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Play not work gobbles the gas

Media Statement 8 November 2006

Play not work gobbles the gas

New research into reducing carbon dioxide levels shows New Zealanders’ social and recreational driving is a significant contributor to national fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, causing greater concern than the daily trip to work.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is contributing $2.7 million to a five year research programme at Opus Central Laboratories. Foundation Business Manager Robert Matheson says such research is vital for developing future policies and strategies which motivate drivers to reduce fuel use.

“There is worldwide pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. New Zealand must have accurate information on vehicle use, driver attitudes to fuel consumption and household transport patterns to begin influencing people to change their habits if CO2 emission reduction targets are to be achieved,” he says.

CO2 gas is a major contributor to global warming. More than 40 per cent of New Zealand’s total carbon dioxide emissions come from transport, with about 25 per cent of emissions coming from private cars.

Opus Behavioural Sciences Research Manager, Darren Walton, says the principal aim of the Opus research is a sustained reversal of current trends. He says New Zealand CO2 emissions from household transport are increasing at about two per cent to three per cent a year against a world average of between one per cent and two per cent.

Dr Walton says other research has focused on congestion, caused by the journey to work and school whereas the latest Opus data shows social and recreational travel is making a larger contribution to fuel consumption, and is emerging as having been the dominant influence in vehicle purchase decisions.

New Zealand’s level of car ownership, at 570 vehicles for every 1,000 people, is as high as the USA. The number of cars on New Zealand roads increased by more than 0.55 million vehicles in the 10 years to 2006, double the long term rate for the previous 30 years and equal to the growth in population during that period.

“The crux of the issue relates to our lifestyles and we are demonstrating a poor response to reducing CO2 emissions. We are not good at taking public transport and we are trending towards vehicles with larger engine sizes.

“The problem lies in our desire for an outdoor lifestyle, using bigger vehicles to travel to the beach and the mountains and these vehicles are now fundamental to the way we live,” says Dr Walton.

Opus Principal Science Advisor, Ian Wells, says the latest research gives substantial new knowledge for combating household transport CO2 emissions.

“It establishes a base for future research into the individual role that people can play. Ultimately this will help us reduce CO2 levels and help our contribution to the effect on climate change.

“While our vehicle emissions remain higher per capita than other developed countries, New Zealand risks a worldwide perception that we are not clean and green,” says Mr Wells.

“CO2 reduction needs to focus on social and recreational travel because it accounts for 28 per cent of all vehicle kilometres travelled and is likely to be in the family’s biggest car, whereas work journeys account for 23 per cent of the total,” says Mr Wells.

Both Opus scientists say it is important to research and understand attitudes and all modes of travel of combined household members because the Opus research reveals the rapidly increasing fuel consumption involved with social and recreational travel. This differs from individual motorists’ habits whose daily journeys could be work related and in company vehicles.

Dr Walton says it will also be difficult to reverse the social and recreational driving trends because they are strongly linked to our lifestyles and people may be reluctant to give up SUVs (sport utility vehicles) for lower-fuel-use vehicles and to travel by lower-fuel-use transport.

Opus is working closely with EECA (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), the ministeries of Environment and Transport, and Greater Wellington Regional Council to ensure the research supports effective strategies to reduce household transport energy consumption.

Future travel trend research at Opus is centering around New Zealander’s dependence on cars and the reluctance to walk even for short trips.


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