TWU Acts on Carbon Road Print

By Tony Sheldon*

TWU on carbon emissions
The Transport Workers' Union has launched an options paper on climate change. Click HERE to download a copy.

The distances inherent in our nation's size means lots of transport. That transport happens by car, truck, bus and plane. In our wide brown land this can mean, for lots of us, traveling hundreds and thousands of kilometers a year. 

The transport sector needs to do its bit in the new world of reducing carbon footprints.  But what do you do in the road transport and aviation industries, where fuel emissions are a necessary part of the business?  The Transport Workers' Union has taken a look under the bonnet and come up with some simple steps to reduce emissions.

Think about how far your lunch had traveled to be here. We cannot help that apples grow well in Tasmania, or that north Queensland is perfectly situated to produce bananas. What we can do is improve the efficiency of our transport networks to cut emissions. 

Most goods go into and out of distribution centres before they reach your supermarket.  Truck drivers spend an average of 20.7 per week waiting in queues to be unloaded. This often profits clients - like the major retailers - who use them as unpaid mobile warehouses.  Because of warehouse inefficiencies, they inch forward a bit each time they progress in the queue and the truck's engine idles. 

What does this do to the environment? For each driver, those hours of idling equate to 8.6 tonnes of carbon emitted each year. By making distribution centres more efficient, we could save the equivalent of three cars' total carbon emissions.

Distribution centre operators keep truck movements close to their chest.  But we know that there are millions each year.  Many drivers are not paid for the time they spend waiting.  Making it compulsory for them to be paid would not only be fair, it could be the industry's own little carbon tax.  It certainly would be an incentive for efficient distribution centres.  It could also reduce fatigue for employee and owner drivers who do not get paid for their waiting time.

Introducing a national scheme of enforceable safe rates for employee and owner drivers could remove the pressure for drivers to spend excessive hours on the road, which is one of the main contributors to the 228 deaths in the industry last year.  Scheduling would become more predictable, streamlining the industry, making it more economically efficient.  That would not only reduce carbon emissions.  It could save plenty of heavy vehicle deaths, too.

Aviation creates 1.6% of Australia's carbon emissions. Sounds low? The release of other greenhouse gases could put the sector's contribution as high at 5%. Then consider that passenger numbers are expected to double over the next fifteen years.  Air travellers are now routinely offered the option of offsetting their carbon emissions. Many environmentally conscious passengers do. 

Meanwhile the Australian Government is expected to collect $12.5 million in Airport Land Tax Equivalent in 2008-2009. This tax is a pro-competition measure to replace State and Territory land taxes. That money could be used to offset the equivalent of 1.3 million return flights to from Sydney to the Gold Coast this financial year. Even better, it could be used to develop less polluting fuels for the aviation industry.

Australia's population is spread across the continent. Our capital cities are each at least 300km from each other.  The size of our nation means that air travel is often the only option.  Our governments can and should contribute to making air travel more environmentally sound.

The transport sector needs to develop long-term strategies to reduce emissions.  This week's AC Nielson poll showed that two thirds of Australians think we should reduce our emissions.  Just as many expressed a willingness to pay more to achieve the result. But there are some cost-neutral changes we can make now. 

This piece outlines some among the many recommendations the Transport Workers' Union has made in its paper “Understanding and Reducing Our Sector's Carbon Emissions”. It is a contribution to an ongoing debate. But the proposals you have just read could be implemented tomorrow. We all know there is no time like the present when it comes to climate change.

It is time to take action. People recognise that their future depends on it. They have even been willing to tell pollsters they would pay more. It is rare consumers let that cat out of the bag.  It will take some work, but government can get the ball rolling. Business can and must follow. This wide brown land is not going to get any smaller.

* Tony Sheldon is the National and NSW Secretary of the Transport Workers' Union which represents over 85,000 members. The TWU has launched an options paper on climate change.

Published 13 August 2008.

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