Decarbonising transport - Embedding a carbon culture to react Net Zero
Eleanor Short, Senior Principal Transport Planner, WSP
Reaching Net Zero targets through decarbonisation is essential to avoiding catastrophic climate change. The Australian Government has committed to reaching Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which supports the Paris agreement to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees, (preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius), compared to pre-industrial levels.
The increasing understanding of the importance of decarbonisation was reflected in the ‘climate’ theme of the AITPM 2022 National Conference from 20 – 22 July 2022 in Sydney.
The challenge – Transport emissions are large and still increasing
Transport is the second largest source of carbon emissions nationally, at 18% and growing. 85% of these emissions are from road transport. Our annual transport emissions per person are over double that of the UK at 3.7 tonnes per person, fuelled by high annual mileages, higher emission per km and low levels of EV uptake to date – and they are not expected to peak until around 2030.
To reach Net Zero by 2030 we will have to reduce CO2-e emissions by 5 million tonnes every year in order to be ready for the 20 years from 2030 to 2050. This is around three-quarters of the impact which COVID-19 had on the transport sector, repeated every single year for 20 years. Whilst this is a huge challenge, in the words of Minister for Transport and City Services, ACT Government Chris Steele at the conference, “tackling climate change is urgent, essential and doable.”
We have the opportunity as transport professionals to make a huge impact, and we all have a role to play.
Climate change is already causing serious impacts and cost for our transport infrastructure, as witnessed during the 2019-2020 bushfires and numerous recent flooding events. When our transport networks and services are interrupted there are flow on impacts to communities and significant economic costs. Transport infrastructure must be planned and built to be more resilient to the ever increasing impacts of climate change. As Peter Colacino from Infrastructure Australia noted the costs of prevention through good planning and building in resilience can be less than the costs of reacting after each climate related disaster.
Embedding a carbon culture into transport
Great work is already underway – decentralising Sydney to a six cities region, an increasing focus on active transport, and the transition to zero emission buses to name a few. But given the scale of the challenge, we need to really embed a ‘carbon culture’ and consider the ‘carbon budget’ across all our work. It’s time for serious transformation. In practice, creating this ‘carbon culture’ means four things:
Measure whole of life carbon
Firstly, we need to measure whole of life carbon (including from the supply chain, construction and road users), consider it early in planning and value it appropriately to inform our decision making. At the conference, NSW Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport Rob Stokes discussed the importance of understanding the impact of projects and options early and throughout, including carbon impact. Developing this understanding means that tough decisions can be made where needed to minimise and mitigate the impact of emissions. WSP’s Carbon Zero framework includes tools to do this which have already been applied across the UK.
Secondly, we need to reduce the need to travel, through spatial proximity (like 15-minute neighbourhoods, 30-minute cities and people orientated developments), as well as continuing digital access which COVID has really helped to accelerate.
Next, we need to continue to shift modes, increasing the mode share for public and active transport, which also offers many co-benefits for people and places.
And finally, we need to switch fuels for private and public transport to electric and hydrogen alternatives, in parallel with greening the grid, and measures to accelerate the transition to zero emission vehicles (e.g. vehicle fuel efficiency standards).
As transport professionals we have both the opportunity and an obligation to help address climate change, and WSP will continue to champion this important area, working with AITPM, clients and the wider industry.