Shifting gear: The path to cleaner transport

22.05.23 By , , and

Our ability to get around – safely and without barriers – is fundamental to our quality of life, wellbeing and participation in society. Transport connects us to everything: our communities, workplaces, friends and family, education, healthcare and all the essential services we need.

Transport also produces a large and rising share of Australia’s harmful carbon pollution (19 percent). To reverse this trend, we need to fundamentally alter the ways we get around, as well as the transport options available to Australians. Our cities and public spaces should be designed for people, rather than how they are presently designed: for private vehicles that run on fossil fuels, causing our streets to be congested and polluted. This has serious consequences for our health, as well as our planet – costing more than more than 1,100 road crash deaths in 2021 and potentially thousands more in premature deaths from air pollution.

The transport infrastructure in place determines the choices we make every day about how Australians can get around, and in turn the emissions profile of personal transport in Australia. Personal transport is the focus of this report – the way people move around (as opposed to freight, the way that goods are transported) and has significant potential for emissions reduction. Cars and light commercial vehicles contribute 62 percent of transport emissions (DCCEEW 2022a) and we have solutions readily available now to decarbonise. We all understand that climate change is accelerating with deadly consequences, and that we must take action. This requires transformative change across all parts of our economy and community, including transport.

Report Key findings

1. For Australia to meet its climate obligations, we need to fundamentally transform our transport system so everyone can get around easily and safely. Right now, a car-dependent system run on fossil fuels is harming our health, hip pockets and the environment.

2. Global sales of fossil fuel-powered vehicles are in structural decline, but to clean up Australia’s transport system, we will need to go beyond simply replacing existing vehicles with electric ones.

3. To make it easier for Australians to increase their use of active and public transport for travel, decision makers need to apply visionary thinking and planning.

4. By the end of this decade, we should be aiming to more than halve the number of car trips that Australians make. This can be achieved by significant investment in electrified public transport and well-connected infrastructure for active modes like walking and cycling. We need this investment to enable 3.5 times more trips to be made on public transport, and 3 times more trips to be made using active modes.

5. We have the solutions we need to decarbonise personal transport, and it is a transformation all Australians can be a part of and benefit from.