Friday, January 9, 2009

Victorian Transport Plan fails climate test

"The report gives the indication that it is about reducing the greenhouse emissions of the Victorian transport sector “from 32.5 to 20.2 megatonnes in 2036” (see the report, pages 118-9). Yet this deceptive sum is a reduction in the projected increase in emissions; the graph on page 119 shows that the transport sector’s emissions in 2006 were approximately 20 megatonnes."


The Victorian Transport Plan (VTP) should be condemned for committing to further unsustainable and dangerous greenhouse emissions. Everyone has to support the efforts of residents’ groups to oppose the various expansions of the freeway network and road freight across Melbourne.

The VTP claims that “Lowering our carbon footprint from transport” was one of the six priorities that have driven the decision making of the Public Transport and Roads and Ports ministers, Lynne Kosky and Tim Pallas.

Elsewhere the report claims that feedback from the public from July to September 2008, prior to the release of the report, indicated that Victorians want (among other things), “Steps to reduce growth in greenhouse gas emissions and consider the environment when planning for transport”.

The report gives the indication that it is about reducing the greenhouse emissions of the Victorian transport sector “from 32.5 to 20.2 megatonnes in 2036” (see the report, pages 118-9). Yet this deceptive sum is a reduction in the projected increase in emissions; the graph on page 119 shows that the transport sector’s emissions in 2006 were approximately 20 megatonnes. By measuring reductions against “what would have happened in the absence of these changes” the report could mislead people into thinking that it is about reducing emissions when really it is only going to hold them at about the current level.


This phony “reduction” of 12.3 megatonnes includes an estimated reduction of 6.6 megatonnes (over half) from “a steady increase in fuel prices (predicted to double in real terms by 2036), and the introduction of a carbon price through an emissions trading scheme.” When questioned recently by a journalist as to when the Federal government’s emissions trading scheme would begin to deliver cuts to greenhouse emissions, the Prime Minister responded that he could not say.

Do Victorians want to only “reduce growth” in greenhouse emissions, or do we want to actually reduce emissions overall? Polls have consistently shown that all Australians want serious action by our government to stop climate change; most recently, a survey by Essential Research for the Australian Conservation Foundation found 63 per cent believe Australia should “set an example for other countries by committing to strong targets to reduce carbon pollution.”

Climate groups are calling for Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions to begin declining by 2010 and decline sharply, with targets ranging from a modest 50% reduction of 1990 emissions by 2020 to the ambitious “Zero Emission Decade” plan for a 10 year transition to zero emissions. This is all based on the most recent climate science. Measured against this ecological imperative, the VTP fails from the start.

The VTP avoids any strong measures that can deliver guaranteed cuts in emissions. Instead it relies on indirect, unpredictable market mechanisms such as those above, minor measures like “Supporting carpooling to reduce the number of cars on the road”, and platitudes like setting “a mandatory carbon emissions target for the Victorian Government vehicle fleet, in consultation with the local automotive industry”.

Most of these measures revolve around the continued (and expanding) use of road transport. For example, ““The Government is working with the local automotive industry on new vehicle technology to reduce emissions. Already Ford Australia has announced it will produce the four-cylinder Ford Focus in Victoria. Toyota Australia has announced Melbourne will be one of only five locations in the world to produce the Hybrid Camry.” This is deception and hype. Four cylinder cars are hardly “new vehicle technology”, and the Hybrid Camry is projected to produce 140 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre – roughly the same as many small cars now on the market, such as the Hyundai Getz at about 145 grams per kilometre.

Even powered by dirty brown coal, electric rail's total greenhouse emissions are around 116.95 grams per passenger kilometer, according to a Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics study in 2004. This compared to a petrol-driven car average of 181.16 grams. This was before large increases in the number of passengers using Melbourne’s passenger rail network, which would have significantly lowered the per-capita emissions for rail.

Rail is significant because not only is it vastly more efficient than individual motor cars (in terms of infrastructure costs, space, fuel/energy, emissions) but as a largely electrified network it can become virtually zero-emissions if Victoria takes the essential step of phasing out fossil-fuel based power. At this point there will be no competition between road and rail for greenhouse emissions intensity: the difference will be practically inifinite.

The VTP announces some large new rail infrastructure projects, which have themselves been subjected to much criticism by transport planning advocates. For climate action groups, the key problem is the ongoing expansion of the road and rail network. It is important to get new public transport right, for the maximum benefit to commuters and the maximum reduction in car use and hence emissions. However, money sunk into damaging, fossil fuel reliant road infrastructure is only contributing to the problem.

Victorians should be calling for

  • An end to new major road construction and the expansion of existing major roads
  • The expansion of the public transport network, aiming to make it available for all regular commuter journeys undertaken
  • Moving freight, especially containerised freight, to rail for all except local movements, and taking heavy diesel emitters (trucks and diesel locomotives) out of suburban areas
  • The electrification of the rail freight network to include it in the zero emissions transport sector.
  • Encouraging bicycle use in all suburban areas by providing a connected network of bike paths and bike lanes separate from traffic.
  • Expanding renewable energy generation to reduce and eventually replace all fossil fuels in power generation and hence electric transport

Support your local transport campaigners!

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