Environmental sustainability

Transport sector: A case study of sector-level performance

For this case study, we looked at two out of the five outcomes from the Framework. The first is environmental sustainability.

The transport sector contributes about 17% of New Zealand’s total emissions and about 39% of CO2 emissions (2019 levels). Major reductions in transport emissions are needed for New Zealand to its meet its overall emissions targets.

The Framework’s outcome for environmental sustainability involves the transport system transitioning to net zero carbon emissions and maintaining or improving biodiversity, water quality, and air quality. We looked specifically at how transport agencies were reporting on the “net zero carbon emissions” part of the outcome.

The Ministry of Transport’s Green Paper Hīkina te Kohupara – Kia mauri ora ai te iwi |Transport Emissions: Pathways to Net Zero by 2050, published in 2021, sets out a system-wide approach for reducing transport emissions.2

Hīkina te Kohupara informed the transport section in the Government’s first Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP), published in May 2022. The ERP contains the first three domestic emission budgets (2022-2025, 2026-2030, and 2031-2035) and outlines the Government’s actions during the first budget period to stay within budget and lay the groundwork for future budgets. The ERP outlines actions needed to reduce transport emissions by 41% by 2035 and improve health, safety, equity, urban development, economic prosperity, and resilience.

The ERP’s section on the transport sector has four focus areas supported by four related targets:

  • Reduce reliance on cars and support people to walk, cycle, and use public transport through improved urban form and providing better travel options, particularly in larger cities.
    • Target 1: Reduce total vehicle kilometres travelled by the light vehicle fleet by 20% by 2035.
  • Rapidly adopt low emissions vehicles.
    • Target 2: Increase zero-emissions vehicles to 30% of the light fleet by 2035.
  • Begin to decarbonise heavy transport and freight.
    • Target 3: Reduce emissions from freight transport by 35% by 2035.
    • Target 4: Reduce the emissions intensity of transport fuel by 10%.
  • Advancing cross-cutting and enabling actions by aligning transport policy and long-term planning with the ERP, developing a strong evidence base for transport emissions reduction actions, and developing skills and capability to support the transition to a low-emissions future.

The Decarbonising Transport Action Plan 2022-25 (the Action Plan) builds on the ERP and sets out how the Government will implement its transport actions in the next three years.

The Action Plan provides more detail on how the transport sector will give effect to the principles of the ERP, including aspirations to empower Māori and ensure that there is an equitable transition for Māori under te Tiriti o Waitangi, particularly for enabling solutions to be co-designed.

The Action Plan also sets out clear accountabilities for individual initiatives, identifying the lead accountable agency, stakeholders who support the lead agency, and key milestones for each initiative.

Major investment is needed for the transport sector to meet its ambitious targets. The Action Plan sets out approved major investments from the Climate Emergency Response Fund that would support its delivery. These are set out below. However, funding for some of these initiatives has reduced and other initiatives have received new funding:

  • $569 million for a vehicle scrapping scheme (discontinued).
  • $22.5 million of the Climate Emergency Response Fund to support the development of a plan to reduce vehicle kilometers traveled.
  • $350 million of the Climate Emergency Response Fund to support the uptake of active and public transport (the Transport Choices package). This has since been reduced to $300 million.

Many investments in the Action Plan involved various strategies (such as the NZ Rail Plan) and activity classes.

How performance is reported

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment noted that the process for producing the first ERP did not result in a clear policy framework or clear strategic objectives, which is needed to enable coherent reporting. This is an issue that future ERPs need to address.

The ERP is relatively clear about the Government’s approach to achieving the transport sector’s objectives. However, the objectives of the other sectors and the Government’s wider overall objectives for the ERP are less clear. This will make it difficult to assess the transport sector’s performance within the context of the Government’s wider activities and objectives.

Currently, public reporting on the Action Plan is fragmented across the agencies involved and the partnerships and stakeholders responsible for delivering individual actions in the Action Plan. The sector is developing consolidated reporting against the overall Action Plan and the Decarbonising Transport Monitoring Framework, which the Ministry of Transport continues to refine.

The Framework has several measures to measure environmental sustainability that are meaningful and appropriate (such as “greenhouse gases emitted from the NZ transport system”, “vehicle fleet compositions”, and “mode share of short trips”). These measures are relevant to initiatives that aim to reduce private vehicles’ emissions (for example, through the Clean Car Discount programme) and encourage or enable more walking and cycling (for example, through investments in cycle paths).

For each initiative, performance will also be assessed through detailed evaluations.

The Ministry of Transport established an Emissions Programme Office (EPO) to monitor and report frequently on delivery against the ERP’s initiatives. The EPO collects information from all relevant agencies and prepares monthly and quarterly reports. They also co-ordinate transport input for the interagency six-monthly reports. We were told that outcome-based reporting will be incorporated into reporting products from late 2023.

At the broader government level, the Climate Change Chief Executives Board, an interdepartmental executive board consisting of eight public service chief executives, monitors and reports on the delivery of actions in the ERP and the National Adaptation Plan. The Climate Change Chief Executives Board monitors and reports on overall progress towards achieving the ERP, including sector sub-targets. The first report is not yet publicly available.

2: The transport sector will need to consider how they respond and adapt to evolving legislation (for example, the Spatial Planning Act and the Natural and Built Environments Act) through its transport planning and investment (for example, key transport infrastructure and sequencing in Regional Spatial Strategies).