Vehicle CO2 emissions legislation in Australia – a brief history in an international context

Transport Fossil fuels Energy Motor vehicles Carbon emissions Emissions reduction Australia

Road transport is a large and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Road transport contributes about 20% of the European Union’s (EU) total CO2 emissions. Light-duty vehicles i.e. passenger cars and light commercial vehicles produce around 15% of the EU’s CO2 emissions. Slightly higher numbers have been reported for the US.

In Australia, road transport contributed 16% to total CO2 emissions in 2000 and this contribution has been growing to 18% in 2010 and 21% in 2016. Total CO2 emissions from road transport have increased with almost 30% in the period 2000-2016.

To drive improvements in light vehicle fuel efficiency and reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector, fuel efficiency and/or CO2 vehicle emission standards have been adopted in approximately 80% of the global light vehicle market, including the US, EU, Canada, Japan, China, South Korea and India. Despite the fact that developing countries are mostly users of ‘second-hand’ vehicle technology, several of them promote similar actions. Mandatory CO2 standards are internationally recognised as one of the most cost effective strategies to reduce transport emissions.

This study has conducted a brief review of the latest international developments in relation to CO2 emission standards for motor vehicles, and has made an assessment of on road and real world CO2 emission rates from the Australian on-road car fleet. The research question of this study is: What has Australia achieved in this space over the last 20 years, and how does this compare to international best practice?

The available evidence suggests that legislative action regarding vehicle CO2 emissions is 1) overdue in Australia, and 2) needs urgent attention by the Federal Government to ensure total CO2 emissions from road transport are in fact reduced.

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