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IPW: Auckland Transport hit by falling revenues, UN takes aim at greenwashing

12 April 2022

In this Infrastructure Policy Watch we look at the impact of flexible working on public transport in Auckland and highlight a new UN Expert Group which will set standards for net zero pledges.  

IPW: Auckland Transport hit by falling revenues, UN takes aim at greenwashing
Image credit: Lev R/Shutterstock

Auckland Transport running out of money - flags risks to climate action

In an update to its Regional Transport Committee, Auckland Transport (AT), has warned that post-pandemic 'revenue shortfalls, unanticipated cost increases and project delays are putting significant pressure on delivery' of the 10-year Auckland Regional Land Transport Plan, just one year into delivery.

The body that runs regional transport services across Auckland, New Zealand, has said that the plan will need to be revised to ensure it meets climate action targets.

The issues highlighted by AT include a drop in public transport ridership post-pandemic as flexible working has become the norm.

Cost pressures and a lack of funding certainty were also cited, along with the pressure of inflation bringing rising costs.

Maintenance funding has been capped even though climate change is bringing an increasing need for adaptation.

Furthermore, a 215m New Zealand dollar shortfall in funding requests from national funds has also impacted programmes for the next three years.

Key assumptions made around revenue, costs and funding when the plan was signed off have been rapidly undone in the space of a year and the proposed scrapping of a Regional Fuel Tax would create a major gap in funding.

Additionally, AT notes that: “Climate change is resulting in more frequent events on the network and adaptation work is not separately funded [in the plan].”

In response, AT is looking at scaling back projects, changing timetables and cutting back on services not used in high volumes.

ICE's view

Our public transport funding post-Covid briefing paper highlights the urgent need to rethink how public transport, especially in cities, is funded.

The following pressures are coinciding: ridership and ticket fare revenues are down, inflation is up and unexpected costs have rapidly come forward, such as investment for more flexible use of networks or climate adaptation.

This is a global issue, and our Next Steps on funding public transport panel debate will explore policy solutions.

Left unaddressed, there is a global risk of a spiral of decline in public transport, with knock-on implications for climate action.

User carbon from transport is one of the largest global greenhouse gas emissions sources and in some countries, such as the UK, this figure is rising.

UN Secretary-General plans to increase scrutiny of climate pledges by non-state actors

Secretary-General António Guterres recently announced the creation of a UN Expert Group on Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities.

According to the UN, the group will address four areas:

  1. Current standards and definitions for setting net-zero targets.
  2. Credibility criteria used to assess the objectives, measurement and reporting of net-zero pledges.
  3. Processes for the international community to verify and account in a transparent manner.
  4. A road map to translate standards and criteria into international and national-level regulations.

The new group follows a statement made by the Secretary-General at COP26 where he outlined the need for more transparent, precise and robust standards around net-zero pledges.

The focus will be on improving the 'measuring, analysing and reporting of net-zero emissions pledges'.

In recent years, many net-zero pledges have been made by organisations, businesses, and sub-national governments. This has resulted in the development of different criteria for measurement.

According to the Terms of Reference for the Group:

There is now a perceived lack of clear, transparent, and generally accepted sets of standards and criteria for the development, measurement, assessment, and accountability of non-State net-zero pledges and their associated implementation.

This perception risks undermining the commitments and actions of stakeholders who are serious in delivering on their pledges upon joining the global coalition for net zero called for by the Secretary-General.

The worry is that 'greenwashing' where pledges are made for commercial gain but not monitored or backed up, could undermine genuine climate mitigation.

Similarly, relying too much on offsets and 'unrealistic dependence on removals' could be the result of poorly thought-through pledges.

The working group will report within 12 months.

ICE's view

Nothing will undermine net zero faster than pledges going unfulfilled.

As the latest IPCC report on mitigation notes, non-state and subnational actors are playing an increasing role in climate mitigation.

There is a lot of money to be made from being seen to be green, but if the public start to see organisations ‘talking the talk but not walking the walk’ - as the Secretary-General put it - then confidence will evaporate, and we will not meet the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The new High-Level Working Group is a welcome move. Primarily, as it seeks to tackle the growing popularity of organisations making bold commitments but few changes to get to net zero, limiting the opportunities for cascading effects across supply chains.

In case you missed it...

Check back in a fortnight for the next edition of the ICE's Infrastructure Policy Watch. You can also sign up to ICE Informs to get a monthly digest of the latest policy activities from ICE, including calls for evidence to support our ongoing advice to policymakers.

  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers