After COP21 in Paris, maintaining cities as places for cars is even more laughable

After COP21 in Paris, maintaining cities as places for cars is even more laughable
Alastair TaylorDecember 16, 2015

The climate change denialists have had a giant 'bird flip' thrust in their faces by the national governments of the world with the support of the climate agreement at COP21 in Paris.

COP21 was negotiated and agreed by national governments however in an Australian context much of the hard work of adapting - future-proofing - our society and economy will lie with state governments.

And it is to the state governments of Australia we must now focus on.

Under the COP21 agreement nations have now committed to reducing their carbon emissions over a period of time. Australia had a pledge and working toward it (and hopefully beating it) will require a multi-faceted approach to altering the way we live, work and transport ourselves around cities and regional areas.

On the Climate Change Authority's web page, it states that 16% of Australia's emissions come from transport and that figure is apportioned as follows (percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding according to the Climate Change Authority):

  • 2% from buses and motorcycles
  • 3% from diesel-powered rail services
  • 3% from sea transport
  • 8% from aviation
  • 18% from trucks
  • 57% from "light vehicles": cars.

Did you spot the elephant in the list? It is at the bottom if you missed it.

If we were to switch to electric cars overnight we would probably not be all that better off given power still overwhelmingly comes from fossil fuel sources and it does not address the core problem: various policies, many in the planning realm, focus on the housing and movement of cars rather people.

If we are going to reduce transport emissions, surely state government policy must now focus on reducing overall car usage; yes, even in a high growth scenario. Whether it is focusing on infrastructure to support increased usage of sustainable modes of transport like walking and cycling, reallocating road space for public transport services or both; policy must surely now focus on creating greater transport freedom for more people in every city, no matter how big or small.

The perennial "balance" transport investment spruikers like our current state treasurer and his opposite - and the bureaucracy that supports them - are now nothing but a laughing stock. Yes, we will need a new Western Distributor, upgraded Monash Freeway or Western Ring Road project every few years if we maintain the status quo in terms of mode share because we will need more road space for the growing population.

With the Paris agreement and the national emission reduction targets looming over us and the titans of the global automotive industry no longer interested in manufacturing "Aussie" cars, now is the time for a transport - and therefore economic - revolution.

The previous ALP state government had a target for 20% of motorised transport mode share on public transport by 2020, and as a first step it is now time for the Andrews government to commit to new targets and allow Infrastructure Victoria to guide the way so as our emissions from transport rapidly reduce and we fully embrace cities as places for people, not cars.

From 2014: 40:40:20-2035, Striking a real balance in transport policy.

Lead image credit: ABC.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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