Australia is OECD’S “laggard” in supporting the uptake of Electric Vehicles

By Dr Anna Mortimore
Griffith Business School

The Australian Government’s annual emission report for the year to December 2018, showedtransport emissions increasing 2.8%, offsetting the reduction in emissions in the Energy-Electricity sector of 3.5%. Nor did the Federal Government lead by example, acquiring only 1 (one) electric vehicle(EV) in 2017 and 2018; and the average CO2 emissions of new vehicles acquired in 2018 (194 grams of CO2/kilometre) were 7% higher than the national average (181grams CO2/km).

Transport is the second fastest growing sector in greenhouse gas emissions, increasing to 18.9 percent of Australia’s national CO2 emissions to December 2018. The National Transport Commissions (NTC) report on “Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity for New Australian Light Vehicles (released on 31 Aug 2019) showed 2018 was the second consecutive year of no real decline in the average of CO2 emissions for new light vehicles. The Chief Executive of NTC, Paul Retter said that the reduction in CO2 emissions from new light vehicles in 2017, was “the lowest annual reduction in carbon emissions intensity since 2002, when records of this type began.

Reducing road transport emissions requires a transition to low to zero CO2 emitting vehicles, namely battery electric vehicles (BEV). Countries, like Norway, the Netherlands, and California introduce policy measures to increase the uptake of BEV’s. For instance, policy measures effectively increased Norway’s uptake of EV’s to 58% in 2019.

In Australia, EV sales fell by 3% in 2018, representing 0.2 per cent of annual total new car sales. Supporting the literature that increasing the uptake of EVs is dependent on governments introducing effective policy measures. Australians uptake of EVs is far from the 2050 Paris climate commitments for cars and vans to be entirely decarbonised, ending sales of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035.

In the 2019 Climate Change Conference (in Bonn), EU and China questioned Australia’s lack of policy on its rising transport CO2 emissions, and whether there were plans to reduce transport pollution in the future. The government stated thatit was “developing” a national electricvehicle strategy.Except the strategy requires the introduction of effective policy measures such as: the introduction regulatory CO2 emission standards, financial incentives such as exempting GST, increasing vehicle taxes for internal combustion vehicles and providing subsidies for EVs. Such measures are unlikely to be supported, given the continued political influence of the car industry and consumers preference for low cost, high CO2 emitting vehicles.

Whether Australia will be required to reduce transport emissions to meet its 2030 commitments for emission reduction under the Paris Agreement may be unequivocal if allowed to carryover 367 million tonnes of credits from the 2020 Kyoto target. Other nations, like Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK voluntarily gave up their surplus credits. New Zealand Government, said that the Paris Agreement was a “completely new legal construct” and discouraged any country from using them. The Australian Government does not support this view, which means it is under no pressure to reduce road transport emissions to meet 2030 commitment and can continue to be the OECD’s laggard in reducing transport emissions.