Driving lower greenhouse gas emissions

Before going on its extended summer break, the New Zealand Government declared a climate emergency; another crisis to add to the “to do list” for the year of delivery, when they return for 2021 from their long hiatus.

As the Covid-19 crisis drags on and New Zealand seems to move further down the line for any kind of vaccination action that will put us back into the world, it’s easy for all the focus to be on that and lack of performance in other areas to be hidden.

This Government has talked a big game on the climate change front, but on paper, its “accomplishments”, or lack thereof, put them in danger of being seen internationally as just blowing hot air. An article published this week by Stuff, noted: “New Zealand is one of the few countries in the OECD to have increased gross emissions since 1990, doing so at a rate higher than all nations except Turkey, Iceland, and Australia”.

When it comes to the climate change issue, the road freight transport industry has a lot of fingers pointed at it. But the hands connected to those fingers are ill-informed.

We are open to, and actively following, technology advances that will enable freight to be moved in volume, via the road, using affordable fossil fuel alternatives.

We are not interested in green-washing and run a watching brief on the progress on electricity, green hydrogen and biofuels to power heavy vehicles. To date, there have been issues in regards to electricity and green hydrogen and we want to be sure diesel isn’t being replaced, just for the sake of it, by another energy source that causes harm to planet or people. The issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with cobalt mining for lithium ion batteries have been well documented.

With the appointment of a new Transport Minister after the 2020 General Election, we sent his office briefing notes regarding road freight and the environment.

New Zealand does not manufacture heavy trucks and therefore, we are reliant on the global manufacturers to produce trucks that use alternative fuels that are affordable, can run in the New Zealand terrain, and would be supported by a re-fuelling infrastructure here.

This is actually a good thing, because most countries where trucks are manufactured are demanding high environmental standards. The international trucking industry has committed to reducing fuel consumption and thus CO2 emissions through technological innovation and energy-efficient driving.

We believe the Government should give serious consideration in this term to incentivising the purchase of lower emission or alternative energy trucks, as they have done with electric cars. This will assist in signalling to the market that change is expected and supported.

It will also allow for innovation. We won’t know what’s best until we try. There needs to be open minds and avoidance of rigid over-regulation to get change that meets the brief (zero net emissions by 2050). Technology development moves fast and solutions may be just around the corner.

In road freight transport we are sick of the illusional argument that a higher proportion of the freight task should be undertaken by coastal shipping and rail because of lower carbon footprints.

This is tired thinking, lacking in imagination, inspiration, or a fact-base.

Rail and coastal shipping cannot contest the current road freight task, that is, 93 percent of the goods moved around New Zealand. Road is faster, more efficient, more resilient, and door-to-door. There is a place for both, but investment should be in the future which is some form of road, not rail.

If we are to effectively transition to new fuels, significant capital investment will be required. The last thing we can afford to do is reduce productivity and add time and cost to transport via rail and ship, in the belief that will take us there. 

We have shown our commitment to the Government’s approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road freight in New Zealand. We have put some suggestions on the table, and we look forward to the delivery beginning.

– Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum


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