Transportation and Carbon Emissions

Electric car

Australians have one of the largest carbon footprints per capita in the world and transport is the third highest national emitter of carbon at 18% of total emissions only lower than Electricity (33%) and Stationary Energy excluding Electricity (20%). Stationary energy excluding electricity includes emissions from direct combustion of fuels, predominantly from the manufacturing, mining, residential and commercial sectors. Cars are responsible for roughly half of Australia’s transport emissions.

Transport emissions in Australia have grown more than any other sector, increasing nearly 60% since 1990. Globally, 45% of transport emissions come from road (passenger); 29% from road freight and 12% from aviation. Rail only accounts for 1% of emissions.

Taking a flight or driving alone are the most carbon-intensive options.

Australia is well behind many other global countries when it comes to tackling transport emissions.

The reasons for Australia’s poor performance include:

  • Heavy car use                  
  • High pollution cars
  • Relatively high distances traveled per person by car
  • Low share of trips taken by public transport.

Heavier carbon emitters are large petrol and diesel vehicles with lesser amounts of emissions coming from smaller petrol, diesel, electric and hybrid cars, buses, trains and trams.

What Can We Do?

Cutting transport emissions depends upon us using alternative sources of transport or lower emission modes e.g., bicycles, walking, public transport, electric and hybrid cars.  Importantly, there can be wide variation in emissions depending primarily on:

a. the length of the trip

b. the source of electricity in the local grid

c. the occupancy of public transport and

d. in the case of driving — vehicle and number of passengers.

Suggestions to reduce our transport carbon footprint

  • A great way to reduce our transport carbon footprint is to walk, and cycle distances that we are comfortable with.
  • Use public transport – did you know that a full bus can take 40 cars off the road.
  • Trains are nearly always the winning option over moderate-to-long distances. Buses, and trams over short ones.      

Motor Vehicles

  • Big engine cars are costly and not that efficient.
  • CO2 emissions will depend mainly on which vehicle you use and the number of passengers.
  • Emissions vary depending on the size of vehicle and the type of fuel, preferably look for a car with the best fuel economy in its class.

 Electric Vehicles  (EV’s)            

Recent research from a number of global universities shows that in 95% of the world, driving an electric car is better for the climate than a petrol car.

However, the carbon intensity of the local electrical grid matters. Battery electric vehicles have no exhaust emissions. Their emissions are primarily determined from the production and distribution of the energy used to charge them which could be from less environmentally friendly fossil fuels rather than from renewables.

Cost has been an issue with EVs, although costs are reducing, the range of EVs is increasing, more charging stations are developing, vehicle manufacturers are moving increasingly to the production of EVs and more countries are planning for an EV future, including Australia.

In making a personal decision to move to an EV, there are some questions to consider:

  • What your needs are? Consider how current available EV models will fit your specific purposes.
  • What your typical travel needs are? Compare your daily commute mileage with EV battery ranges. A hybrid or electric vehicle may be appropriate if longer trips are regularly taken.
  • Finally, how easy is it to charge your EV?

For more information go to the Green Vehicle Guide

Air Travel & Carbon Offsets  
A Qantas aircraft in the sky

If you traveled from Sydney to London 4.2 tonnes of CO2 would be produced. Air travels creates a little less than 12% of global emissions, and sometimes it’s unavoidable

During the pandemic, interstate and international meetings have been conducted remotely, significantly reducing emissions. Should we consider online meetings and events more often?

Carbon offsets can be purchased when booking flights. Logo, company name

Description automatically generatedAirlines create these offsets by planting large forests of trees to sequester carbon, restore native vegetation,  wetlands and clean up waterways. Half the dry weight of a tree is carbon.

Remember to be a friend to the environment – it helps make the world a healthier and safer place for ourselves and future generations.

Useful Links

Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory
Reducing your transport carbon footprint
Climate Council: Transport Emissions
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Growth for Road Transport in Australia
Buying an electric car or vehicle | Sustainability Victoria
Clean, green machines: the truth about electric vehicle emissions
Fight For Planet A: Our Climate Challenge


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