There are plenty of cliches around Australian trucking but the reality is very different. Shipping Australia recently wheeled out the tired and outdated idea that trucking is one of the worst environmental offenders. In fact, the Australian trucking industry is actually an environmental leader.
Let’s look at the evidence. Over the past three decades, Australia’s truck fleets have grown and there’s been a big jump in the number of kilometres trucks travel. However, over the same time period, there’s been a significant reduction in the air pollution from heavy vehicles.
This has been achieved by industry investing in newer, cleaner trucks – often well ahead of government regulation.
The trucking industry has proven we can grow our economy and improve our environment at the same time. Now we need government to do its bit so that Australia can embrace the benefits of net zero emission heavy vehicles.
Increasing the use of zero emission trucks would enable the trucking industry to drive down emissions, grow the economy, take advantage of lower running costs and reduce our reliance on volatile diesel costs – replaced with Aussie-made renewable energy.
But we’re falling behind and Australia is running out of excuses for our go-slow approach to zero emission trucks.
At COP27, the United States has signed the Global Memorandum of Understanding for zero emission trucks and buses.
The MoU sets a clear ambition to achieve 30 per cent zero emission truck sales by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2040.
This is a major development. It’s one thing for a small country to embrace zero emission heavy vehicles but it’s a whole other thing when a country as big as the US gets on board.
Like Australia, the US is a huge country with vast distances that pose challenges for zero emission vehicles.
However, with the stroke of a pen, the US has shown Australia the way.
The US is the world’s largest economy, with significant truck manufacturing, so this is a huge shift.
It’s worth remembering that despite Australia’s image as the ‘wide brown land’, not every Australian truck is carrying heavy loads across long distances.
In fact, over half our trucks operate in urban regions.
Electric trucks are ready to enter Australia’s urban supply chains today, but we’re not adopting them at the same rate as other comparable countries.
Of course, it will be challenging for zero emission heavy vehicles to travel longer distances across Australia and that’s where hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks will be critical.
Our trucking industry is well positioned to be global leaders for the use of hydrogen.
The recent federal budget has delivered much needed commitments to the Driving the Nation Fund and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.
The Albanese government has also taken the critical and necessary decision to mandate Euro VI and equivalent emission standards for trucks.
However, we need a plan to enable the trucking industry to adopt zero emission vehicles where it makes sense.
Our slow transition to zero emission trucks – with limited trucks, limited models, and limited market volume – is a result of regulatory, financial and infrastructure barriers.
These barriers are entirely fixable.
Solutions include reforms to vehicle design rules, investments in electric truck recharging and hydrogen truck refuelling infrastructure and implementing a purchase price incentive.
A clear statement of ambition on zero emission trucks would send a bold message of action to both bureaucrats and industry.
Zero emission trucks will enable our economy to continue to grow while we drive down carbon emissions from transport.
Australia must get in the fast lane and sign the global memorandum or risk being left behind.
- Samuel Marks is a senior advisor at the Australian Trucking Association