The Environmental Benefits of EV Manufacture in Australia

In addition to the economic and workforce benefits outlined above, the increased use of electric vehicles within the Australian community would have significant environmental benefits. It is estimated that transport contributes around 14.6 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions[1], with passenger vehicles being the primary source of those emissions. The transition to greater use of electric cars will play an important role in reducing transport-relate greenhouse gas emissions. There are also significant air-quality and, subsequently, public health benefits from electric vehicles – as petrol-driven vehicles release not only significant amounts of carbon but also harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide and other carcinogens that are not present when electrical vehicles are used. The ACTU notes that there have been some attempts to claim that due to fossil-fuel based power generation, that electric vehicles are as polluting, if not more, than petrol driven vehicles. Critics often point to the environmental impact of lithium mining as another environmental consideration. Firstly, it should be remembered that the batteries installed in EV are recyclable – so the impact of battery production cannot be properly fully apportioned to each vehicle. The criticism of the environmental impact of power generation is more valid. In state where coal is used to deliver the majority of power, electricity generation does have a significant environmental impact. It should be pointed out that in all states, electricity consumers currently have the ability to choose to purchase ‘green power’, which has no associated CO2 emission. This aside, this issue is an excellent argument for the further investment in renewable energy technologies and the implementation of a Just Transition strategy for the Australian electricity to ensure that the environmental benefits of technologies like EV are not reduced by outside factors.

An additional benefit to EV usage is that, according to some analysis[2], EVs could represent a significant additional future storage capacity for our electrical grid. If EVs were to become normalised, the grid would have access to thousands of large batteries at any given time, particularly in mornings and evenings when vehicles are parked. This capacity would greatly expand our ability to ameliorate the intermittent nature of renewable energy generation, as excess energy could be stored in the batteries distributed across the grid during times of excess and then accessed when generation rates fall. It should be noted that for this to be possible in the future, significant grid upgrades would be required. This is particularly true in states where the power grid has been privatised and has often been left to fall into disrepair.

The encouragement of greater use of electrical vehicles in the Australian community must form a significant part of a broader strategy to reduce the environmental impact of Australia’s transport. Along with investments in infrastructure, mass-transit and innovation and reform in the transport industry, EV usage can ensure that Australia can keep moving while also fulfilling our environmental obligations.

Environmental Recommendations

  • Implement the Just Transition strategy outlined in Sharing the challenges and opportunities of a clean energy economy.
  • Introduce measures aimed at reducing the impact of transportation on Australia’s environment, including:

o   Support for domestic EV production and use;

o   Significant increases in funding for passenger rail, tram and bus networks, as well as more efficient multi-modal freight infrastructure and services[3];

o   Investment in behaviour change campaigns to encourage modal shift to mass transit systems; and

o   Industry wide incentives to drive environmental innovation and reform in the sector.

In Conclusion

The demise of the Australian car industry exemplifies that damage that is done to Australia and Australian workers when conservative governments decide to trust to luck and leave the fate of entire industries to the fickle winds of international commerce. Australia must become a nation with a plan for our economic prosperity, a plan that creates good, stable jobs and which delivers work and fair pay to Australian workers.[4] We cannot continue to rely on our luck to see us through – we must seize opportunities when we can. EV production is an opportunity that Australia must seize. It is an opportunity to help the economy, return prosperity to areas of Australia that have been devastated by unemployment since the car industry died and to fulfil our climate obligations. We ask the Committee to call on the government to implement the recommendations outlined in this report and to put the lie to Australia’s pejorative label – the lucky country. 


[1]Australian Parliamentary Library, Australian Transportation Emissions, 2010. https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Browse_by_Topic/ClimateChangeold/whyClimate/human/howMuch/transportation

[2]The Climate Council, Op. Cit  

[3]We see this an augmentation of our current freight capacity (based around heavy vehicle transport) and not as a replacement of that capacity. Such augmentation would most likely require short and medium-term transitional support for the industry.  

[4]For a comprehensive plan that achieves these aims, see Jobs You Can Count On, published by the ACTU