Crying wolf on emergencies

5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineDecember 2, 2020

With the worldwide spread of Covid-19, 2020 has been a tough year in all ways, including psychologically.

When governments and international organisations are throwing around the word emergency and indicating mass deaths around the world, citizens start to panic. Is there an emergency response plan? Are we going to be OK? What do we need to do?

Emergency is a word that implies we are in immediate danger and that swift action needs to be taken.

With that in mind, it feels somewhat irresponsible to burden us with another ‘emergency‘, with the prime minister on Wednesday declaring a climate emergency in Parliament.

If we don‘t deal with emergency number one – Covid-19 and the damage it is doing to health, the economy, and our general wellbeing – the rest might be academic.

Covid-19 has done a lot of psychological damage. We remain locked in New Zealand with our border now closed for some eight months, and no end in sight. People have just submitted to this inevitability and no one even questions it any more.

It feels like raising another emergency is a way of avoiding dealing with the very real one right in front of us, right now.

It also feels a bit like lip service, or playing to the crowd, from a government that has had ample opportunity to address climate change in its first term, but really hasn‘t.

Farmers and transport operators get picked on when it comes to the ‘climate emergency‘ but where‘s the viable and affordable public transport system to encourage New Zealanders out of their cars? The government and its central Wellington-dwelling policy makers need to be aware that many New Zealanders cannot walk or cycle to work. A large family trying to get around, say Auckland, would find it cheaper and more reliable to load everyone into the car than to try and navigate public transport.

Covid-19 has, if anything, increased road traffic. People don‘t trust public transport and a boost in online sales and people working from home means more trucks on the road out there delivering door-to-door.

The road freight transport industry wants to play our part in addressing climate change. But there needs to be some realism and an actual ‘emergency response plan‘.

Road freight transport (heavy vehicles) contributes about 4.5% of New Zealand‘s carbon emissions. Those vehicles also deliver 93 percent of New Zealand‘s freight.

Modern trucks have been built to match environmental considerations, including fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. While technology catches up with government aspirations, we would like to see greater investment in existing technology to contribute to emissions reductions.

In fact, we have specifically requested that new Transport Minister Michael Wood considers an incentive scheme, such as accelerated depreciation where the capital investment costs can be written off over one year, enabling trucking operators to more readily purchase Euro 6 engine trucks, as an initial step toward reducing current emissions. Coupled with a government focus on better incentivising biodiesel, we could make short- and medium-term emission savings and not continually push the emission discussion out into the never-never.  

New Zealand trucks will move to using fossil fuel alternatives once those fuels are available via reliable long-term supply; meet performance standards; and are cost-competitive. At this time, it is unclear what the viable technology applicable to New Zealand conditions will be to replace diesel. In the meantime, let‘s see some meaningful incentives to help drive the change the government so earnestly says it wants to see.

Realistically, despite government rhetoric, if New Zealanders want to continue buying food and other goods, fossil fuel powered trucks will be around for some time to come.

The word ‘emergency‘ is being used liberally right now – housing, child poverty; you name it, it‘s an emergency.

If it is time for action, rather than words, there needs to be a viable plan – that‘s what every emergency needs. Our industry is willing to step up and fill in some of the blanks for the government. Will our ideas be taken up?

By Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum