Let’s get practical about climate change
While politicians and celebrities gnash their teeth and shout to anyone who will listen that we are in the middle of a climate change “crisis” or “emergency”, a lot of others are looking at practical and workable solutions to stop the mercury rising.
None more so than those at the local government level, where they actually mop up after a real crisis or emergency, including those caused by dramatic weather patterns or natural disasters which generally impact at a local, rather than national, level.
So, it was interesting this week to present at and be part of a panel discussion at the Road Controlling Authorities Forum in Wellington, looking at the impacts of climate change in relation to transport.
Without question the freight and logistics sector will face increasing pressure from both government and our customers to reduce emissions. But we possibly aren’t as bad as people think.
The energy sector accounts for about 40 percent of New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas emissions, with transport fuels about 17 percent of that total. About five to seven percent of emissions come from the heavy transport industry.
Road freight transport intersects with those controlling roads on the climate change front in areas such as delays due to extreme weather and storm events; infrastructure condition deteriorating faster with extreme heat or excessive rain; and bad roads causing delays and increasing safety risks such as, more road works, driver fatigue, and additional time-costs for end consumers.
In a real crisis or emergency, local and central government will be more reliant on roads than other parts of the transport network. With increased coastal inundation, or a natural disaster like an earthquake, many rail lines are quickly out of commission. Roads also suffer, as quite a lot of our main highways are vulnerable to such events, but there are usually alternate routes and events are localised, so other parts of New Zealand can supply an affected area, by road.
New Zealand is leading the way in looking at mitigating climate change and we support the principles of the Zero Carbon Bill, currently being considered by the Environment Select Committee.
But we think that addressing climate change is more than focusing on net zero emissions by 2050. It is also looking at making our infrastructure network resilient and planning for events along the way.
On the emissions front, road freight is a sector that quickly adopts technology efficiencies. Noxious emissions from trucks have been slashed by 98 percent in the past 20 years, through use of technology. European emission standards are applied to much of the heavy vehicle fleet to reduce levels of harmful exhaust emissions, currently Euro Standard 6, which requires an additive to be used in fuelling heavy diesel trucks.
While there are electric options for car drivers, any real alternative fuel vehicle at the heavy truck level is still some way off. In the rush to remove reliance on fossil fuels, we need alternative energy sources in place. And we need to look at the whole picture, for example, the batteries that power green vehicles have been linked to human rights abuses in the mining of lithium and cobalt.
Our industry is keen to find solutions in New Zealand – we are known for our problem-solving and innovation, so let’s lead the way here if we can.
TIL Logistics has partnered with New Plymouth-based Hiringa Energy to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology for its transport vehicle fleet and they hope to begin their first hydrogen vehicle trials in 2020.
It will be interesting to see the results of the trials both here with Hiringa and overseas, where similar research and development is underway, as to whether hydrogen fuel cells and the complex infrastructure that comes along with that technology can displace the battery-based electric motor as the clean alternative for heavy transport.
I recently visited Tranzurban, in Wellington, and using their own ingenuity they have built the first full electric double-decker buses in the world, made up from components they have sourced and put together in a unique way.
There’s still a long way to go, but our industry is poised to take a bigger role in the movement to combat climate change in a global sense. At the same time, individual companies are looking at their sustainability obligations to meet their customers’ expectations and be good global citizens. And when the real crisis, catastrophe, or disaster happens, we’ll be there delivering the goods.
Please note: Being uncomfortable with changing the meaning of the words crisis and emergency does not make me a climate change denier.
– Nick Leggett – CEO, Road Transport Forum