Climate Mission Submission

A meme pic showing the bow of the enormous ship Ever Given with the words ‘Inactive lifestyles and environmental crisis.’ on it. The tiny earth mover on the ground in front has the words ‘Electric cars’ under it.

The following was my written submission to the New Zealand Climate Change Commission in response to their draft advice released in February 2021.

It is encouraging to see the work of the CCC and it’s draft recommendations. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this. It is beyond time that we were having these important discussions and enabling the opportunity to form a more meaningful strategy for our national response to the ecocidal trajectory of climate breakdown.

The proposed methods for reducing emissions from transport are woefully inadequate and disappointing.

Replacing much of the fleet of cars in New Zealand with electric private cars is a narrow, dangerous strategy. The mode share targets in the draft report are insufficient to deliver the absolute emissions reduction aims of a net zero carbon future.

Aim higher and set some absolute targets.

A doubling of the share of people cycling by 2030 is way too low. The current growth rate in cycling is already following this trend. The advice to the government from this body should supercharge efforts in this area to enable far more than just doubling what is an abysmally low amount of 1%. The target should be at least 15% of all trips nationally by bike by 2050. This target is advised in Turning the Tide - from Cars to Active Transport which the CCC references.

Likewise with growth share for targets for public transport and walking. They are inadequate too.

The aim of net zero GHG emissions behooves us to employ more absolute measures when bringing down damaging activities. I am calling for a range of absolute limits on the use for damaging vehicles for transport.

Dealing in percentage measures (mode share) assumes that the overall amount of driving and number of vehicles will still keep growing overall. Trading in percentage-based discussion around ‘mode share’ should be revisited in favour of some new key measures that set strong absolute constraints.

While I am calling for a minimum 15% modal share for cycling, I am actually flexible to what the shares are as long as the absolute amount of private motorised passenger vehicles and use is reduced.

I would like to see car, van, SUV, double-cab ute, etc use reduced by 50% of today's rate. Measurement may comprise vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), absolute number of registered vehicles, fuel sale volumes, etc. I can’t point to a single industry standard measurement that is best suited to determining an absolute car dependency limit, so it will likely need to be derived from a composite of current metrics.

An example of what I would hope for is a composite of VKT and vehicle numbers. We currently have approx. 4.3 million private cars in the fleet - based on our current population and world leading car ownership per-capita rate of 86%. Our current total annual VKT in New Zealand is 45 billion kilometres, with a rate of 9,149.9 kilometres per year per-capita for light passenger vehicle use.

I would like to see an absolute ceiling of 2 million private heavy vehicles (what are poetically, officially called ‘light vehicles’, and an absolute per-capita VKT of 5,000 kilometres in New Zealand.

We need a limit of an absolute number of vehicles because there is significant embedded GHG emissions and other environmental degradation involved in their manufacturing and fleet replacement. Having a nominal reduced mode share of cars could result in no improvement and even worsened outcomes if the overall fleet size continues growing as it has in recent decades.

We need an absolute limit on VKT to properly cap their unfettered, inefficient use and the resulting environmental, social, economic, and health damages.

Change systems and enable people to adapt

Some suggested system-change focus areas:

Use both carrots and sticks to reduce car dependency. Make walking, cycling, micromobility, and public transport much more attractive and affordable to people. Do the opposite for car use.

Introduce congestion pricing in all major cities and large towns in New Zealand.

Build bike parking at transport hubs and limit passenger vehicle parking to drop off and accessibility needs only.

Prioritise creating Low Traffic Neighbourhoods throughout the country.

Supercharge the building of protected bike lanes, both retrofitting, and for any new projects. Safe space for cycling should, over time, become as ubiquitous as (we like to think) footpaths.

Make public transport comfortable, and convenient, and accessible for all. For those that need, enhancing public transport accessibility will be in the form of assisted physical means, for others it will be in the form of financial assistance. Public transport should be free to everyone under the age of 18, full-time students, and anyone who qualifies for the Community Services Card. Sustainable intercity public transport (buses, trains) should be 50% cheaper for these groups.

Reshape our cities to get cars out and more healthy, active lifestyles in. Aim for policies that create locally accessible amenities for residents within a 15 minute journey by walking or biking. Planning that helps avoid long journeys for everyday needs is a very important intervention. We currently have a very bad habit of enabling businesses to build ‘big box’ retail on the edge of cities with lots of car parking. These development patterns induce car dependent shopping habits and compromise the viability for more human scale, traditional city centres who are competing for customers. We have a difficult situation where many retailers think they have to protect car parking and car use because they feel they must compete with big box retailer businesses. The Netherlands banned a majority of car dependent retail development patterns decades ago and is a key measure that has ensured rich, human scale, commercially successful town and city centre development patterns.

Factor in the knock-on effects of electric car dependency

A big problem with the misplaced hope of electric cars in the draft recommendations, is the knock on effect of how much more energy is needed to run them. Even if we can produce it cleanly - why would we not adopt strategies that reduce the demand for energy for mobility needs?

Electrification of the car fleet on its own is not an economical approach to reduce transport emissions.

The use of electricity to power a larger number of larger vehicles has knock on effects on our energy system and causes us to strategize to greatly upscale our renewable energy generation capacity. If we work harder to reduce the demand for energy, by prioritising walking, cycling and public transport solutions, we can enjoy much higher levels of renewable energy sooner and for less expense.

Enable transport authorities to deliver quality cycling infrastructure faster

What else can the CCC recommend to enable government, local and national, to bring down car dependency as quickly and equitably as possible.

Change expectations of urban form to reverse the trend of car dependent urban sprawl. Support infrastructure initiatives that encourage medium density housing and mixed use neighbourhoods which make communities feel more connected and safe.

We need the CCC recommendations to produce the urgency to arrest our unfettered car dependency. To deliver unequivocal imperatives that government, councils, and transport authorities MUST make urgent interventions to cities to enable a reduction in car dependence.

This point is seriously important because the current systems that are embedded into our institutions are effectively optimised to manufacture car dependence. On top of making change to our cities, we must be mindful of the scale of change in systems of design and engineering that is also needed. Politicians can’t affect change in this space as quickly as is needed. It is analogous with finding rewarding new career paths for coal miners in renewable energy. We need a plan to up-skill and shift capability in an empathetic way for people who’s professions are reinforcing car-centric development patterns.

We have a population of voters who are widely dependent on car use electing representatives that make sure to not disrupt their addiction to these unhealthy habits that are destroying our environment and health.

Our primary transport engineering and design institution, Waka Kotahi, is fixated on road building. They are effectively incapable of doing much else. The design standards being used are all extremely car focussed, and put way too little emphasis on public and active transport systems. I am told by Wellington City Council’s Deputy Mayor, Sarah Free that there is a worrying capacity issue that they are facing and we need to ensure that these authorities around the country have access to the specific skills and capacity to transform our transport and cityscapes.

Separate transport funding from car dependency

Our funding of transport systems and infrastructure is wed to fossil fuels and car dependency.

We need to detach the funding of every new transport project from the current National Land Transport Fund. The taxes collected from fuel should be considered solely as offsetting environmental and infrastructure impact costs. People who pay fuel taxes should understand that they are paying for the ongoing maintenance of the facilities that they are damaging. Vehicle use should also pay for the full costs against the environment, as pollution, and resource depletion.

Building anything new should be funded from general public funds and be a decision that is not conflicted or compromised by any level of undue influence on what we decide to build because people driving spent money on fuel, on driving. The UK Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) is more in line with what I am thinking of.

The demand side problem of an electric car dependent strategy

The nature of global arrangements in climate goals puts the onus on producers to reduce their GHG emission outputs. This means New Zealand must reduce emissions on our exported dairy products and China and Japan, etc on their cars.

I don’t think it is wise to ignore that a strategy that actively creates a large amount of demand for resource intensive products should only be accounted for on the producer side. If New Zealand were to demand more bicycles and human scale mobility devices, this would result in a far lower overall GHG emissions output overall. Nature doesn’t forgive where emissions are generated. What matters is that emissions are reduced globally. We should care that our policies would result in higher or lower emissions across the lifecycle of all our product choices. The breakdown of our transport mix should limit the demand we create for resource intensive products that incur greater amounts of emissions. If we weren’t demanding them, there would be lower emissions. Just because the products are produced in different countries does not mean they are not a part of our emissions footprint.

Co-benefits of reduced car dependency

Please give more weight to the co-benefits of greater targets for active transport and reduction in car dependency. I have heard that the Commission does consider co-benefits in their recommendations, but going by the targets drafted, and the strategy to retain and support such a high number of electric private passenger vehicles, I don’t believe there has been nearly enough weight given to co-benefits in the transport space.

The co-benefits of reducing car dependency, however cars are powered / fuelled are staggering.

It would be an immoral misjudgement for the Commission to not press the importance of these co-benefits more strongly. They may be (strictly speaking) outside the remit of reducing GHG emissions, but I would like to see very strong language advocating for targets that reflect the important consideration of the co-benefits.

It should be clear to people that meeting climate targets for emissions through transport can be achieved in certain ways, but that other ways - that deliver co-benefits - should be the targets we should all be working towards. Please add qualifiers to transport modes that better emphasise the ‘at least’ effort required, and qualifiers that reflect ‘optimal’ targets that realise well-being, equity, health, safety, environmental sustainability benefits of co-benefits.

For a more in-depth account of co-benefits of lower car dependency, please refer to my writing:

Avoid public funding of unsustainable private passenger vehicles

I am against any public funds, however generated, going towards private motorised passenger vehicles - even cleaner ones. I am against feebate schemes that make cleaner private cars less expensive to purchase.

Public money should be directed to transport strategies and measures that deliver the greatest public good, and achieve the fastest reduction in GHG emissions. There are many far more effective and beneficial transport technology choices we should support with public funds. We should do a much better job of charging for the true costs of cars - however they’re powered / fuelled. The money recovered from the privilege of driving should be directed to a broader transport programme of work that is not compromised by our current chronic car-centric myopia.

People who can afford electric cars should be satisfied with the savings relative to the much greater ongoing expense of dirtier cars. But private electric cars are really hardly any better for the public overall and those who choose to operate them should also face the full expense of choosing to invest in them.

It would be unfair to people who are choosing and capable of following car-free lifestyles to continue to subsidise private car use.

In short - let’s restructure our funding to reinforce healthy, sustainable mobility and to minimise more car dependency.

Summary

I desperately hope for far stronger recommendations for reducing the impact of New Zealand’s transport systems on our environment and well-being. The targets drafted are woefully inadequate. The strategy to kick Aotearoa down the road in electric tin cans is demoralising and disappointing.

Reducing emissions to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown and ecocidal mass extinction is a measure being taken to ensure and improve the outlook for human survival and well-being. We must take this important opportunity to transform more for these same goals. We don’t have time to go through more of these difficult changes as we hit more and more environmental limits.

I am heartened to learn tonight of the Scottish Government’s plan to cut car use by 20% within 10 years including electric cars.

This is the type of plan I hope for in New Zealand’s transport situation. One that recognises that emissions that harm just one aspect of the environment are not the only way our current collective well-being and long term survival are severely threatened by too many private passenger vehicles.

Before Covid-19 hit, the world was already facing a collection of health and well-being challenges of epidemic proportions: a ‘syndemic’. Inactivity, road deaths and injury, non-communicable diseases, environmental resources depletion and ecosystem collapse, a biodiversity crisis.

Our refusal to reimagine our wasteful car dependent lifestyles in New Zealand (and many ‘developed’ nations) is playing no small part in many of these problems. Or - another way of looking at it - we can more effectively address and even solve a large number of these challenges by ensuring we reduce our overall car use and free ourselves from this nightmarish dystopian car dependent modern world we have created.

The world, and its people will be better, healthier, and happier with fewer cars. The fewer the better.

Appendix

Let’s unite against car dependency

I maintain a collection of bookmarked online material grouped by topics focussed on the mission to reduce car dependency. The nested pages include many linked scientific papers relevant to the various topics. Please review and make use of these:
https://www.notion.so/alexmdyer/Let-s-unite-against-car-dependency-6f0a820a864247ad81b4d506d0c7c4eb

Passionate about healthy streets and cities for people. On Twitter as @AxleRyde