Trends in transport greenhouse gas emissions

Fri 4 May, 2012

[Updated in June 2015 with 2013 inventory data. First published May 2012]

Are greenhouse gas emissions from transport still on the rise in Australia? Are vehicle fuel efficiency improvements making a difference?

This post takes a look at available emissions data.

Australian Transport Emissions

The Department of Environment’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory reports Australia’s emissions in great detail, and 1990 to 2013 data was available at the time of updating this post (there is usually more than a year’s lag before this data is released).

More recent but less detailed data is available in quarterly reports and here’s what the rolling 12 month trend looks like up to September 2014:

transport emissions quarterly 2

Emissions have grown by 50% since 1990, although a peak was experienced in the 12 months to December 2012 with a slight decline since then.

Transport was responsible for 17.2% of total Australian emissions in the year to September 2014 (excluding land use), an increase from around 15% in 2002.

Here’s the make up of those emissions to 2013:

Australia Transport Emissions 3

Road transport contributed 84% of transport emissions in 2013 (down slightly from a peak of 89% in 2004). Cars accounted for 48% of Australia’s transport emissions in 2013, down from 57% in 1990.

Note that the above chart does not include electric rail emissions (see below), indirect emissions, or emissions from international shipping and aviation. Estimates for these are included in the following chart lifted from an 2008 ATRF paper by BITRE’s David Cosgrove. It shows this components add a lot on top (and the future projections are frightfully unsustainable). International transport emissions seem to sneak under the radar in the published figures.

Per capita transport emissions

The following chart shows Australian transport emissions per capita have been fairly flat at around 4 tonnes per person since around 2004:

Australia transport emissions per capita 3

To put that in context, 4 tonnes per capita is just above Romania or Mexico’s total greenhouse gas emissions per capita (from all sectors, not just transport).

An aside on electric rail emissions

Electric rail emissions are included under stationary energy, rather than “transport” in the main inventory. Melbourne train and tram electricity emissions have been estimated at 505 Gg for 2007 (ref page 8). Apelbaum 2006 estimated that Australia electric rail emissions in 2004/05 were 2,082 Gg (ref page 68), which is very similar to the inventory figures. I’ve struggled to find any other figures on electric rail emissions in the public domain.

Sectoral growth trends

Transport is now Australia’s second largest emissions sector (after stationary energy), and transport has had the highest rate of emissions growth since 1990:

Australia emissions growth by sector 2

Within the transport sector, civil aviation has had by far the strongest growth since 1990 (but note this comes off a low 1990 base as airlines were recovering from the 1989 pilot’s strike). There’s been a lot of growth in light commercial vehicles, trucks and buses, and in more recent times, railways. Emissions from cars are continuing to grow, while domestic marine and motorcycle emissions have fallen (there appears to be a lot of fluctuation in the motorcycle estimates so I’m not sure I’d read too much into the movements).

Australia transport emissions growth by sector 2

Road transport emissions by state

The national inventory data allows us to see what is happening at a state level. Here is a chart of road emissions by state:

Australia Road Transport Emissions 2

The quantities largely reflect the sizes of each state, but here are the growth trends since 1990:

Australia Road Transport Emissions growth by state

Queensland and WA have grown the fastest by far, followed by New South Wales and Victoria.

The following charts remove the impact of population growth on trends by showing emissions per capita figures for each state. Some states appear to be declining while others appear relatively static.

Australia Road Transport Emissions per capita 2

Car emissions reductions – mode shift or fuel efficiency?

The following chart shows car emissions per capita (which essentially removes freight from the road transport figures).

Australia Car Emissions per capita 2

Again, all states show a decline in recent years.

So is the drop in road transport emissions related to behaviour change and/or fuel/emissions efficiency?

The following chart shows that the average emissions per km of Australia cars was trending downwards until around 2007 but has since increased (I’ve used BITRE 2014 Yearbook data on car kms travelled hence a little noise):

car emissions per km 2

Since 2007, car emissions per capita have been declining, but car emissions per kilometre have not – suggesting the reduction in emissions would be primarily due to changes in travel behaviour, not improvements in engine technology (or at least that improvements in engine technology are being cancelled out by us buying cars that are heavier and/or that have more energy intensive features).

What about transport emissions in cities?

As part of the Victorian Transport Plan, the Victorian Department of Transport commissioned the Nous Group to do a wedges exercise on Victorian transport emissions. This report included estimates of Melbourne’s 2007 transport emissions (12,270 Mt). In addition, Apelbaums’s Queensland Transport Facts 2006 was for a brief time on the internet and I was lucky enough to grab a copy. From that report, estimates of Brisbane’s 2003-04 transport emissions can be derived (7,312 Mt).

The breakdowns are remarkably similar:

What does this look like per capita? I’ve also added London and Auckland figures (though I am not aware of the make up of the Auckland data) to create the following chart:

Obviously these cities’ transport systems and energy sources are very different, but it shows what is possible even for a large city like London. Transport emissions will closely follow transport energy use per capita, which has been the focus of a lot of research, particularly by Prof Peter Newman (eg his Garnaut Review submission).

For 1995 measures of passenger transport emissions per capita for other cities, see this wikipedia chart created using UITP Millenium Cities Database for 1995. Note: these figures only include passenger transport and hence are different to the above.

Also, here is some data for US cities from the Brookings Institute, but it excludes industry and non-highway transportation so is not comparable to the above chart.

Where are transport emissions headed?

Numerous projections of Australia’s domestic transport emissions have been made over recent years, as summarised by the following chart:

Australian transport emissions reported and projected

We appear to be tracking fairly closely to the 2007 projections. The 2010 projections anticipated a reduction in emissions per kilometre travelled, which has not eventuated, as we saw above.

Note the 2015 projections do not include abatement measures – no prediction was made about the effect of abatement measures of which there are few in the transport space of which I am aware.

The only projection that included a decline in transport emissions was a 2012 scenario including a carbon price, which has since been abandoned by the Abbott Government.


Are congestion costs going to double? An analysis of vehicle kms in Australian cities

Tue 25 October, 2011

A frequently cited forecast is that the avoidable costs of congestion in Australia will double in most Australian cities between 2005 and 2020. These BITRE forecasts were published in 2007 (Working Paper 71), assuming continued strong growth in vehicle kms in our cities (“business-as-usual” conditions). But as this blog has demonstrated several times, transport trends have not been business-as-usual in recent years.

In August 2011, BITRE published revised estimates of vehicle kms in Australia (Report 124), derived from fuel sales data (using with fleet/fuel mix and fuel intensities etc).

How are we tracking with forecast traffic volumes?

I don’t have access to the complex model BITRE used to forecast congestion costs, but vehicle kilometres is an obvious major driver of congestion costs, and it is easy to compare the 2007 forecast (Working Paper 71) of vehicle kms in major cities with the most recent estimates of actuals (Report 124):

Consistent with other evidence, the growth in vehicle kilometres appears to be significantly below forecast. In 2007, BITRE assumed that city travel growth would fall to population growth rates, and that mode shares of travel would remain static. They also assumed world oil prices would peak at around US$65 in 2008 and drop to the low US$50s by 2011 (in 2004 dollars). None of these assumptions have played out in reality.

When looking at the components of the vehicle km estimates, the estimated actuals (in Report 124) for 2009-10 appear to be 15% lower than forecasts for cars and light commercial vehicles. For trucks, the 2009-10 estimated actual is around 8% lower than forecast.

To be fair, there was little evidence of the emerging mode shifts available at the time. That said, a BITRE forecast presented at ATRF in September 2011 showed a return to business as usual upwards growth, despite the last 6 years showing little growth.

What cost of congestion might we have avoided?

The relationship between travel volume and congestion costs is not linear. It is usually conceptually represented as an exponential curve. That is, a small reduction in traffic volumes will have a large impact on congestion costs (as evidenced each school holiday period where a claimed 5% reduction in traffic volumes has a significant impact on congestion levels).

While I am not equipped to do a robust calculation, the recent shift away from private car motoring is probably having a significant impact on the avoidable costs of congestion. Estimated actual capital city vehicle kms in 2010 (117.9 billion km) were just under the forecast for 2004 (118.2 billion km). The estimated cost of congestion for forecast 2004 vehicle km levels was $9.1b, while it 2010 it was forecast to be $12.9b. Road capacity has been increased in most cities between 2004 and 2010, which would reduce congestion costs for the same traffic volume, so the difference in 2010 between actual and forecast avoidable congestion costs might be in the order of around $3 billion.

So what is happening with vehicle kms per capita?

In another post, I used BITRE yearbook data on motorised passenger kms per capita. BITRE Report 124 only includes figures on vehicle (not passenger) kms, but they are still interesting figures.

And in response to requests from across the Tasman, I’ve added New Zealand’s one “big” city Auckland (data for ‘Auckland Region’ from their Transport Indicator Monitoring Framework, accessed October 2011).

Total vehicle kms per capita appear to be trending down in all Australian cities since around 2004/2005, with the sharpest drop in Melbourne in 2008-09. Auckland appears to be showing no such trend, with perhaps a flattening at best since 2005-06 (the vehicle km data is marked as under review, as is the public transport data which shows patronage growth of 25% in the four years to 2009-10).

Comparing values for different cities requires caution. The physical size of the urbanised area, and the administrative boundaries used to define cities will have an impact. For example, Adelaide shows up with lower vehicle kms per capita than Melbourne, even though it has much lower public transport mode share. The Adelaide urban area has a smaller footprint and is more constrained than Melbourne, which might explain this difference.

Car vehicle kms per capita appear to have peaked in either 2003-04 or 2004-05 in the five big cities, with Melbourne showing the biggest decline (a 14% decline since 2004-05).

The last two charts showed financial year estimates, but data is actually available at a quarterly level. I’ve created the following chart using simple interpolation of June estimates of residential population for each of the large Australian cities:

The underlying fuel data was actually seasonally adjusted, but there still appears to be some noise in the data (or the world may just be that variable, but I doubt it).

Vehicle use outside the big cities

What about traffic volumes in the rest of Australia? I’ve extracted the five big cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide) from the remainder:

The reduction in vehicle use does not appear to be limited to the big cities (most of which have seen strong growth in public transport). The trends for car km per capita outside the five cities are no different to overall vehicle use.

I should note: the report does not actually specify how vehicle kms for each state were split between capital city and other areas (section 8.2, citing unpublished data), but the fractions used were published.

What about total vehicle kms in cities?

While I like to look at per capita transport usage (everything is relative), it is instructive to look at trends in total volume as well. They provide some input into whether increased road capacity might be required, for example.

This charts shows that total vehicle kms in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide have been relatively flat since around 2004, while Auckland, Perth and Brisbane have shown continued growth. Perth and Brisbane show a downturn only in more recent times, but have had several years of declining vehicle kms per capita, the difference probably explained by stronger population growth.

How do BITRE Melbourne figures compare with VicRoads’ data?

Here is a chart comparing vehicle km index values for Melbourne from BITRE report 124, and an index created from annual growth figures reported in VicRoads Traffic Systems Performance Monitoring reports (with fully revised history):

A significant gap opens around 2003-04, but this substantially closes from 2008-09. Both datasets show a stabilisation of total traffic volumes, with BITRE data stabilising one year later than for VicRoads. BITRE aimed to estimate total metropolitan traffic, while the VicRoads figures are based on a defined set of monitored roads that might not reflect total traffic, particularly in growth areas on the fringe.

(Note: I did a similar comparison of VicRoads data to BITRE Working Paper 71 estimates of actuals in an earlier post).

In conclusion

  • There is strong evidence that “business-as-usual” growth in vehicle kms is just not happening in Australian cities, and thus the 2007 forecast doubling of congestion costs by 2020 is very unlikely to play out.
  • The dampened growth in travel demand is probably saving the economy a few billion in avoidable congestion costs, and has implications on the need for multi-billion dollar expansions of road capacity (though changes in demand will not be uniform across road networks).
  • I’d also suggest it is important that planners and policy makers understand why travel demand trends have changed so significantly, and apply this understanding to forecasts of future demand.
I’d like to acknowledge BITRE for conducting the excellent work that went into Report 124 and making the data publicly available, without which this analysis would not have been possible.