auckland Council responded in July when it unanimously passed the Te Taruke-a-Tawhiri: Auckland's Climate Plan. It aims to halve Auckland's greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. The plan is bold and necessary. It received strong support from the community. From the almost 3000 submissions, 91 per cent of respondents thought that the framework either fully, or partially takes Auckland in the right direction. The plan identifies a long list of actions, but addressing road transport is pre-eminent. At 37 per cent, road transport represents the largest single source of Auckland's greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, some describe transport as the "low-hanging fruit" of emissions reduction. As one of two lead agencies responsible for Auckland's transport system, Auckland Transport welcomes the challenge. We support the climate plan and the council's leadership. But we do not underestimate the scale of the change. Modelling by the council suggests transport emissions need to fall 64 per cent to achieve the overall goal of 50 per cent reduction in Auckland's total emissions by 2030. To fully comprehend the scale, consider some key facts: Light vehicles account for approximately 80 per cent of transport emissions in Auckland; Auckland's population has grown 18 per cent in the past decade but the number of kilometres travelled, on average, has increased 27 per cent. There are more Aucklanders travelling and they are travelling more; Auckland's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have grown by 7 per cent from 2009 to 2018, while transport's emissions have grown 11 per cent. All of this is despite a 75 per cent increase in public transport trips over the past decade and a 16 per cent increase in trips on bikes since 2016. In short, there has been a large increase in Auckland's GHG emissions over the past decade, despite world-leading growth in public transport and more fuel-efficient vehicles. What about the next decade? The population is expected to grow by another 16 per cent and, based on business as usual, one would expect vehicle kilometres travelled and emissions to rise again. Thankfully, it's not business as usual. Aucklanders and the Government are investing $28 billion in transport projects such as the City Rail Link, the Eastern Busway, the extension of the Northern Busway, Puhinui to the airport, and electrification of rail from Papakura to Pukekohe. But is this enough to meet the 50 per cent overall emissions reduction targets set out in the Climate Plan? No. Experts at the Auckland Forecasting Centre recently calculated the emissions savings all the planned and likely interventions could achieve. First, I asked them to list all the actions that could be delivered without recourse to new legislation or central government leadership. This includes transitioning to a low-emissions bus fleet, completing scheduled cycle, bus and rail projects, ongoing implementation of the Unitary Plan, creating low-emission vehicle zones, charging stations for EVs, and education about cycling and walking. These interventions would reduce emissions by less than 5 per cent by 2030. Next, we looked at what steps other agencies or the Government could lead. These include providing incentives to accelerate the shift to privately owned EVs (aiming for 50 per cent of private vehicles being electric by 2040 could result in interim emissions reductions of approximately 14 per cent by 2030), increased use of biofuels and improved regulations on vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. These three measures bring a little over a 20 per cent emissions reduction. It's still not enough. What's more, even with that $28b of transport investment by 2030, our modelling tells us that 75 per cent of trips made by Aucklanders will be made by private vehicles. Auckland needs other levers if it is to meet that target. What are they? We modelled two other interventions that could provide the difference: road pricing on motorways and arterial routes (delivering around a 16 per cent emissions reduction depending on the price); and lifting fuel taxes to incorporate part of the cost of emissions. Measures like this have historically had little appeal and come with important implications for social equity. It's likely that families in hardship will need additional financial support as part of a just transition. But without these sorts of measures incentivising a switch to public transport, to more walking and cycling, to travelling less or to EVs it's simply not possible to achieve the target GHG reductions. Auckland Transport supports the climate plan but the scale of the challenge requires more than what is already planned and requires more than what Auckland Transport can deliver on its own. Transport may be a low-hanging fruit for reducing emissions reduction. But the branches are high and Auckland needs more ladders to pick it. Shane Ellison is the chief executive at Auckland Transport and was a panellist at the Climate Change and Business Conference in Auckland last week Reminder, this is a Premium article and requires a subscription to read. If I return to visit my dying mother I will be arrested on the spot.