Australia is flying “blind” when it comes to emissions from certain vehicles because the federal government relies on industry data, experts warned amid a push for new fuel and carbon dioxide standards.
The main source of vehicle-specific emissions data in Australia is the Green Car Guide, a government website that provides information from automakers on the carbon dioxide emissions of new cars sold since 2004. The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), an industry association representing manufacturers Automotive, publishes information about the average emissions of different car brands.
Authorities rely on these two sources to plan to decarbonize the Australian car fleet, but experts have questioned the auto industry’s role in providing some of the data, and its reliability, given outdated testing methods that don’t give a true picture of carbon dioxide emissions.
Both datasets were produced using the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) which Robin Smit, an emissions researcher from the University of Technology Sydney, said is “outdated and outdated”. He said it is no longer used in Europe because it “does not replicate what happens in the real world”.
“In Europe, they have updated globally harmonized light vehicle testing procedures that are more representative of modern driving,” he said.
The NEDC conference was at the center of the 2015 Volkswagen scandal when it was revealed that the auto company was practicing testing.
Without proper transparency, Audrey Kwik of the Australian Institute said it would not have been possible to know whether the data provided included accounting credits for “out-of-cycle technologies”. It’s technical improvements – such as aerodynamic paint jobs or more efficient air conditioning systems – that automakers use to claim credits and lower overall CO2 emissions.
In the United States, the Union of Concerned Scientists has raised concerns about the increasing reliance on these accounting methods.
“It’s about seeing,” Koike said. “You can’t fix a problem if you can’t see it.”
She said it means it’s hard for consumers to know what they’re buying and “what emissions are associated with this vehicle.”
“It also means that if you want to look at how Australian passenger car emissions have changed over time, it’s very difficult to compare between years.”
The National Transport Commission (NTC), which reports to Australian transport ministers, is expected to release the latest CO2 emissions report for Australia’s road fleet soon, drawing on information from the Green Vehicle Guide and the FCAI.
NTC Facilitated Reform CEO Sandra McKay said the committee is working on a new version of the report that “draws from multiple datasets to build a better picture of the entire ‘parking’ for cars.”
“We know from the National Transitional Council’s work on tracking CO2 emissions from new cars sold in Australia that we have made very little progress in making the fleet greener in recent years,” McKay said.
Former NTC commissioner Frank Mueller said the arrangement needs to change if Australia is to decarbonize its land fleet.
Mueller said it was time for Australia to introduce a “regulatory system rather than just a reporting system” under which the Australian government would collect and publish carbon dioxide emissions and fuel efficiency data from industry bodies.
“It is not an appropriate role for an industry body to provide this data,” he said. “[The FCAI’s] Their role is to advocate from an industry-wide perspective, they have a legitimate role in that.
“Being the source or publisher of the data and at the same time lobbying about what the standards should be, what to report and whether or not we have mandatory standards — there is a conflict of interest, right?”
Speaking ahead of the National Electric Vehicle Summit on Friday, Bahiad Jafari of the Council on Electric Vehicles said the situation meant that authorities planning for the future of Australia’s road fleet were being left “blinded”.
“Knowledge is really power,” he said.
“[Now] We cannot say here is the car and here are the emissions associated with it. We can’t set standards if we don’t have the data. The government needs to collect this independently and make this data public.”
Guardian Australia has contacted the FCAI for comment.