best practice bike sustainability zero emissions

The Need for a Personal Mobility Plan for Melbourne

Governments at all levels seem to have forgotten urgent messages delivered at COP26 a little over a year ago to reduce green-house emissions.

Governments at all levels seem to have forgotten urgent messages delivered at COP26 a little over a year ago to reduce green-house emissions. There has been minimal action on transport since. All the trends continue in the wrong direction and there are no credible plans to correct and reverse them. As the impact of covid wanes, government focus is on a return to business as usual, and massive infrastructure programs that will promote more travel, enable people to travel further generating even more emissions in the process. In the meantime, our carbon budget is rapidly shrinking. At current rates it will be gone within 6 years if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, or within 10-12 years if we want to limit it to 2 degrees.

It is time governments at all levels declared their commitment on this issue, and the extent to which they are really serious about addressing it. If they cannot make this commitment, they must say so and explain the implications.  There is a lot that can be done very quickly if governments had the mindset and will to do so but unless there is radical change the most likely scenario is a 4-6 degree “warming” which will render most, if not all of our planet uninhabitable.

Achieving rapid reductions in emissions is possible but conventional transport plans which focus largely on infrastructure will not achieve this. These focus on inputs rather than measurable outcomes and are generally designed to increase mobility and travel movements instead of reducing them and result in further increases in greenhouse emissions.

What is required is a mobility plan that is designed to operate within the limitations of a carbon budget. This budget must be set at the level required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees at most and provide the basis for limiting and rationing transport movements.

The carbon budget must be shared amongst all sectors within the community. Transport must be assigned responsibility for operating within its own budget. This must be carried out by government – the transport industry and people who use it cannot and should not be expected to assume this responsibility. It can be achieved by simply rationing fuel and must include imbedded energy in transport vehicles, infrastructure and all other transport related activities. Fuel rationing is not new. It was carried out during war time and other crises including the OPEC oil crisis in the !970’s, and can be accompanied by a range of other measures designed to limit or moderate energy demand within the transport sector.

The plan must be designed to make the transition based on this environmental imperative by traveling less, less often over shorter distances and more efficiently. Removal of all fossil fuel powered vehicles before 2035 must be one of the key objectives.

The mobility plan must identify future transport pathways with transport options designed to meet a wide range of people’s travel needs supported by incentives to encourage people and business make the transition and disincentives to continue with business as usual. It is a service-based plan complete with carrots and sticks to make it work and deliver measurable outcomes and meet specified targets, with special provisions to ensure social and economically disadvantaged are not left behind.

The aim of the plan will be to maximise opportunities for zero emission travel modes, starting with active transport – walking and cycling. Public transport will have an important role but it must become more efficient and operated in a way that maximises its capacity as a network with a level of service that makes it competitive with the motor car, particularly in the short term.  However, the capacity of public transport is limited, and other measures are required to wean the travelling public off fossil powered vehicles.

Electric powered vehicles will deliver a reduction in emissions but it will not be zero. Imbedded energy (and associated emissions) from the manufacture of electric vehicles, materials to make them and all related activities, including disposal at the end of their economic life must be brought to account, together with infrastructure and servicing that supports their use. Energy to power them must also be from a zero-emission source. But the electric motor vehicle must be used in a way that changes behaviour, not become an opportunity to maintain business as usual.

Even if these issues can be addressed, which is unlikely, the uptake of EV’s will be dependent on market supply and the community’s ability to buy them. Achieving this will become increasingly difficult and problematic. It will come at a time when rising costs of living, particularly food and other essentials, rising interest rates (and mortgage stress), collapse of industries that fail to adapt to climate change such as tourism and other industries supported by the Great Barrier Reef, and low or stagnant wage growth will contribute to declining living standards that will put households under considerable stress. These pressures will be passed on to government and add to other pressures including increasing interest repayments to service high debt levels created in response to covid, and the need to respond to a growing number of emergencies such as extreme weather events which will put pressure on budgets, the need for budget “repair” and the inevitability of further cuts to government services. It will become a vicious circle. 

Whilst many, particularly our politicians, will find these trends unwelcome and be resisted they will become a mechanism that helps reduce emissions by reducing the affordability of travel forcing people to travel less, less often and find other ways to travel more efficiently. This will be reinforced by other pressures of a social, political, legal and economic nature, both local and international that will increase pressure for change in the future.

A mobility plan will not be a one-off for the short or even medium term, it must be a plan for the indefinite future. The message to government at all levels should be clear – act now or be left behind and be forced to make a transition that will be far more painful and disruptive in the future. But the decision for government should not be a pragmatic one based on economics and politics – it is moral one and must be acknowledged as such.

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