Should New Zealand ban internal combustion engines?

It is difficult to imagine the degree of disruption and change that we would have in New Zealand if internal combustion engines were banned. But this is what some people want.

Dominion Post: Why New Zealand should ban internal combustion engines

THOMAS ANDERSON AND JONATHAN BOSTON

Bold and decisive actions are necessary if New Zealand is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions substantially.

The new Labour-led Government has committed to introducing a zero carbon bill later this year. But how should the aims of such legislation be achieved?

Of such measures, perhaps the most effective would be a ban on the sale of all new or imported used vehicles with internal combustion engines. Such a ban could take effect, say, from 2030.

At least that would be twelve years to prepare.

Many developed and developing countries have already introduced or are seriously contemplating such bans.

Britain, France, Ireland, Germany, India and China are listed – if car manufacturing countries ban internal combustion engines that would have a flow on effect here anyway.

New Zealand should follow suit.

As it stands, our transport sector accounts for around 18 per cent of annual gross greenhouse gas emissions and over a third of carbon-dioxide emissions. Emissions from road vehicles make up over 90 per cent of our total transport emissions. Hence, a ban on the sale of new petrol or diesel vehicles would, in due course, considerably reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

It could also considerably change how people travel. It would presumably also affect freight – and at the moment I don’t think there is EV technology that would handle long haul trucking. And if it also applies to rail that would require electrification of all existing rail lines, a huge and costly exercise.

About 85 per cent of our stationary energy comes from renewable sources and this percentage continues to increase. Accordingly, EVs can be recharged in New Zealand with a very low carbon footprint.

18% isn’t that much different to the 15% of non-renewable stationary energy.

And from RNZ yesterday: Electric vehicles could put strain on power network

There are fears that an increase in the uptake of electric vehicles could end up overloading the electricity network.

Electric vehicles make up less than one percent of the entire fleet, but it has been predicted they could make up 70 percent of it by 2050.

Consultant Simon Coates told Nine To Noon that if this happened they would account for 40 percent of domestic electricity usage and would place a strain on the network.

The above proposal is for a 100% electric fleet by 2030, but back to the ban proposal…

Of course, even with such a ban it will take decades to decarbonise New Zealand’s transport fleet. In 2016 close to 40 per cent of light vehicles were at least 15 years old. If the current age structure is maintained over the coming decades, it will be mid-century, even with a ban, before most petrol and diesel vehicles are phased out.

It  may make sense to move away from internal combustion as quickly as possible, but it will be complex, difficult and costly.

A ban of the kind suggested would serve multiple purposes. It would underscore New Zealand’s global commitment to substantial emissions reductions. It would help give substance to our claim to be ‘clean and green’. It would send a powerful signal to the automotive industry and consumers, thereby altering expectations and decision-making.

Moreover, it would help improve planning in the transport sector by providing greater certainty. In so doing, it would speed up the required investment in a comprehensive charging infrastructure and hasten the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The planning required would be huge.

It might be argued that the proposed ban is unnecessary. After all, by 2030 most automobile manufacturers will probably have ceased producing internal combustion engines. But a high proportion of vehicles sold in New Zealand are used imports rather than new vehicles. New Zealand must not continue to be a dumping ground for cheap, out-of- date, high-carbon technologies. We must aspire to a better, cleaner future and act accordingly.

This is fine as an aspirational ideal, but there is no attempt to detail what this would actually require and mean for New Zealand.

There is also no costings – how much would be required to convert? And what would the resulting transport costs be like?

Who has proposed this?Not a couple of young Green idealists.

Thomas Anderson is a Research Assistant at Victoria University of Wellington. Jonathan Boston is Professor of Public Policy at VUW.