by Ainsley Simpson, Chief Executive Officer, Infrastructure Sustainability Council

KPMG, in collaboration 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 features Australia’s first veloway, a 2.5km elevated and enclosed path that connects cyclists with a direct route from Footscray to the Melbourne CBD.

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

And the Mordialloc Freeway doesn’t just provide a safer and more reliable journey for people travelling between the Mornington Peninsula and Melbourne’s southeast. Dubbed Australia’s greenest freeway, the 9km route incorporates 800,000 tonnes of recycled and reused material, including the world’s first recycled plastic noise wall.

These are just three inspiring signposts on the road to sustainable transport infrastructure – a future in which we drive down emissions and seize a bounty of co-benefits, whether that’s connected communities, cleaner air, regional jobs or healthier cities.

But with 70 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions influenced by infrastructure, our challenge is as supersized as our carbon footprint. Transport is one of our hard-to-abate sectors. Around 18.3 per cent of Australia’s emissions come from transport, and both road and rail emissions are on the rise.

Some of these emissions are embodied, and are a consequence of the materials, products and energy required to construct and maintain our transport infrastructure assets. 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 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are influenced by infrastructure
» 18.3 per cent of Australia’s emissions come from the transport sector
» Transport emissions are projected to rise from 92 metric tons 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. Transport innovations of the past helped us to move faster and more efficiently, while enhancing the health of our cities and changing the daily commute.

But as Australasian Railway Association CEO, Caroline Wilkie, observes, “the step change we must achieve in the years to come is perhaps both our biggest challenge and 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, rising congestion, resource constraints and a range of environmental impacts are converging. We cannot continue with business as usual.

Transport infrastructure has undergone radical transformation before. Julius Caesar banned the movement of private vehicles during daylight hours to reduce congestion and improve safety on Rome’s streets. The advent of the automobile saved New York City from the problem of horse pollution, which had seen 1.8 million kilograms of manure pile up on the city streets each day.

But climate change is too pressing a challenge to “simply ban something or sit back and wait for the ‘great technological shift’,” notes Chief Executive Officer of Roads Australia, Michael Kilgariff.

Inaction comes with dire consequences. The Climate Council estimates that, on current trends, the reduction of agriculture and labour productivity will exceed $211 billion by 2050 and $4 trillion by 2100. Property and infrastructure values will take a $770 billion hit by the end of the century, the Climate Council notes.

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 written by KPMG in collaboration with Roads Australia, the Australasian Railway Association, Infrastructure Sustainability Council, Arup and other committed industry partners. This collaboration is important. No one person or organisation can achieve net zero emissions alone. System-wide change means saving a seat for everyone at the table.

“By 2036, how Australians use, share, operate and power transport services – from cars to mass transit and even bicycles – will have undergone the biggest upheaval since the internal combustion engine.” 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan

Figure 1: Carbon reduction potential of strategic infrastructure choices

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

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

2. Introduce policy, investment and incentives at the state and federal levels that drive an efficient, sustainable and resilient transport system

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

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

5. Adopt and promote technology solutions that assist the transition to a low carbon economy

The magnitude of the task ahead will be like scaling a series of mountains. We must unearth zero emissions construction 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 look myopically at our immediate infrastructure needs. We must look with binoculars for the long-range impacts and co-benefits that lie ahead. Now is the time to lift our gaze and set our sights on sustainable transport infrastructure

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