Signposts on the road to sustainable transport infrastructure

by Ainsley Simpson, Chief Executive Officer, Infrastructure Sustainability Council

KPMG, together with the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, Roads Australia, the Australasian Railway Association, Arup and other partners, recently released its report The journey to net zero, exploring the way forward for Australia’s infrastructure to meet future sustainability challenges.

Melbourne’s West Gate Tunnel project does more than renovate a road. It also includes Australia’s first veloway, a 2.5km elevated and gated path that connects cyclists to a direct route from Footscray to Melbourne’s CBD.

Sydney’s first metro line, the North West Rail Link, does more than get people from point A to point B. Since opening in May 2019, over 83,000 tonnes of carbon emissions have been offset through a power purchase agreement with a new solar farm in the area. New South Wales which created 150 jobs.

And the Mordialloc Highway not only provides safer and more reliable travel for people traveling between the Mornington Peninsula and southeast Melbourne. Dubbed Australia’s greenest highway, the 9km route features 800,000 tonnes of recycled and reused materials, including the world’s first recycled plastic noise barrier.

These are just three inspiring signposts on the path to sustainable transport infrastructure – a future in which we reduce emissions and enjoy a multitude of co-benefits, from connected communities, cleaner air, regional jobs or healthier cities.

But with 70% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions influenced by infrastructure, our challenge is as huge as our carbon footprint. Transportation is one of our hard-to-reduce sectors. Around 18.3% of Australia’s emissions come from transport, and road and rail emissions are on the rise.

Some of these emissions are intrinsic and are the consequence of the materials, products and energy needed to build and maintain our transportation infrastructure. A much larger percentage comes from how we use transport – the choices, lifestyles and economies that are so dependent on carbon-intensive modes of mobility.

Fast facts

» 70% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are influenced by infrastructure
» 18.3% of Australia’s emissions come from the transport sector
» Transport emissions are projected to increase from 92 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2020 to 100 MtCO2e by 2030

Source: The Journey to Net Zero, 2021.

Beyond business as usual

Road and rail have always influenced the shape of our cities and regional centres. Transportation innovations of the past have helped us get around faster and more efficiently, while improving the health of our cities and changing daily commutes.

But as Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association observes, “The sea change we need to achieve in the years to come is perhaps both our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity”.

Despite the COVID-19-induced migration pause, Australia is expected to grow from its current 26 million to 29.3 million in just five years. Population growth, increasing congestion, resource constraints and a range of environmental impacts are converging. We cannot carry on as if nothing had happened.

Transport infrastructure has undergone a radical transformation before. Julius Caesar banned the circulation of private vehicles during the day to reduce congestion and improve safety on the streets of Rome. The advent of the automobile saved New York City from the problem of horse pollution, which had seen 1.8 million kilograms of manure accumulate on city streets every day.

But climate change is too pressing a challenge to “just ban something or sit back and wait for the ‘big technological shift'”, notes Roads Australia chief executive Michael Kilgariff.

Inaction has disastrous consequences. The Climate Council estimates that, on current trends, reduced agricultural and labor productivity will exceed $211 billion by 2050 and $4 trillion by 2100. properties and infrastructure will suffer a $770 billion hit by the end of the century, notes the Climate Council.

Rethink, reshape

So how do we rethink and reshape the way we plan, design, build and operate transport infrastructure in Australia? This is the question that a recent report, The journey to net zero, asks and answers.

The report was produced by KPMG in collaboration with Roads Australia, the Australasian Railway Association, the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, Arup and other committed industry partners. This collaboration is important. No single person or organization can achieve net zero emissions on their own. System-wide change means keeping a place for everyone at the table.

“By 2036, the way Australians use, share, operate and power transport services – from cars to public transport and even bicycles – will have undergone the greatest disruption since the internal combustion engine.” Australian Infrastructure Plan 2021

Figure 1: Carbon reduction potential of strategic infrastructure choices

The report aims to galvanize government and industry around five clear recommendations:

1. Create a national strategic approach to the transport sector and its infrastructure that revolves around creating places

2. Introduce policies, investments, and incentives at the state and federal levels that promote an efficient, sustainable, and resilient transportation system

3. Implement exemplary governance structures, processes and approaches to foster transparency and support sound decision-making

4. Enable collaboration, capacity building and education at all stages, and advocate for new procurement approaches to foster a culture of collaboration

5. Adopt and promote technological solutions that facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy

The magnitude of the task at hand will be like climbing a series of mountains. We need to unearth zero-emission building solutions, electrify our vehicles and embrace alternative fuel options, create safe and accessible routes for pedestrians and cyclists, and reorient our urban design around 15-minute cities.

But we cannot afford to have a myopic view of our immediate infrastructure needs. We need to look through binoculars at the long-term impacts and co-benefits that await us. Now is the time to look up and aim for sustainable transport infrastructure

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