Abstract of paper presented by Dr Chris Reidy to the FEN Forum on Climate Change 2007

Dr Chris Riedy is a Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures with more than ten years experience as a researcher and consultant on sustainability policy. He holds a PhD in Sustainable Futures. Chris has particular expertise in energy and transport policy, climate change response, water policy and questions of social justice. He is the author of a report on energy and transport subsidies in Australia and recently contributed to a policy paper on sustainable transport for Sydney.

Our current reliance on road transport, fuelled by cheap oil, is creating enormous environmental, economic and social problems. Transport is a major contributor to climate change, responsible for 14% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. It also creates local and regional air pollution problems. We need to find a way to reduce greenhouse gases and other emissions from transport.

Our motor vehicles rely on a finite resource – oil. Many analysts believe that global production of oil has almost reached its peak. Once the peak is reached, it is likely that oil will become increasingly expensive. We have already seen a taste of this through higher petrol prices in recent years. Unless we find a way to reduce our reliance on oil, there is potential for serious economic and social impacts.

Our congested road network is also a major source of social problems, creating a terrible toll through accidents, while contributing to road rage, stress and a reduction in levels of exercise. We need to find ways to make our transport support healthy individuals and communities. At the same time, we need to make our transport system more equitable; in most Australian cities, including Sydney, access to transport options tends to be greater for the wealthy and worse for the poor.

Some of the other changes we need to make are less obvious. We need to change the way we make decisions about transport to offer citizens a real change to participate in decision-making. We need to remove subsidies that encourage motor vehicle use, while ensuring that this does not have a negative impact on low-income households. And we need to change the shape of our cities to support different transport options.

We also need cultural change. Car culture is strongly entrenched in Australia. For many people, the car they own is a way of expressing their identity and status, consciously or subconsciously. We need to find ways to make active transport and public transport more attractive than the convenience and prestige of the car.