Freight decarbonisation: reality meets ambition

TIC CEO Tony McMullan

Last year, prior to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) the Albanese Government lodged with the UN, ambitious new emission targets as part of Australia’s obligation under the legally binding international treaty on Climate Change known throughout the world as the Paris Agreement.

The Government, on behalf of all Australians, determined that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced 43 per cent below the 2005 level by 2030. In so doing, Australia also reaffirmed its commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Truck Industry Council (TIC) and its members fully appreciates the importance of this goal and are working diligently to contribute to the decarbonisation of road transport in support of this broader objective.

At TIC council and technical meetings, it is a standing agenda item with the aim being to advocate to governments a united position on the best policy position to achieve the Government’s target settings.

Truck OEMs and major component suppliers such as engine manufacturers are ready today for this evolution. Technologies currently exist for many truck tasks, for example battery electric trucks for urban freight distribution.

While OEMs are working on new technologies for more difficult to abate freight tasks such as linehaul. The theme for COP 27 was “Together for implementation” making it clear for the world to see that the priority of governments was now upon implementation of initiatives and programs that moved the agenda beyond the promises previously made.

There is no doubt that this is a noble undertaking, however such narrative needs to reflect realism.

The freight transport sector is universally noted as being a hard to abate sector.

The role of TIC as Australia’s peak industry association, with responsibility for advocating to governments on issues relating to the nation’s heavy vehicle fleet on behalf of its truck OEM members, is to communicate to government a realistic pathway forward to achieving reduced CO2 emissions.

The real issue before us all in freight transport at the moment is ‘Reality hitting Ambition’.

Governments around the world have set the vision for an ambitious carbon reduction target.

Now what is required is implementation of this policy in an environment completely changed from when these ambitions were set, meaning inflation, supply chain disruption, skilled and unskilled worker shortages, more interest rate rises on the way in 2023, world economies cooling, talk of an economic recession and finally an on-going war.

While the long-term trajectory certainly embraces a shift toward electrification (battery and hydrogen), the industry recognises, at present, no single technology is capable of achieving carbon neutrality across the freight sector.

TIC’s industry position is not to pick winners, that is, the solution lies in being “technology neutral” where OEMs determine the best technology to achieve carbon reduction. This is particularly so in the freight transport sector with its numerous applications.

Historically, governments have a poor record when they pick winners to solve the problems of the market place. Multiple approaches provide a more practical and sustainable pathway to carbon neutrality for Australia.

Society and government have set the climate goal; industry will deliver technology options and require flexibility from government and society to achieve this.

The sector has a sound track record of introducing advanced technologies to the market for the betterment of operators and just as importantly, society.

Look no further than the noxious and carbon emission reducing technologies or the advanced safety technologies standard in today’s trucks. No single government policy or industry commitment alone will achieve this ambitious goal.

We must work collaboratively at all levels of government to identify the range of approaches necessary to establish sustainable pathways to carbon neutrality.

The starting point in Australia is for government to acknowledge the need for a transition plan, this is not a light switch moment. TIC is proposing a National Low and Zero Emission Strategy as opposed to the recently announced Government’s Electric Vehicle Strategy.

The National Low and Zero Emission Strategy would target the general reduction of CO2 emissions from heavy vehicles, in both new and existing trucks and be technology neutral.

The strategy does not pick winners, but does include electric technologies, because the reality is that all truck manufacturers around the world are working on a suite of technologies to meet the targets set by governments.

I will talk more about this strategy in next month’s column. In the meantime, ‘reality must meet ambition’.

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