Beyond the failure to reduce regional air pollution, Australian standards have also fallen behind in mandating fuel efficiency and hence lower greenhouse emissions. Cleaner and more fuel-efficient internal combustion engine cars can assist in reducing both local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
So how can Australia commit to zero-emission vehicle goals if it’s behind on global vehicle emission standards?
Associate Professor Iain MacGill, Joint Director of UNSW Collaboration on Energy and Environmental Markets, says Australia hasn’t made a serious effort to address transport-related emissions.
“The transport sector is one of the continuing growth areas of Australia's emissions profile,” he says.
“However, we’ve seen so many petrol-fuelled sports utility vehicles and twin cab utes being purchased that it seems likely that the average fuel efficiency of Australian cars is going backwards.”
The pathway to zero-emission transport almost certainly requires electric vehicles fuelled by zero-emission electricity. Last year, less than one per cent of new cars bought in Australia were EVs. That compares with more than four per cent globally, almost six per cent in China and nearly 75 per cent in Norway.
Renewable energy expert, Associate Professor Anna Bruce from UNSW School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Resources, says the absence of clear government policy is the biggest reason why Australia is lagging in the transition to EVs - making it difficult for manufacturers to focus on serving the Australian market.
“It’s like the chicken and egg dilemma – but without proper policy and regulation, then demand for EVs will remain low.”
The same can be said about the network of EV charging infrastructure, says A/Prof. MacGill.
“Australia’s an interesting mix in that we’re highly urbanised - so we take the view that our car should get us around town for 51 weeks of the year. But for the other week, we might want to drive all the way to another state.
“In most cases, nearly all the charging happens at home anyway but it’s for those special occasions where we need to drive long distances.
“The charging network can satisfy the number of current EVs but if that number were to double overnight, there will be challenges.”
UNSW PhD candidate Katelyn Purnell, says “While private vehicles make up a majority of transport use, there is a huge opportunity to electrify the entire transport network including bicycles, buses, taxis and rideshare and even ferries,” she says.
“Cross modality transport is an important factor in reducing emissions because people are moving around differently - so policy discussions shouldn’t be limited to just motor vehicles.”
If Australia wants to get serious about reducing emissions from transport, then it needs to start with a cohesive and holistic approach from both the State and Federal government, adds Purnell.
“If we look at Norway, they went with a portfolio method when introducing policy. Beyond initiatives such as reducing upfront capital costs, subsidies, or access to special lanes, they signalled to the market that they were serious about this and there was no going back.”
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