Own a bike you never ride? We need to learn how to fail better at active transport



Many rarely used bikes end up languishing in the shed.
peace baby/Shutterstock

Glen Fuller, University of Canberra; Gordon Waitt, University of Wollongong; Ian Buchanan, University of Wollongong; Tess Lea, University of Sydney, and Theresa Harada, University of Wollongong

Once upon a time when something was simple to do we said: “It’s as easy as riding a bike.” But switching from driving a car to riding a bike as one’s main means of transport is anything but easy.

The well-documented obstacles holding people back from cycling include a lack of proper bike lanes, secure parking arrangements, end-of-trip facilities and bike-friendly public transport, as well as lack of convenient storage space.




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Despite these obstacles, people continue to try to make cycling a central part of their lives, with varying degrees of success.

While we know broadly what the impediments are, we don’t know how individuals confront them over time. We tend to approach this issue as an “all or nothing” affair – either people cycle or they don’t. Research is often framed in terms of cyclists and non-cyclists.

But, for most people, our research tells us it is a gradual process of transformation, with setbacks as well as small victories. The hesitant maybe-cyclist of today is potentially the fully committed cyclist of tomorrow. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

We have taken a lead from research into smoking, which sees failed quit attempts not as failures but as necessary steps on the road to success. Part of our research is interested in the faltering starts people make in transitioning from motor vehicles to bikes. Our aim is to help identify new intervention points for cycling policy.

Cycling enthusiast Samuel Beckett aptly summed up this in Worstward Ho:

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Where the bike is kept is telling

Our question is: how can we fail better? Building on research with 58 cyclists in the Wollongong region, we recently shifted our emphasis to another local government area, the City of Sydney.

We focused on people who want to cycle but have mostly failed so far. We carried out in-depth qualitative interviews with 12 participants, following up each with a go-along, where participants guide us through their regular travel routes.

To date, all participants convey good intentions to incorporate cycling into their lives. All say they want to resume cycling, yet none have succeeded.

These bikes near the front door of a student share house are almost certainly ridden often.
cbamber85/Flickr, CC BY

Their attempts were inhibited by commonplace issues: lost confidence in their abilities, less enjoyment of cycling because of congestion, and experiences of a car accident or a near miss.

Our research has found that where bicycles are stored is a reliable indicator of the changing value of the bicycle in an individual’s everyday life. One can pinpoint where someone is in the course of their starting-to-cycle journey by locating where their bike is kept.

When things are going well the bike is near the front door ready for immediate use. As things get difficult, the bike migrates from the front to the back of the house, to languish in a spare room or the shed, before finally being put out on the curb as hard rubbish (or for “freecycling”).




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People take to their bikes when we make it safer and easier for them


Storage is a key obstacle

Contrary to interpretations of data indicating inner-city residents are the most likely to cycle, we have found participants who live in small, inner-city dwellings face daunting storage issues that all too often defeat them. They have told us about storing the bicycle inconveniently inside the house, wedged in dining rooms, hallways and bedrooms.

The search for a place to store the bike increased the inconvenience of using it for transport until finally the bike was locked away, kept only as a sign of ongoing intention and hope. This inconvenience defeats successive start attempts before they’re seriously able to be revived.

Lack of convenient storage is a serious obstacle to becoming a regular bike rider.
Author provided

For example, Greg (37) confirms the “pain” of poor storage options discourages him from riding more regularly:

So it’s called the room under the stairs, according to the real estate agent. I don’t know how … And that’s partly the pain of taking it out. I would take it out more often, but every time I have to take it out I have to delicately wheel it here where you are. And sometimes scratch the wall, and then out through the door and gate … I would keep it outside, but my partner won’t let me because he thinks it will be stolen. I would ride more if it was just there, and I’d hop on and off.“

Urban design for convenience matters

The languishing bike prompts us to ask questions about the urban design of convenience. It’s a key element of any active transport policy that aims to promote cycling and walking.

Something as simple as lockable bike hangars on residential streets might liberate intentions into actions. Such facilities would be everyday visual reminders to cycle and an added symbol that cars are not the only way of occupying roads.

Bicycle lockers on the street, like these ones in Dublin, Ireland, are a visible sign of a cycle-friendly culture.
Arnieby/Shutterstock



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We invite others who have started this journey to share and celebrate their stories of failing better, particularly those in the City of Sydney, by participating in our research.The Conversation

Glen Fuller, Associate Professor Communications and Media, University of Canberra; Gordon Waitt, Professor of Geography, University of Wollongong; Ian Buchanan, Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Wollongong; Tess Lea, Associate Professor, Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney, and Theresa Harada, Research Fellow at Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Feeling flight shame? Try quitting air travel and catch a sail boat



Regina Maris, the ship activists will sail to a climate conference in Chile.
Sail to the COP

Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

If you’ve caught a long haul flight recently, you generated more carbon emissions than a person living in some developing countries emits in an entire year.

If that fact doesn’t ruffle you, consider this: worldwide, 7.8 billion passengers are expected to travel in 2036 – a near doubling of current numbers. If business as usual continues, one analysis says the aviation sector alone could emit one-quarter of the world’s remaining carbon budget – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions allowed if global temperature rise is to stay below 1.5℃.

The world urgently needs a transport system that allows people to travel around the planet without destroying it.

A group of European climate activists are sending this message to world leaders by sailing, rather than flying, to a United Nations climate conference in Chile in December.

The Sail to the COP initiative follows Greta Thunberg’s high-profile sea voyage to attend last month’s United Nations climate summit in New York. The activists are not arguing global yacht travel is the new normal – in fact therein lies the problem. We need to find viable alternatives to fossil-fuelled air travel, and fast.

Greta Thunberg onboard the racing boat Malizia II in the Atlantic Ocean on her journey to New York last month.
AAP



Read more:
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Why aviation emissions matter

A study conducted for the European Parliament has warned that if action to reduce flight emissions is further postponed, international aviation may be responsible for 22% of global carbon emissions by 2050 – up from about 2.5% now. This increasing share would occur because aviation emissions are set to grow, while other sectors will emit less.

In Australia, aviation underpins many aspects of business, trade and tourism.

The below image from global flight tracking service Flightradar24 shows the number of planes over Australia at the time of writing.

A screen shot from Flightradar24 showing the flights over Australia at the time of writing.
Flightradar24

Federal government figures show the civil aviation sector, domestic and international, contributed 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions in 2016.

The number of passenger movements from all Australian airports is set to increase by 3.7% a year by 2030-31, to almost 280 million.

To change, start with a jet fuel tax

While airlines are taking some action to cut carbon emissions, such as introducing newer and more fuel efficient aircraft, the measures are not enough to offset the expected growth in passenger numbers. And major technological leaps such as electric aircraft are decades away from commercial reality.

Emissions from international flights cannot easily be attributed to any single country, and no country wants to count them as their own. This means that international civil aviation is not regulated under the Paris Agreement. Instead, responsibility has been delegated to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).




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The Sail to the COP initiative is calling for several actions. First, they say jet fuel should be taxed. At present it isn’t – meaning airlines are not paying for their environmental damage. This also puts more sustainable transport alternatives, which do pay tax, at a disadvantage.

Research suggests a global carbon tax on jet fuel would be the most efficient way to achieve climate goals.

But instead, in 2016 ICAO established a global scheme for carbon offsetting in international aviation. Under the plan, airlines will have to pay for emissions reduction in other sectors to offset any increase in their own emissions after 2020.




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Greta Thunberg made it to New York emissions-free – but the ocean doesn’t yet hold the key to low-carbon travel


Critics say the strategy will not have a significant impact – pointing out, for example, that the aviation industry is aiming to only stabilise its emissions, not reduce them.

In contrast, the international shipping sector has pledged to halve its emissions by 2050, based on 2008 levels. Some small shipping companies are even using zero-emissions sail propulsion as a sustainable means of cargo transport.

Sail to the COP is also seeking to promote other sustainable ways of travelling such as train, boat, bus or bike. It says aviation taxes are key to this, because it would encourage growth in other transport modes and make it easier for people to to make a sustainable transport choice.

A growing number of people around the world are already making better choices.
In Thunberg’s native Sweden for example, the term “flygskam” – or flight shame – is used to describe the the feeling of being ashamed to take a flight due to its environmental impact. The movement has reportedly led to a rising number of Swedes catching a train for domestic trips.

Can we sail beyond nostalgia?

Many will dismiss the prospect of a revival in sea travel as romantic but unrealistic. And to some extent they are right. Sailing vessels cannot meet current demand in terms of speed or capacity. But perhaps excessive travel consumption is part of the problem.

The late sociologist John Urry has outlined a number of possible futures in a world of oil scarcity.

One is a shift to a low-carbon, and low-travel, society, in which we would “live smaller, live closer, and drive less”. Urry argues we may be less rich, but not necessarily less happy.

Meantime, the challenges for passenger ocean travel remain many. Not least, it can be slow and uncomfortable – Thunberg likened it to “camping on a rollercoaster”.




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But one Sail to the COP organiser, Jeppe Bijker, thinks it’s an option worth exploring. He developed the Sailscanner tool where users can check if sailing ships are taking their desired route, or request one.

A trip from the Netherlands to Uruguay takes 69 days, at an average speed of 5km/hour.

Some ships might require you to help out with sailing. Other passengers may be required to work look-out shifts. Of course, some passengers may become seasick.

But the site also lists the advantages. You can travel to faraway places without creating a huge carbon footprint. You have time to relax. And out on the open water, you experience the magnitude of the Earth and seas.The Conversation

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Get set for take-off in electric aircraft, the next transport disruption


Jake Whitehead, The University of Queensland and Michael Kane, Curtin University

Move aside electric cars, another disruption set to occur in the next decade is being ignored in current Australian transport infrastructure debates: electric aviation. Electric aircraft technology is rapidly developing locally and overseas, with the aim of potentially reducing emissions and operating costs by over 75%. Other countries are already planning for 100% electric short-haul plane fleets within a couple of decades.

Australia relies heavily on air transport. The country has the most domestic airline seats per person in the world. We have also witnessed flight passenger numbers double over the past 20 years.

Infrastructure projects are typically planned 20 or more years ahead. This makes it more important than ever that we start to adopt a disruptive lens in planning. It’s time to start accounting for electric aviation if we are to capitalise on its potential economic and environmental benefits.




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What can these aircraft do?

There are two main types of electric aircraft: short-haul planes and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles, including drones.

The key issue affecting the uptake of electric aircraft is the need to ensure enough battery energy density to support commercial flights. While some major impediments are still to be overcome, we are likely to see short-haul electric flights locally before 2030. Small, two-to-four-seat, electric planes are already flying in Australia today.

An electric plane service has been launched in Perth.

A scan of global electric aircraft development suggests rapid advancements are likely over the coming decade. By 2022, nine-seat planes could be doing short-haul (500-1,000km) flights. Before 2030, small-to-medium 150-seat planes could be flying up to 500 kilometres. Short-range (100250 km) VTOL aircraft could also become viable in the 2020s.

If these breakthroughs occur, we could see small, commercial, electric aircraft operating on some of Australia’s busiest air routes, including Sydney-Melbourne or Brisbane, as well as opening up new, cost-effective travel routes to and from regional Australia.

Possible short-haul electric aircraft ranges of 500km and 1,000km around Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Author provided

Why go electric?

In addition to new export opportunities, as shown by MagniX, electric aviation could greatly reduce the financial and environmental costs of air transport in Australia.

Two major components of current airline costs
are fuel (27%) and maintenance (11%). Electric aircraft could deliver significant price reductions through reduced energy and maintenance costs.

Short-haul electric aircraft are particularly compelling given the inherent energy efficiency, simplicity and longevity of the battery-powered motor and drivetrain. No alternative fuel sources can deliver the same level of savings.

With conventional planes, a high-passenger, high-frequency model comes with a limiting environmental cost of burning fuel. Smaller electric aircraft can avoid the fuel costs and emissions resulting from high-frequency service models. This can lead to increased competition between airlines and between airports, further lowering costs.




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What are the implications of this disruption?

Air transport is generally organised in combinations of hub-and-spoke or point-to-point models. Smaller, more energy-efficient planes encourage point-to-point flights, which can also be the spokes on long-haul hub models. This means electric aircraft could lead to higher-frequency services, enabling more competitive point-to-point flights, and increase the dispersion of air services to smaller airports.

While benefiting smaller airports, electric aircraft could also improve the efficiency of some larger constrained airports.

For example, Australia’s largest airport, Sydney Airport, is efficient in both operations and costs. However, due to noise and pollution, physical and regulatory constraints – mainly aircraft movement caps and a curfew – can lead to congestion. With a significant number of sub-1,000km flights originating from Sydney, low-noise, zero-emission, electric aircraft could overcome some of these constraints, increasing airport efficiency and lowering costs.

The increased availability of short-haul, affordable air travel could actively compete with other transport services, including high-speed rail (HSR). Alternatively, if the planning of HSR projects takes account of electric aviation, these services could improve connectivity at regional rail hubs. This could strengthen the business cases for HSR projects by reducing the number of stops and travel times, and increasing overall network coverage.

Synchronised air and rail services could improve connections for travellers.
Chuyuss/Shutterstock

What about air freight?

Electric aircraft could also help air freight. International air freight volumes have increased by 80% in the last 20 years. Electric aircraft provide an opportunity to efficiently transport high-value products to key regional transport hubs, as well as directly to consumers via VTOL vehicles or drones.

If properly planned, electric aviation could complement existing freight services, including road, sea and air services. This would reduce the overall cost of transporting high-value goods.

Plan now for the coming disruption

Electric aircraft could significantly disrupt short-haul air transport within the next decade. How quickly will this technology affect conventional infrastructure? It is difficult to say given the many unknown factors. The uncertainties include step-change technologies, such as solid-state batteries, that could radically
accelerate the uptake and capabilities of electric aircraft.

What we do know today is that Australia is already struggling with disruptive technological changes in energy, telecommunications and even other transport segments. These challenges highlight the need to start taking account of disruptive technology when planning infrastructure. Where we see billions of dollars being invested in technological transformation, we need to assume disruption is coming.

With electric aircraft we have some time to prepare, so let’s not fall behind the eight ball again – as has happened with electric cars – and start to plan ahead.




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The Conversation


Jake Whitehead, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland and Michael Kane, Research Associate, Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute,, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Four ways our cities can cut transport emissions in a hurry: avoid, shift, share and improve


File 20181122 161615 146fgwv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Urgent and radical change in urban transport policies and practices will benefit the planet and future generations.
blurAZ/Shutterstock

Hussein Dia, Swinburne University of Technology

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned that global warming could reach 1.5℃ as early as 2030. The landmark report by leading scientists urged nations to do more to avert an impending crisis.

We have 12 years, the report said, to contain greenhouse gas emissions. This includes serious efforts to reduce transport emissions.




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In Australia, transport is the third-largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for around 17% of emissions.
Passenger cars account for around half of our transport emissions.

The transport sector is also one of the strongest factors in emissions growth in Australia. Emissions from transport have increased nearly 60% since 1990more than any other sector. Australia is ranked 20th out of 25 of the largest energy-using countries for transport energy efficiency.

Cities around the world have many opportunities to reduce emissions. But this requires renewed thinking and real commitment to change.

Our planet can’t survive our old transport habits

Past (and still current) practices in urban and transport planning are fundamental causes of the transport problems we face today.

Over the past half-century, cities worldwide have grown rapidly, leading to urban sprawl. The result was high demand for motorised transport and, in turn, increased emissions.

The traffic gridlock on roads and motorways was the catalyst for most transport policy responses during that period. The solution prescribed for most cities was to build out of congestion by providing more infrastructure for private vehicles. Limited attention was given to managing travel demand or improving other modes of transport.




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Equating mobility with building more roads nurtured a tendency towards increased motorisation, reinforcing an ever-increasing inclination to expand the road network. The result was a range of unintended adverse environmental, social and economic consequences. Most of these are rooted in the high priority given to private vehicles.

What are the opportunities to change?

The various strategies to move our cities in the right direction can be grouped into four broad categories: avoid, shift, share, and improve. Major policy, behaviour and technology changes are required to make these strategies work.

Avoid strategies aim to slow the growth of travel. They include initiatives to reduce trip lengths, such as high-density and mixed land use developments. Other options decrease private vehicle travel – for example, through car/ride sharing and congestion pricing. And teleworking and e-commerce help people avoid private car trips altogether.




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Shanghai’s Hongqiao transport hub is a unique example of an integrated air, rail and mixed land use development. It combines Hongqiao’s airport, metro subway lines, and regional high-speed rail. A low-carbon residential and commercial precinct surrounds the hub.

Layout of Shanghai Hongqiao integrated transport hub.
Peng & Shen (2016)/Researchgate, CC BY

Shift strategies encourage travellers to switch from private vehicles to public transport, walking and cycling. This includes improving bus routes and service frequency.

Pricing strategies that discourage private vehicles and encourage other modes of transport can also be effective. Policies that include incentives that make electric vehicles more affordable have been shown to encourage the shift.

Norway is an undisputed world leader in electric vehicle uptake. Nearly a third of all new cars sold in 2017 were a plug-in model. The electric vehicle market share was expected to be as much as 40% within a year.

An electric vehicle charging station in the Norwegian capital Oslo.
Softulka/Shutterstock



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Share strategies affect car ownership. New sharing economy businesses are already moving people, goods and services. Shared mobility, rather than car ownership, is providing city dwellers with a real alternative.

This trend is likely to continue and will pose significant challenges to car ownership models.

Uber claims that its carpooling service in Mumbai saved 936,000 litres of fuel and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2,662 metric tonnes within one year. It also reports that UberPool in London achieved a reduction of more than 1.1 million driving kilometres in just six months.

UberPool is available in inner Melbourne suburbs. Trip must begin and end in this area.
Uber

Improve strategies promote the use of technologies to optimise performance of transport modes and intelligent infrastructure. These include intelligent transport systems, urban information technologies and emerging solutions such as autonomous mobility.

Our research shows that sharing 80% of autonomous vehicles will reduce net emissions by up to 20%. The benefits increase with wider adoption of autonomous shared electric vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles can offer first- and last-kilometre solutions, especially in outer suburbs with limited public transport services.
Monopoly919/Shutterstock



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Utopia or nightmare? The answer lies in how we embrace self-driving, electric and shared vehicles


The urgency and benefits of steering our cities towards a path of low-carbon mobility are unmistakable. This was recognised in the past but progress has been slow. Today, the changing context for how we build future cities – smart, healthy and low-carbon – presents new opportunities.

If well planned and implemented, these four interventions will collectively achieve transport emission reduction targets. They will also improve access to the jobs and opportunities that are preconditions for sound economic development in cities around the world.The Conversation

Hussein Dia, Chair, Department of Civil and Construction Engineering, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why our carbon emission policies don’t work on air travel



File 20180703 116129 1xj9a0q.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Gillard government’s carbon price had no effect on the aviation industry.
Shutterstock

Francis Markham, Australian National University; Arianne C. Reis, Western Sydney University; James Higham, and Martin Young, Southern Cross University

The federal government’s National Energy Guarantee aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity industry by 26% of 2005 levels. But for Australia to meet its Paris climate change commitments, this 26% reduction will need to be replicated economy-wide.

In sectors such as aviation this is going to be very costly, if not impossible. Our modelling of the carbon price introduced by the Gillard government shows it had no detectable effect on kilometres flown and hence carbon emitted, despite being levied at A$23-$24 per tonne.

If Australia is to meet its Paris climate commitments, the National Energy Guarantee target will need to be raised or radical measures will be required, such as putting a hard cap on emissions in sectors such as aviation.




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Our analysis of domestic aviation found no correlation between the Gillard government’s carbon price and domestic air travel, even when adjusting statistically for other factors that influence the amount Australians fly.

This is despite the carbon price being very effective at reducing emissions in the energy sector.

To reduce aviation emissions, a carbon price must either make flying less carbon intensive, or make people fly less.

In theory, a carbon tax should improve carbon efficiency by increasing the costs of polluting technologies and systems, relative to less polluting alternatives. If this is not possible, a carbon price might reduce emissions by making air travel more expensive, thereby encouraging people to either travel less or use alternative modes of transport.

Why the carbon price failed to reduce domestic aviation

The cost of air travel has fallen dramatically over the last 25 years. As the chart below shows, economy air fares in Australia in 2018 are just 55% of the average cost in 1992 (after adjusting for inflation).

Given this dramatic reduction in fares, many consumers would not have noticed a small increase in prices due to the carbon tax. Qantas, for example, increased domestic fares by between A$1.82 and A$6.86.

The carbon price may have just been too small to reduce consumer demand – even when passed on to consumers in full.

Consumer demand may have actually been increased by the Clean Energy Future policy, which included household compensation.




Read more:
Carbon pricing is still the best way to cut emissions, if we get it right


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/CJiPw/2/

The cost of jet fuel, which accounts for between 30 and 40% of total airline expenses, has fluctuated dramatically over the last decade.

As the chart below shows, oil were around USD$80-$100 per barrel during the period of the carbon price, but had fallen to around USD$50 per barrel just a year later.

Airlines manage these large fluctuations by absorbing the cost or passing them on through levies. Fare segmentation and dynamic pricing also make ticket prices difficult to predict and understand.

Compared to the volatility in the cost of fuel, the carbon price was negligible.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/QssWQ/1/

The carbon price was also unlikely to have been fully passed through to consumers as Virgin and Qantas were engaged in heavy competition at the time, also known as the “capacity wars”.

This saw airlines running flights at well below profitable passenger loads in order to gain market share. It also meant the airlines stopped passing on the carbon price to customers.




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A carbon price could incentivise airlines to reduce emissions by improving their management systems or changing plane technology. But such an incentive already existed in 2012-2014, in the form of high fuel prices.

A carbon price would only provide an additional incentive over and above high fuel prices if there is an alternative, non-taxed form of energy to switch to. This is the case for electricity generators, who can switch to solar or wind power.

But more efficient aeroplane materials, engines and biofuels are more myth than reality.

What would meeting Australia’s Paris commitment require?

Given the failure of the carbon price to reduce domestic air travel, there are two possibilities to reduce aviation emissions by 26% on 2005 levels.

The first is to insist on reducing emissions across all industry sectors. In the case of aviation, the modest A$23-$24 per tonne carbon price did not work.

Hard caps on emissions will be needed. Given the difficulty of technological change, this will require that people fly less.

The second option is to put off reducing aviation emissions and take advantage of more viable sources of emissions reduction elsewhere.

By increasing the National Energy Guarantee target to well above 26%, the emission reductions in the energy sector could offset a lack of progress in aviation. This is the most economically efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions, but does little to reduce carbon pollution from aviation specifically.

The ConversationAirline emissions are likely to remain a difficult problem, but one that needs to be tackled if we’re to stay within habitable climate limits.

Francis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University; Arianne C. Reis, Senior lecturer, Western Sydney University; James Higham, Professor of Tourism, and Martin Young, Associate Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Massive road and rail projects could be Africa’s greatest environmental challenge


Bill Laurance, James Cook University

Africa’s natural environments and spectacular wildlife are about to face their biggest challenge ever. In a paper published today in Current Biology, my colleagues and I assess the dramatic environmental changes that will be driven by an infrastructure-expansion scheme so sweeping in scope, it is dwarfing anything the Earth’s biggest continent has ever been forced to endure.

People, food and mining

Africa’s population is exploding – expected nearly to quadruple this century, according to the United Nations. With that, comes an escalating need to improve food production and food security.

In addition, Africa today is experiencing a frenzy of mining activity, with most of the investment coming from overseas. China, for instance, is investing over US$100 billion annually, with India, Brazil, Canada and Australia also being big foreign investors.

To feed its growing population and move its minerals to shipping ports for export, Africa needs better roads and railroads. When located in the right places, improved transportation can do a lot of good. It makes it easier for farmers to get access to fertiliser and new farming technologies, and cheaper to get crops to urban markets with less spoilage. It can also encourage rural investment while improving livelihoods, access to health services, and education for local residents.

Improved transportation is especially important for Africa’s agriculture, which is badly under-performing. In many areas, large “yield gaps” exist between what could be produced under ideal conditions and what is actually being produced. With better farming, Africa’s yields could be doubled or even tripled without clearing one more hectare of land.

Using rudimentary methods, small-scale farmers eke out a living in Gabon.
William Laurance

Pandora’s box

However, there is another side to new transportation projects — a dark side, especially for the environment. When located in areas with high environmental values, new roads or railroads can open a Pandora’s box of problems.

Roads slicing into remote areas can lead to range of legal and illegal human land uses. For instance, in the Amazon, 95% of all deforestation occurs within five kilometres of a road; and for every kilometre of legal road there are three kilometres of illegal roads. In the Congo Basin, forest elephants decline sharply, and signs of hunters and poachers increase, up to 50 kilometres from roads.

A forest elephant shot by poachers.
Ralph Buij

In the wrong places, roads can facilitate invasions of natural areas by illegal miners, colonists, loggers and land speculators. In my view, the explosive expansion of roads today is probably the greatest single peril to the world’s natural environments and wildlife.

Africa’s ‘development corridors’

Earlier studies that my colleagues and I conducted, including a major study published in Nature last year, suggest Africa is likely to be a global epicentre of environmental conflict. A key reason: an unprecedented scheme to dramatically expand African roads, railroads and energy infrastructure.

In total, we have identified 33 massive “development corridors” that are being proposed or are underway. At the heart of each corridor is a road or railroad, sometimes accompanied by a pipeline or power line.

The 33 development corridors that are being proposed or constructed in sub-Saharan Afirca.
William F. Laurance et al. (2015) Current Biology.

The projects have a variety of proponents, including the African Development Bank, national governments, international donors and lenders, and commercial agricultural and mining interests. They’re intended to promote large-scale development and their scope is breathtaking.

If completed in their entirety, the corridors will total over 53,000 kilometres in length, crisscrossing the African continent. Some individual corridors are over 4,000 kilometres long.

Will these corridors generate key social and economic benefits, or will they cause great environmental harm? To address this question, we looked at three factors, focusing on a 50-kilometre-wide band laid over the top of each corridor.

First, we assessed the “natural values” of each corridor, by combining data on its biodiversity, endangered species, critical habitats for wildlife, and the carbon storage and climate-regulating benefits of its native vegetation.

Second, we mapped human populations near each corridor, using satellite data to detect nightlights from human settlements (to avoid lands that were simply being burned, we included only places with “persistent” nightlights). We then combined the natural-value and population data to generate a conservation-value score for each corridor, reasoning that sparsely populated areas with high natural values have the greatest overall conservation value.

Finally, we estimated the potential for new roads or railroads to increase food production. Areas that scored highly had soils and climates suitable for farming but large yield gaps, were within several hours’ drive of a city or port, and were projected to see large future increases in food demand.

Costs versus benefits

When we compared the conservation value of each corridor with its potential agricultural benefits, we found huge variation among the corridors.

A two-minute video summary of our study’s main findings

A half dozen of the corridors look like a really good idea, with large benefits and limited environmental costs. However, another half dozen seem like a really bad idea, in that they’d damage critical environments, especially rainforests of the Congo Basin and West Africa and biologically rich equatorial savanna regions.

In the middle, there are 20 or so corridors that appear “marginal”. These tend to have high environmental values and high potential agricultural benefits, or vice versa.

We argue that these marginal projects should be evaluated in detail, on a case-by-case basis. If they do proceed, it should only happen under the most stringent conditions, with careful environmental assessment and land-use planning, and with specific measures in place (such as new protected areas) to limit or mitigate their impacts.

Dangers for Africa

There’s no such thing as a free ride. For Africa, the dangers of the development corridors are profound. Even if well executed, we estimate that the current avalanche of corridors would slice through over 400 protected areas and could easily degrade another 2,000 or so. This bodes poorly for Africa’s wildlife and biodiversity generally.

Wild zebras in the Serengeti.
William Laurance

Beyond this, the corridors will encourage human migration into many sparsely populated areas with high environmental values. The wild card in all this is the hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investments pouring into Africa each year for mining. Even if a corridor is likely to yield only modest benefits for food production, it may be very difficult for governments and decision makers to say no to big mining investors.

The bottom line: it could be a fraught battle to stop even ill-advised development corridors, though not impossible. If we shine a bright light on the corridors and argue strongly that those with limited benefits and large costs are a bad idea, we may succeed in stopping or at least delaying some of the worst of them.

This is unquestionably a vital endeavour. Africa is changing faster than any continent has ever changed in human history, and it is facing unprecedented socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

The next few decades will be crucial. We could promote relatively sustainable and equitable development — or end up with an impoverished continent whose iconic natural values and wildlife have been irretrievably lost.

The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Without a global deal, US curbs on airline emissions are hot air


David Hodgkinson, University of Western Australia and Rebecca Johnston, University of Notre Dame Australia

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issued a “proposed finding” that greenhouses gases from aviation pose a danger to the health and welfare of current and future generations. It could pave the way for regulations to limit domestic US aircraft emissions – but there are plenty of hurdles still to jump before that happens.

The EPA already regulates aircraft pollution such as engine smoke, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide – and has done so for more than 30 years. So on the face of it, its new finding that greenhouse gases “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare” makes it sound like it will be a straightforward matter to add carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the list.

Using the EPA to rule on emissions-reduction issues is a tactic that the Obama administration has used several times recently. The new finding on aviation follows similar reports on emissions from road haulage
and power plants.

High-flying problems

Aviation is the most emissions-intensive form of transport, and also the fastest-growing source of emissions in the transport sector. What’s more, those emissions are essentially unregulated. This means that emissions from aviation are increasing against a background of decreasing emissions (or at least, against a background of emissions regulation) from many other industry sectors.

Based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculations, aviation accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse emissions, although the figure could be as low as 2% or as high as 8%. If the aviation industry was a country, its carbon dioxide emissions would be ranked about 7th, between Germany and South Korea.

Air travel continues to grow at 4-5% per year, and although emissions from domestic flights are regulated under many countries’ existing greenhouse gas targets, international aviation emissions are not covered by any agreement.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, emissions from international flights are the responsibility of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Aviation is excluded from international climate policy; the problem is left to the industry to resolve, and none of the more than 3,500 bilateral air service agreements in place across the world addresses the question of emissions.

A UK study found that even if the expanding industry were to implement the “maximum feasible reductions” in emissions through changes to technology and operating procedures, total emissions from the sector may still roughly double by 2050, depending on growth.

Learning from Europe’s aviation debacle

The new US regulations will not attempt to include overseas airlines in its regulatory reach – something the European Union tried and failed when it attempted to incorporate overseas airlines into its Emissions Trading Scheme from 2012.

To head off that action, the US Congress in 2011 passed legislation, which President Obama signed, prohibiting US aircraft operators from participating in the EU scheme, essentially making it illegal for US airlines to comply with EU law.

The result was that the EU backed down, and announced that it would freeze the inclusion of international aviation in its ETS, offering instead to “stop the clock” and allow the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to address the problem of regulation.

This time around, the US regulations would apply to private and scheduled flights on domestic routes, as well as international flights by US carriers, but not to non-US airlines flying routes into the United States.

This may sound like progress, particularly for a country with such a large domestic aviation market. But there is yet another reason why this is only progress on paper, for now.

I’ll do it if you do it

The US EPA has stated that its proposed regulations will only be implemented if international standards for emissions are agreed by ICAO. That’s a problem, because since 1997 the ICAO has failed to agree on any kind of solid approach to the issue.

In 2013, the ICAO Assembly reached a consensus agreement to proceed with a roadmap towards a decision on a global market-based mechanism at the next assembly in 2016, for implementation in 2020. It is the kind of “agreement to agree” that the world is growing rather used to on matters of climate policy.

EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality director Christopher Grundler said that the United States wants to wait until there are international standards, because this “will achieve the most reductions [in emissions]”. And Airlines for America’s Nancy Young has described it as “critical” for the industry that agreement should be international.

On one view, then, this is simply the illusion of progress. It suggests that the US regulations are a long way from coming into force, given that the rest of the world – through the ICAO – is making no real or immediate progress.

The reality is that implementation of rules to hold the aviation industry to account for its emissions is still years away.

The Conversation

David Hodgkinson is Associate Professor at University of Western Australia.
Rebecca Johnston is Adjunct Lecturer, Law School at University of Notre Dame Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.