Our new series, researched and written by Rachel Lynskey, Project Officer for Transport, explains how the transport sector is interconnected – and that solutions for reducing emissions must be, too.

As demonstrated in the infographic above, the transport sector encompasses five broad types of transport: water, rail, road, paths and air. Many different modes of transport fall within these types, including cars, buses, trains, ships, airplanes, walking, bikes, and more. When implementing solutions for emissions reductions, each mode or type of transport is usually considered separately. But, as all modes contribute to the generation of emissions, there is no single solution that will transform the whole sector – addressing types of transport separately will not create the broad scale of change needed to significantly reduce emissions. Simultaneous effort across many fronts is needed instead. Understanding the interplay between different modes and types of transport, and working together across the sector, can turn transport onto the path of zero emissions.

Conversation on transport emissions has largely focussed on electric vehicles, including their relatively slow uptake in Australia. Globally, the electric vehicle market is taking off. Countries like the UK are offering consumer subsidies and setting dates to end the sale of petrol or diesel vehicles. The USA has committed to having only electric vehicles for government cars and transitioning all public buses, too. While electric vehicles are a very visible part of the change that needs to happen – many citizens own or utilise cars and can relate to changes in this transportation type – switching them to electric is only one part of decarbonising the transport sector. While road-based transport is indeed a huge source of emissions – 82 per cent of emissions come from road-based transport, with 62 per cent of emissions strictly from private vehicles – there are other steps, such as reducing the number and length of car trips, that need to be part of the conversation.

For example, increasing uptake of electric vehicles requires infrastructure to be created: in homes, workplaces, alongside roads and other public destinations. But what about infrastructure in the right places for other zero-emissions vehicles such as for trucks, ebikes, buses, trains, ships and planes? Rolling infrastructure out at such a scale requires sector-wide coordination and investment, but it also creates an opportunity to consider more efficient use of transport in general. This could be by enabling people to use vehicles less in the first place, with more walking tracks and public transport options.

The other 20 per cent of road-based emissions comes from trucks, due to the vast size and movement of Australia’s freight network. Emissions here could partly be addressed by electrification, particularly for vans and smaller trucks. But what about shifting the mode of transport for some freight from road to rail, and more efficiently utilising existing rail infrastructure? These solutions also have a role to play. As does investing in renewable-powered fuels – such as hydrogen – which could reduce emissions from heavy vehicles as well as other parts of the sector. 

In a new series of articles, Climateworks will be sharing our thoughts on how understanding the links and influences in this sector can help accelerate the transition to a zero-emissions transport sector. First up, we examine electric vehicles, and how they fit into the broader transport system. We’ll also be looking at where hydrogen fits in the transport sector, how to integrate public and active transport into infrastructure, and more. Climateworks’ Moving to Zero report, published last year, compiled these options and strategies, finding that much of the technology and solutions we need are already here. The report showed that with widespread, rapid adoption of well-established solutions, Australia can have a zero-emissions transport sector by 2050.

Find out more about our work on transport as part of our Cities program.