Can New Zealanders in big cities reduce transport emissions by travelling fewer vehicle kilometres?


Getting people in cities to switch their cars for public transport may not be enough for New Zealand to meet its emission-reduction targets. A combination of pricing and behavioural policies will be required to encourage mode shift. This will be associated with economic and social effects that vary across income groups and would need careful consideration.

At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, the world’s leaders agreed to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To do this, they recognised they would have to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases their countries emit, especially from heavy industry and transport, which produce the most harmful amounts of greenhouse gases. How much does New Zealand have to reduce its emissions? New Zealand's Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) created a set of emission-reduction targets to meet its commitments in the Paris agreement. Parliament passed the ERP into law, and New Zealand industries now have to meet its stipulated targets. The ERP pays particular attention to road transport, which produces 15% of all New Zealand’s emissions. It includes a target for road transport’s greenhouse-gas emissions to be  41% lower by 2035. The plan includes four goals:
  • 20% reduction in distances travelled by light vehicles (such as cars and vans)
  • 30% of all light vehicles in use are zero-emission
  • 35% reduction in emissions produced by transporting goods
  • 10% reduction in emissions produced from every unit of fuel used for transport.
Principal Economics team have been working on an extensive project on identifying the policy levers and quantifying their impact on reducing travels. This work is in press.