Tuesday 2 November 2021

Reader mailbag - Let's Get Wellington Moving

In today's inbox, from an informed reader. I've edited for formatting only. 

A quick look through the LGWM "Carbon Analysis" paper is amazingly woeful.

No reference whatsoever to the ETS. Indeed the analysis claims there are risks of HIGHER emissions from more road capacity proposed (although it isn't more capacity, but ohhh the risk of removing a set of traffic lights from a road inducing more driving!).

P.15 the paper compares Wellington (city? region?) mode shares (for commuting? all trips?) to 8 European cities. Not Australian or North American cities, all of which have the new world urban form and development patterns shared in NZ, but very old European cities.  Including Erfut, which was part of east Germany (but hey, lowest driving mode share, can't imagine why?).

But then it all started off with these bold assertion in the background on page 1:
"When it comes to reducing carbon emissions there are a couple of basic principles which are not only common sense but have been validated through local and global experience over many decades. We do not need new modelling to confirm what we already know which is that:
  • Quality investment in active and public transport modes will have a positive impact on reducing emissions.
  • Cities that maintain and build on a compact urban form when accommodating growth will also have a positive impact on reducing emissions"
So you don't need evidence, just common sense and to assert how "validated" these principles are, not that it has never actually succeeded in case studies of cities that are much more like Wellington in urban form, trip patterns and employment/development patterns.

For a programme where the highest priority objective is reducing emissions (40% weighting), the evidence based for applying basically the philosophy of Julie Anne Genter and the Green Party, of North American style new urbanist thinking is completely absent - for advocating spending between $5.8 billion and $7.6 billion.

I like that the report at least gives estimates of the carbon savings. On the one hand, it's nonsense because the ETS has a binding cap and all this stuff is covered by the cap. So if Wellington Council thinks its transport strategy reduces the region's emissions by 5,721 tonnes per year, that just means somebody else buys those credits instead.* 

Council is spending billions on this and 40% of what they're trying to achieve is in carbon reductions that, even if carbon prices rose to $100, are valued at just over half a million dollars per year. 

It's just a little absurd. 

Council could, alternatively, have just committed to purchasing 10,000 tonnes of ETS credits every year and run them through a shredder so nobody else could use them. It would be more effective.

There is a non-stupid way of doing all of this. Ask the transport modelers to say what happens to transport demand once congestion charges are in place and once ETS prices are around $100/tonne. Set your infrastructure planning around what that world looks like. It's driven by best estimates of what people might want when fuel is more expensive and when travelling at peak times is a lot more expensive. 

Setting transport planning in an effort to reduce emissions is like pushing on a string. Let the ETS do the pulling instead. It'll pull transport planning along with, if you let it. 

*It simply isn't plausible to argue "Oh, well, doing this reduces demand for ETS credits which makes it easier for the government to cut the cap". It's 5,721 tonnes. Equivalent of planting about 7.5 hectares of trees. Imagine carbon prices increased to $100/tonne from the mid-$60s per tonne. That's still only $572,100 per year in reduced demand for carbon credits. It isn't going to do anything on that margin. 

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