Hitting the road to reduced emissions

In Newsletter Editorial5 MinutesBy Gavin MyersMay 20, 2022

I’ve always believed that city buses should be electric ­– their relatively short and consistent stop-start routes make them a perfect use case for the technology. Passengers would probably appreciate the more refined ride, too. And there would be less noise and air pollution in crowded city spaces.

That could be a reality by 2025, when New Zealand’s first emissions reduction plan (ERP), released on Monday 16 May, requires only zero-emissions public transport buses to be purchased. The ERP (first of six and for the period to 2025) essentially stages the course for achieving the government’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 at the start of each emissions budget period. It’s been criticised for being thin on real detail and, reading through it, it certainly comes across as more of an outline document. It’s borderline non-committal, using words such as ‘evaluate’ and ‘consider’ – although the use of ‘develop’, ‘provide’ and ‘establish’ impart a bit more certitude.

Naturally, it outlines its targets, initiatives and actions for key sectors, including energy, construction, agriculture, forestry, waste and, of course, transport. Transport, the ERP states, is responsible for 17% of the country’s gross greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). While this is not a patch on the 50% attributed to agriculture, we can’t ignore the fact that 17% is a considerable contribution. A lot can be done to reduce that figure. As, we’re told, two-thirds of transport emissions come from the light-vehicle fleet, the bulk of the first ERP’s actions for transport focus on private mobility – reducing the number of kilometres travelled and increasing the number of low-/zero-emission vehicles on the road.

Tackling heavy transport will be a far more challenging undertaking than public buses or light vehicles, and the plan acknowledges this. A reduction in emissions from freight transport of 35% by 2035 is the goal but, again, the key initiatives outlined for the decarbonisation of freight use lots of those non-committal words.

No.1 on the list of initiatives is “Develop a national freight and supply chain strategy with industry.” That’s encouraging, so long as this is not purely a tick-box and the industry’s input is truly considered.

“Provide funding to support the freight sector to purchase zero- and low-emissions trucks” and “Evaluate options to support infrastructure development for green fuels and fast charging for heavy vehicles” are two other, separate initiatives. But these go hand in hand; you can’t ‘provide’ for the one and only ‘evaluate’ for the other. We’ve said it before, transport will not opt for alternative propulsion if one of the biggest compromises to be made is the ability to refuel. We need to do better than a handful of operators here and there with the capacity to accommodate the compromises.

Within a few bullet points of each other are “Evaluate options to improve efficiency of heavy vehicles” and “Consider the implementation timing of Euro-6 standard for heavy vehicles”. What’s there to consider? Euro-6 vehicles are here, and operators are reaping the benefits of their exceptional efficiency. There can be an immediate increase in efficiency and reduction in emissions simply by fast-tracking this standard. We can lump “Evaluate options to regulate heavy vehicle imports” in here, too.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the only real affirmative initiative is “Continue to implement the New Zealand Rail Plan and support coastal shipping”.

And the industry can probably brace for further revisions to the RUC system on a fuel-type/emissions basis. At the same time, a “freight decarbonisation unit” will be established “to help decarbonise the freight sector through regulation and investment policy”.

I’ve written before that if we are to make a real, meaningful impact, things need to be done properly, with a sustained commitment by all concerned. Will the government and industry be able to pull all this together? Let’s see… The road to 2035 is long, but time has a habit of passing quickly. I’ll be encouraged when I see those zero-emission buses arrive.

Take care out there,

Gavin Myers