Australia has not had the best run when it comes to climate change policy. Our leaders appear incapable of doing anything effective to curb our emissions rates while lying to the general population that those rates are dropping much faster than they actually are.
Australia’s Prime Minister had to be signed up to net-zero by 2050 by UK PM Boris Johnson, who is pushing for a much tougher approach to climate change than our own leader.
This is ironic given that we are terribly positioned to bear the brunt of climate change, which we can see happening around us already. No one needs reminding of the devastating floods, fires, and storms that have battered our nation over the past few years alone.
We need to get our emissions down by 2050 if we are to hit our Paris Agreement targets and avoid warming the planet by 1.5°C or more which would be, you know, really, really bad.
Getting there is not a matter of changing everything in our society in December 2049. It takes a long time to shift an economy and a society and the changes required in order to hit those targets need to be put in place now in order to have a chance of having the desired effect.
However, a new industry report shows that without a comprehensive policy for the transport sector, we won’t be able to hit that net-zero target by 2050. Good thing we’re the only country in the world making it harder for people to own electric vehicles, hey?
Transport is a big issue
While most of the headlines focus on energy and fuel sources, emissions from transport make up a total of 101 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Our total greenhouse gas emissions are thought to be around 518.9 million tonnes per year, according to government sources.
Despite being the 55th country in terms of population in the world, Australia is the 15th largest emitter of greenhouse gas. Each citizen has a per-capita contribution that is three times the global average.
We’re also the world’s second-largest coal exporter and recently became the top exporter of liquified natural gas, something the government does not like to factor into its emissions reports.
Much of our personal impact comes from transport, from the cars we drive to the flights we (used to) take.
What needs to be done
According to the Grattan Institute, a think tank focused on Australian public
policy, strict regulations are needed now to phase out petrol cars, tighten emissions standards, and bring in electric vehicles in a big way.
Car sales are a particularly difficult one to fix because cars sold today can be expected to still be on the road, pumping out emissions, for at least another two decades.
Australia lags well behind the rest of the world when it comes to electric vehicles. In 2017, a record 1,189,116 new cars were sold in Australia and only 1123 of those were electric, accounting for just 0.09% of the market share.
That has increased somewhat, with 6900 electric vehicles sold in Australia in 2020, but we have been called “a uniquely hostile market to electric vehicles.”
Norway, by contrast, leads the world in electric vehicle usage, with almost 75% of new cars sold there being electric.
They were able to do this by scrapping import taxes on electric vehicles, something that might not make much difference here or in the rest of the world as Norway has particularly high import taxes on cars.
Still, at least they aren’t taxing electric vehicle owners, like Victoria is now doing, making it the first jurisdiction in the world to disincentivise electric vehicle ownership.
The Grattan Institute says that a carbon pricing system — whereby carbon emissions are calculated and taxed based on the industry or organisation that creates them — would be “the most economically efficient way to address emissions”.
However, this is a system that has been rejected by both of Australia’s major political parties and is being attacked by our PM in countries where they are looking to implement it like our major allies, people we generally want to keep on-side, the UK and US.
“The best policy is off the table, so Australia needs a practical ‘second-best’ approach,” the report says.
It calls for tax breaks on electric vehicles and swift rollout of emissions standards.
“Government should encourage a thriving market for zero-emissions vehicles by exempting them from inefficient taxes such as import duties, luxury car tax and motor vehicles stamp duty,” they write.
What are the recommendations?
Grattan’s energy program director Tony Wood has said that the best option, carbon pricing, was “on the nose” in Australia but that the Institute has developed policy alternatives because they can’t see us going for the best option.
Instead, they’ve said, “we’d rather have a second or third best policy that actually works rather than the best approach no one adopts”.
“We’ve go to start soon and get these vehicles into the market,” Mr Wood said.
The Grattan Institute says that “sales of new petrol and diesel cars should be phased out in Australia by 2035 to help cut carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050”.
“Governments should make zero-emissions vehicles cheaper and make it easier for drivers to charge their electric cars at home, at work, and on the road.
“Zero-emissions vehicles should be exempt from stamp duty, import duty, and luxury car tax. Scrapping stamp duty would cut the cost of new electric vehicles in Australia by up to 6.5%”.
According to them, Australia has “suffered more than a decade of policy uncertainty on climate change”.
“Political difference between and within both major parties have held back progress”.
Because we can’t get our sh*t together, the second-best option will have to do. That means transport will need an overhaul ASAP.
“The most pragmatic approach is a combination of sector-based, technology-driven policies that will create momentum towards greater ambition at a later date”.