It’s time for realism in the climate change response

The Road Transport Forum wants to inject some realism into the climate change debate with our response to the He Pou a Rangi, Climate Change Commission (CCC) 2021 draft advice for consultation.

We are in agreement with the broad mandate of the CCC, and our industry is committed to the decarbonisation journey that New Zealand must embark on to meet our climate change obligations under the Paris Agreement. 

We’ve said that to get to where we need to however, that instead of setting arbitrary timelines and showing early favouritism towards electric vehicles as the number one solution, we need to pause and look at how this would all work and who would be most affected in the pocket.

You can’t paint a picture of a future that doesn’t exist yet that isn’t just fantasy.

There is currently:

  • no proven fossil-fuel alternative fuel source to power heavy trucks in a New Zealand context, available in a reliable and affordable form;
  • no infrastructure in place to support any alternative fossil-fuel source to power heavy trucks; and
  • no commercially available heavy trucks using alternatives to fossil-fuels, at scale, to replace the current heavy truck fleet used to keep the New Zealand economy moving.

We believe that any policy settings should be framed around there being viable, safe, affordable, widely available alternatives to what is being phased out.

We want to be cautious about “greenwashing”; that is, promoting alternatives to fossil fuels based on ideology, rather than a real pros and cons assessment of whether or not we are replacing like-for-like and what the impacts will be on people, not just the environment.

There has been widespread research on, and media coverage of, the exploitation of population groups (especially children) involved in producing the raw materials for the batteries to run electric vehicles (EVs).

Similar situations arose with introduction of biofuels where equatorial populations were disenfranchised off their land so the biofuel advocates could take it grow the raw biofuel feed stock products.

One of the few places capable of extracting the valuable minerals from end-of-life EV batteries is in Belgium at a facility that relies on nuclear power.

And we don’t want to see those who can least afford it being the ones wearing the cost of rapid change in New Zealand.

The climate change debate seems to be slanted in favour of the middle class, educated people, living in built up cities, who can bike or walk to work. These are people whose direct livelihoods are less reliant on a strong economy. It’s people in rural and provincial areas and city suburbs who will be constrained in their ability to move around, get to work, and earn a living.

For the trucking industry, a rush to EVs could mean reduced payloads and consequently, higher costs for moving freight. Less freight would be able to be loaded on the truck because a lot of the allowable weight to carry would be in the battery.

The idea should be to get more freight on the trucks so there is less truck traffic on the road; not require more trucks because they can’t carry the freight because of the weight of the battery. That just isn’t efficient for freight movement, and it forces greater capital costs on transport operators that will ultimately be borne by the consumer, not to mention greater congestion from more trucks on the road.

Road freight transport plays a significant role in the New Zealand economy, with pretty much everything in your life spending time on the back of a truck at some point. If you make that movement of freight hard, you’ve got a massive economic problem affecting people’s businesses, jobs and ability to earn a living.

We aren’t the only ones calling for a more thorough look at unintended consequences of the CCC’s advice. This week major power companies cautioned that a rush to renewable energy will drive up prices and increase overall carbon emissions.

It was also reported that natural gas provider First Gas’s proposals to start blending hydrogen into its supply and then fully switch gases by 2050 comes with a multi-billion dollar price tag and requires an unprecedented increase in renewable electricity generation and a thirst for water.

And Toyota New Zealand’s chief executive Neeraj Lala said in an opinion piece in the NZ Herald:

“In its quest for zero carbon emissions, the Climate Change Commission’s proposed ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 ignores the reality that EVs will be in short supply for years to come and EVs do not offer the versatility that Kiwi drivers have come to rely on. 

“EVs are not the versatile ferry-the-kids, tow-the-boat, carry-the-tools SUV or ute that Kiwi drivers love and use every day. Unfortunately, EVs can’t do everything yet. They are essentially small passenger cars, as were hybrids 25 years ago.”

We believe action can be taken now to reduce transport emissions while keeping a broad perspective about what energy source, or sources, would be best placed to run the transport fleet, including heavy trucks, in New Zealand.

We don’t want to see a rush into something that could do more damage than good along the way.

The RTF’s response to the Climate Change Commission is available here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

A realistic look at decarbonising road freight

The ongoing discussions and debate around the world’s climate “emergency” will not abate. As a result, you will continue to hear from me on this topic through this blog and I won’t apologise for that. Road Transport Forum will release its response to the Climate Change Commission’s Draft Advice for Consultation once it is submitted. Unsurprisingly, we have a lot to say; when do we not?

New Zealand’s transport industry must confront the need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades. How fast we can do that, will be almost entirely dependent on the research and development that goes into alternative fuel sources that can be used to power heavy transport in the New Zealand market. It’s going to require significant incentives from Government, willing industry customers, and reliable technology that will allow us to shift our transport movements to low or no emission options.

Before we consider New Zealand’s position and response to climate change, we have looked to see what international transport industries are telling us. Bigger markets have more money for research and development.

A very useful Deloitte study – Decarbonizing road freight: Getting into gear –  commissioned by Shell in Europe, looks at the challenges faced by heavy transport. Globally, the sector accounts for about 9% of Co2 emissions – here in New Zealand, we estimate it is around 6%. Demand for goods delivered by road transport is likely to steeply increase (by over 50% by 2050) over the coming decades but to be able to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, absolute emissions from road freight will need to decline almost 60% by that date.

The Deloitte report shows that insufficient regulatory incentives, a lack of infrastructure, and the lack of a willingness from customers to incentivise lower-emission road freight, are significant impediments to progress. Sound familiar?

Once incentives are there for transport operators, and the technology is also in place, asset replacement to that technology will have to occur. This is going to take time – probably well over a decade once we get to a point where there is confidence to make the shift. Decisions will have to be made now about when to replace current vehicles and whether to extend truck lifespans to avoid risk of resale loss.

The advice from international firms is that operators should experiment, pilot alternative energy vehicles, and not wait for the perfect solution. It’s positive to see transport operators beginning to dip their toes into the water of fossil-fuel alternatives in New Zealand, but it is early days and they still need to have a reliable fleet moving their customers’ products.

Industry is clearly beginning to take up transition technologies such as bio-fuel, “to reduce the tailpipe emission profile of today’s trucks”. This is a pragmatic choice for operators who recognise that these are better than nothing and that it is all many of them have to practically reduce emissions. It’s likely that with the recent New Zealand Government mandate on biofuels, our own operators who own the right kinds of vehicles, will likely be responding in a similar way.

There is a strong belief by the international transport workforce that the decarbonisation agenda is an important one for their firms to be part of. 70% of respondents to a survey for the Deloitte report believed that decarbonisation should be in their firms top three focus areas.

The report notes that reducing emissions is a global effort and we have to learn from others. Never is that truer than in a small market at the bottom of the planet, such as New Zealand. That isn’t a defeatist statement; merely realistic. RTF will attempt to inject realism into these discussions as they relate to the transport operators we represent.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum  

Time to show truck drivers some appreciation

This week we have seen once again, the contribution truck drivers make to New Zealand.

Through natural disasters, pandemics, Covid-19 level changes and lockdowns, and all weathers, truck drivers keep delivering the essentials New Zealanders need to live on a daily basis.

As with the Level 3 lockdown of Auckland in August last year, this week’s move to Level 3 in Auckland again presented many challenges for trucking operators and their drivers with lengthy delays at some road blocks. The photo above shows the south bound traffic, between Pokeno and Mercer on Monday evening.

So it seems particularly timely that next week is National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, from 22 to 28 February. The theme is: truck drivers deliver.

As we are close to entering year two of Covid-19 restrictions, including the New Zealand border remaining closed indefinitely, it is fair to say, on-time delivery is a moving feast. The supply chain is stretched so tight we all have our fingers crossed it won’t break completely.

While road blocks on Auckland’s borders present an inconvenience for people in cars, for truck drivers the impacts are significant. If they are stuck in traffic for two to three hours, as has happened this week, that can be detrimental, or even dangerous, to their cargo, for example, live animals or perishable goods. Animal welfare is a major concern and goods that spoil unnecessarily cost everyone. These delays can also push the driver over the legal hours they are allowed to work, which has safety implications. But they can’t just walk out of the line of traffic and abandon their load.

Police have told us trucking operators should be prepared to adjust on time delivery this week. With all due respect, even our industry’s master logistics planners are challenged when large numbers of Aucklanders ignore the parameters of the alert level and try and get in our out of the area when they are patently, not allowed. On Monday it was reported that the Police estimated 25 percent of those who queued at the Mercer border road block were “unnecessary travellers”. That one-in-four caused mayhem for the others around them.

After the lengthy delays at road blocks in Auckland’s Level 3 last year, the Road Transport Forum asked government officials if things could be learned from that, so that improvements could be made for the inevitable next lockdown.

Sadly, we didn’t see any evidence of that this week. There were times when it actually seemed worse. But truck drivers did what they always do, and just got on with the job as best they could. That is not to say there have not been costs associated with this lockdown and negative impacts on businesses, but that’s another story.

It is important that truck drivers get the credit they deserve and there are a number of events being organised around New Zealand next week to do that. We would like to thank NZ Truck & Drivermagazine for organising and promoting the week and you can find out more about it here.

If you are out and about next week, alert levels permitting, give a truck driver a wave of appreciation.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Caution needed on climate change policy for heavy transport

Many of us are taking time to digest the Climate Change Commission’s draft report that was released almost two weeks ago.

The report lays out our nation’s challenges clearly – we all agree with the absolute need to reduce our emissions over the next few decades. The commission should be congratulated for holding to its clarity and purpose.

For the heavy transport industry however, things aren’t that clear. Our industry cannot accept the development of policy on a wing and a prayer. We can’t proceed into a future where the technology that powers our vehicles is imagined, rather than real. Policy should be about the possible, not the probable and frankly, too much is unknown about the kinds of future energy that will power heavy vehicles.

I was pleased the commission acknowledged that the vast majority of the freight task will remain on the road. Road currently has 93 percent of the freight task in New Zealand because it meets the challenges of our particular market.

The path the commission has recommended includes a modal shift of freight from road to rail and coastal shipping. However, their assumptions are that around only four percent of freight tonne kilometres can switch by 2030. That is a far more realistic position than what we hear from many political commentators and anti-road lobbyists and is backed up by the obvious time the commission has spent understanding New Zealand’s freight system and the practical reasons why road transport is the dominant freight mode.

I was also impressed with the commission’s acknowledgement that in the push for the decarbonisation of transport, medium and heavy trucks will be slower to electrify than our light vehicle fleet. Commissioners obviously recognise that current battery technology does not provide the range to deal with long-haul road transport. Their recommendation is that of the heavy vehicles imported in 2030, 15 percent of medium trucks and eight percent of heavy trucks would be electric. By 2035, this would increase to a much more ambitious 84 percent and 69 percent respectively.

The commission accepts that they can’t predict what the eventual solution for powering heavy transport will be. That won’t stop some others though, and we must guard against people who think they can lock in a solution for us so far in advance.

Richard Prebble, in an excellent column in the NZ Herald this week, noted that it was impossible to plan 35 years out in such a fast-changing world. He asked us to imagine going back to the 1980s in a pre-internet world, then asking us to think ahead to 2021 to conceive our economy of today. Impossible.

He also made an excellent point that we must guard against central planning our emissions reduction; where the Government will have a say in how and where we live, and in all facets of our lives.

There are people who wish to use the real and justified concern around climate change to exert political and economic control. Capitalism has always adapted and it will continue to do so to get the best results via a market and allowing people to choose. That, alongside appropriate Government regulation is the best way forward.  

So, beware of the so-called “futurists” in this discussion. They are sometimes political ideologues dressed up to look funky, but with an underlying agenda of control. “A world order as we dictate it,” is their goal. We can all be futurists by considering our lives and businesses and how we adapt to change and new technology in our daily lives to improve the condition of our planet, much like human beings have done for our time on this earth.  

Our focus must be high level; a focus on reducing our emissions as a country and as a world – net zero by 2050. That is the end goal here. Not more social engineering by walking and cycleways, or a massive reductive in private car ownership.

The means to the end we seek have not totally revealed themselves for the heavy transport industry. We must assist road transport businesses to be more sustainable and efficient in their business practices and preparing for the technology – whether it be hydrogen, electric, or some as yet unknown energy source.

I will blog again on our submission to the commission’s report. This is an ongoing discussion that will require operator and wider industry input indefinitely, so it’s important everyone starts considering their businesses part in the decarbonisation path. 

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum


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