Garnaut predicts radical future for trucking

By: Graham Gardiner


Hybrid and electric vehicles will rule city roads in the future, but the freight transport sector must race towards emissions-free

Hybrid and electric vehicles will rule city roads in the future, but the freight transport sector must race towards emissions-free heavy trucks over longer distances to reduce greenhouse emissions in a carbon-constrained world.

The scenario is played out in the final Climate Change Review report by Professor Ross Garnaut, released today, which sets out a number of challenges for the freight transport industry to help slash Australia’s emissions 25 percent by 2020.

Garnaut says Australia has the most to lose from the impact of climate change, proposing carbon trading must start at the earliest possible time in 2010.

In the transport sector he says the combination of higher oil prices and a rising emissions price under carbon trading will drive the take-up of alternative fuels, more efficient vehicles and possibly radically alter the current freight distribution map.

But, he says, given the pressure of higher oil prices major changes in transport emissions could be achieved at "relatively low cost".

Garnaut believes a low-cost, low-emissions vehicle technology will become competitive possibly within the decade.

"The prospects for several of these technologies appear excellent, although it is uncertain when they will become fully competitive and which technologies will do relatively well," he writes.

"It is likely that zero-emissions road vehicles will become economically attractive and be the most important source of decarbonisation from the transport sector."

Garnaut says the early emergence of low-cost biofuels that do not compete with food for agricultural land will reduce the need for structural change within the transport industry.

And the case for modal shift to rail will also be reinforced by carbon trading, he says, though he acknowledges investment will be needed in the rail network.

Garnaut believes the transport sector will be most driven by the rising price of oil than the carbon trading scheme, though that will change as the industry becomes less reliant on oil and a bigger stick is used on polluters.

As an example, he flags a future emissions price of $200 per tonne of carbon, which would increase the cost of petrol by around 50 cents per litre.

Taking no action will see transport emissions nearly quadruple by 2100 under Garnaut’s ‘no-mitigation scenario’ modelling.

Under a so-called 550 scenario – which would see concentrations of greenhouse gasses stop rising by around 2016 and stabilise at 550 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere by the end of the century – transport emissions would be 70 percent below their 2006 levels by 2010.

Following the introduction of the carbon price, much of the increased road transport activity would be offset by improvements in vehicle technology under this scenario.

Emissions will increase by around 40 percent from 2006 levels to 2050, but are 25 percent lower than in the no-mitigation scenario, according to the report.

After 2050, road transport emissions decline rapidly with the adoption of electric road vehicles. Emissions intensity from aviation, shipping and rail transport declines gradually over the modelling period.

The report looks at a number of emerging fuel and engine technologies under so-called "bottom-up modelling", including gas, coal-to-liquids, ethanol, biodiesel and electricity.

URBAN AND LONG-DISTANCE SOLUTIONS
Overall, Garnaut believes emissions will stabilise in the transport sector over the coming decades, drop rapidly as low-emissions road vehicles become competitive and eventually tail off as aviation and shipping introduces its own technological improvements.

"In both local and inter-regional freight there are good prospects for significant emissions reductions in the next two decades," the report states.

"In local freight there are better short-term prospects for vehicle changes than in inter-regional freight, but in inter-regional freight there is greater potential for mode shift."

Hybrid technology will be most useful to urban freight delivery due to the short distances and stop-start conditions, according to the report, while the use of central refuelling depots will reduce the dependence on the development of widespread alternative fuel infrastructure.

Modelling shows a substantial take-up of hybrid and electric freight vehicles, with these technologies becoming commercial attractive sooner than advances in other areas.

Garnaut flags limitations on the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles for long-distance freight delivery, and believes biodiesel will not become commercial.

Instead, the industry will have to wait for "near zero-emissions trucks" according to Garnaut, which he acknowledges are some years away.

The report also suggests changes in production and distribution patterns to reduce emissions.

"Producing goods at several sites for local consumption, rather than at one site with wider distribution, can reduce transport costs," it states.

"As both production and transport costs will involve some greenhouse gas emissions, a broad-based emissions trading scheme that includes stationary energy, industrial processes and transport is necessary to achieve the lowest-cost emissions reduction over the whole production and distribution process."

CARBON TRADING AGENDA
The total 25 percent reduction by 2020 figure proposed by the report – and up to 90 percent by 2050 – depends on action from other high-emitting nations.

If the world fails to reach a climate change target at next year’s talks in Copenhagen Garnaut believes Australia should cut emissions by 5 percent by 2020 as an "unconditional offer".

"Without strong, effective and early action by all major economies, it is probable that Australians, over the 21st century and beyond, will experience disruption in their enjoyment of life and increasingly of their prosperity," he warns.

"Of all developed countries, Australia probably has the most to lose from inaction and the most to gain from global mitigation. Australia should throw its full weight behind securing an effective international agreement from 2013."

Along with the introduction of carbon trading by 2010, Garnaut proposes the establishment of a carbon bank to oversee the long-term stability of the scheme and the implementation of a transition period from 2010 to the conclusion of the Kyoto period in 2012.

He maintains half of the revenue from trading should be spent compensating households, while further payments should be made to trade-exposed, emissions-intensive industries.

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