The Australian federal government works with state and territory governments to set national objectives related to air quality and emissions through National Environment Protection Measures. State and territory governments are responsible for implementing the Measures and have monitoring and reporting obligations. The National Clean Air Agreement, signed in 2015, provides the basis for a joint work program related to reducing air pollution and improving air quality. Actions taken under the agreement include new regulations related to product emissions and a new target regarding particle pollution.
The federal government also sets national fuel quality standards and vehicle emissions standards for new and newly imported vehicles; emissions standards for in-service vehicles are the responsibility of state and territory governments. The Australian government has a policy of harmonizing its vehicle emissions standards with international regulations.
The Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions, established in 2015, is examining the potential adoption of Euro 6/VI noxious emissions standards, revised fuel quality standards based on European standards, and the introduction of fuel efficiency standards for light vehicles. It has released draft regulation impact statements on these subjects for the purposes of public consultation. These discuss the importance of harmonizing such standards with international regulations and/or measures taken by Australia’s major trading partners in order to ensure that the most efficient vehicles are available to consumers in Australia.
I. Air Quality Management Framework
Australia is a federation encompassing six states and two mainland self-governing territories. This report outlines national-level laws and regulatory measures related to air quality and air pollutant management, with particular reference to vehicle emissions. The 2016 State of the Environment report, published by the Australian government, explains the ambient air quality management framework as follows:
Each level of government—Australian, state and territory, and local—plays a role in managing the impacts of air pollution by preventing or minimising air pollutant emissions. For the key air quality standards, the Australian, state and territory governments act cooperatively to set national objectives and develop the NEPMs [National Environment Protection Measures], through the NEPC [National Environment Protection Council].
The Australian Government is responsible for emissions standards for new motor vehicles, motor vehicle fuel standards, the National Pollutant Inventory, the national response to climate change, and international obligations such as the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (commonly referred to as MARPOL).
State and territory governments are responsible for implementing NEPMs and other measures with appropriate legislation, policies and programs. They report on progress made in achieving the NEPM goals.
Local government authorities are generally responsible for managing air pollution from small businesses and domestic premises, and through their role in urban planning.
This report provides information on the NEPMs that relate to air quality; the National Clean Air Agreement, which provides a basis for action at the national, state, and territory levels in a range of areas; national fuel quality standards; national vehicle emissions standards for new and imported vehicles; and the work of the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions in relation to enhancing the fuel and emissions standards as well as the possible introduction of a mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standard.
The Australian federal government also has in place various policies and programs related to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including certain funds, energy efficiency initiatives, and reporting programs. Such activities are not covered in this report.
As indicated above, state and territory legislation and programs address the implementation of a range of measures and can also extend beyond the federal laws in some areas; however, specific measures of individual jurisdictions are not covered in this report. As stated in the State of the Environment report, “[e]nvironmental agencies in the states and territories are responsible for controlling pollutant emissions from large industrial point sources, such as power stations, refineries, smelters, manufacturing plants, cement works and abattoirs.” It further states that
[d]uring the past 30–40 years, state and territory environment protection agencies have employed a variety of regulatory measures (including works approval, licensing and notices) to control and greatly restrict emissions of air pollutants from industrial and commercial sources. More recently, nonregulatory measures (such as codes of practice, market-based mechanisms and cleaner production incentive schemes) have been increasingly used to complement regulatory controls. In some jurisdictions, local government has a role in controlling emissions (mainly of particles and odour) from commercial sources. Local government also tends to be the main tier of government responding to complaints at the neighbourhood level about smoke from domestic wood heaters.
II. National Environment Protection Measures
National Environment Protection Measures (NEPMs) are “a special set of national objectives designed to assist in protecting particular aspects of the environment.” They are made by the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC), as authorized by the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 (Cth) and complementary state and territory legislation, and each jurisdiction is responsible for determining how to implement them through their own laws and regulations. The NEPC itself is made up of representatives from the federal government and the governments of each state and territory.
NEPMs can cover a range of matters, including ambient air quality, guidelines for the assessment of site contamination, water quality, and recycling. The NEPC is able to make measures related to motor vehicle noise and emissions, but where these involve standards relating to the design, construction, and technical characteristics of new and in-service motor vehicles they must “be developed and agreed in conjunction with the National Transport Commission” and determined in accordance with other relevant legislation.
The NEPC has promulgated four NEPMs to date that relate to aspects of air pollution, being on ambient air quality, air toxics, the National Pollutant Inventory, and diesel vehicle emissions.
A. National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure
The NEPM related to ambient air quality was first made in 1998. It “sets national standards for the six key air pollutants to which most Australians are exposed: carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, lead and particles.” Under the NEPM, each state and territory government is required to monitor air quality, using Australian Standard Methods set out in the NEPM, and report against the standards.
In addition to listing standards for each pollutant, the NEPM also establishes a goal for particles (as PM2.5) to be achieved by 2025.
B. National Environment Protection (Air Toxics) Measure
The Air Toxics NEPM was established in 2004 for an initial group of pollutants: formaldehyde, toluene, xylene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. It “benchmarks monitoring investigation levels that, if exceeded, require further investigation.”
Each jurisdiction is required to undertake an assessment of locations within the jurisdiction in order to identify sites where “significantly elevated concentrations” of one or more of the listed air toxics are likely to occur, or sites where there is the “potential for significant population exposure” to such air toxics exists. The measure then sets out appropriate methods for monitoring and assessment of air toxics, with reference to methods used by certain foreign and international agencies, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Organization for Standardization. The jurisdictions have reporting requirements that relate to the identification of relevant sites, monitoring of air toxics, and assessment and any planned actions.
C. National Environment Protection (National Pollutant Inventory) Measure
The goals of the National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) NEPM, made in 1998, are to “collect a broad base of information on emissions and transfers of substances on the reporting list,” and to “disseminate the information collected to all sectors of the community in a useful, accessible and understandable form.” The NEPM was amended in 2008 “in order to remove greenhouse gas and energy reporting requirements now covered by the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007.”
The NEPM establishes a publicly accessible database, the NPI, which contains information about emissions and transfers of specified substances. Occupiers of reporting facilities estimate emission data and provide this and supporting data to state and territory governments, which then aggregate the data and provide it to the federal government for collation and dissemination.
The reporting list for the NPI under the NEPM includes emissions of ninety-three toxic substances.
D. National Environment Protection (Diesel Vehicle Emissions) Measure
The goal of the NEPM on diesel vehicle emissions, which was made in 2001, is to “reduce exhaust emissions from diesel vehicles, by facilitating compliance with in-service emissions standards for diesel vehicles.” The NEPM was “developed to complement other measures to reduce the impact of emissions from diesel vehicles such as: new vehicle emission standards, improved fuel quality and travel demand management.” Rather than establishing standards, the NEPM sets out principles for the management of emissions from diesel vehicles and provides guidelines
to assist jurisdictions to develop programs for reducing emissions from in-service diesel vehicles, in order to achieve compliance with appropriate in-service emissions standards.
Compliance programs may incorporate a combination of the approaches in the Guidelines. Emission management approaches other than those in the guidelines may also be implemented.
With respect to standards, the NEPM states that “[p]articipating jurisdictions will use the in-service vehicle emission standards and test determined by the Australian Transport Council or successor body as the benchmark against which to assess the emission performance of diesel vehicles.” Under the NEPM, state and territory governments report annually to the NEPC on their assessment of the “need to take action to manage emissions from the in-service diesel fleet” and provide information regarding the actions taken and the effectiveness of such actions.
III. National Clean Air Agreement
On December 15, 2015, the environment ministers of each Australian jurisdiction established the National Clean Air Agreement. The Agreement
focuses on actions to reduce air pollution and improve air quality through cooperative action between industry and government at the national, state and local level. The Agreement is designed to incorporate a range of existing, new and complementary measures to improve Australia’s air quality.
A factsheet on the Agreement provides the following information:
The agreement will:
provide a basis for governments to identify, prioritise and focus actions to reduce air pollution and improve air quality deliver strategic approaches to address air quality priorities through promoting cooperative action between all levels of government and with business and the community have an agreed work plan that details specific practical actions and identifies roles and responsibilities for implementing those actions to address agreed priorities. The work plan would be periodically reviewed to maintain accountability and ensure continued relevance.
At the time the Agreement was made, the environment ministers also agreed to three key initial actions under the Agreement, being the introduction of product emission standards for outdoor power equipment and marine engines (discussed below, Part IV); measures to reduce air pollution from wood heaters; and strengthened ambient air quality reporting standards for particle pollution.
With respect to wood heaters, the Department of the Environment and Energy states that state and territory governments are working towards adopting standards for new wood heaters and “have agreed to share cost effective approaches tailored for local conditions and priorities.”
With respect to particle pollution, “[a]ll jurisdictions have agreed to implement strengthened standards for particles, with a longer-term goal to move to even tighter standards for annual average and 24-hour PM2.5 particles in 2025.” The ambient air quality NEPM was amended to reflect the agreed reporting standards and long-term goal.
According to the factsheet referred to above,
[a] range of other actions that may be considered under the agreement include:
Strengthening the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone reporting standards in the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure
Initiatives to reduce localised emissions, including from non-road diesel engines and ships
A review of Australia’s fuel quality standards legislation.
Partnership opportunities with business to influence positive air quality outcomes.
A focus on strengthening knowledge, education and awareness about air quality.
An Air Project Management Group was established to support the implementation of the Agreement and has developed a priority-setting process to guide considerations when recommending air quality priorities to environment ministers for inclusion in the work plan.
Information regarding the current review of the fuel quality standards legislation is provided below, Part VI.
IV. Product Emissions Standards Act 2017
The Product Emissions Standards Act 2017 (Cth), which came into force on September 15, 2017, “establishes a national framework to enable Australia to address the adverse impacts of air pollution from certain products on human and environmental health.” Under the Act, the relevant federal government minister can prescribe emission-controlled products and make rules relating to those products.
Further to the agreed work program under the National Clean Air Agreement, the first emissions-controlled products to be covered by the new framework, as specified in the Product Emissions Standards Rules 2017 (Cth) (effective January 11, 2018), are new outdoor power equipment (“non-road engine”) and marine engines (“propulsion marine engine”). The Rules establish Australian Emissions Standards for these products, which integrate particular technical requirements that are applicable in the United States under Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The Rules also cover Australian certification of the products and recognize certain foreign certifications.
V. Fuel Quality Standards
The information in this section relates to the fuel quality standards regime currently in place at the national level in Australia. As discussed in Part VII, below, the standards are currently under review by the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions, including consideration of harmonization with different international standards.
A. Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000
The Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 (Cth), together with the Fuel Quality Standards Regulations 2001 (Cth), “provides the legislative basis for national fuel quality and fuel quality information standards for Australia. Where a State or Territory has fuel quality standards in place, the Commonwealth standards operate concurrently. State or Territory standards apply where they regulate a fuel characteristic not covered by the Commonwealth standards.”
The objectives of the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 (Cth) are to
(a) regulate the quality of fuel supplied in Australia in order to:
(i) reduce the level of pollutants and emissions arising from the use of fuel that may cause environmental and health problems; and
(ii) facilitate the adoption of better engine technology and emission control technology; and
(iii) allow the more effective operation of engines; and
(b) ensure that, where appropriate, information about fuel is provided when the fuel is supplied.
The Department of the Environment and Energy is responsible for setting fuel standards, monitoring industry compliance with the standards, granting approvals for businesses to supply fuel that varies from the standards, and reviewing fuel standards. Before taking certain actions under the Act, including making a fuel standard, the relevant federal minister must consult the Fuel Standards Consultative Committee. The Committee includes at least one representative from each state and territory government plus a representative from the federal government, and also includes “at least one person representing fuel producers, a non-government body with an interest in the protection of the environment, and a person representing the interests of consumers.”
An independent review of the Act was completed in April 2016, with the final report showing that the Act has “led to a quantifiable reduction in the level of pollutants and emissions arising from the use of fuel that may cause environmental and health problems.” The report contained several recommendations related to the retention of and possible amendments to the legislative framework.
B. National Standards
National fuel quality standards have been set for the following fuels:
Petrol (i.e., gasoline): Fuel Standard (Petrol) Determination 2001 (Cth)
Ethanol E85: Fuel Standard (Ethanol E85) Determination 2012 (Cth)
Diesel: Fuel Standard (Automotive Diesel) Determination 2001 (Cth)
Biodiesel: Fuel Standard (Biodiesel) Determination 2003 (Cth)
Autogas (i.e., LPG for use in motor vehicles): Fuel Standard (Autogas) Determination 2003 (Cth)
In addition, a fuel quality information labeling standard has been made for ethanol E10 (in petrol) and ethanol E85. In 2003, under the Fuel Standard (Petrol) Determination 2001 (Cth), Australia capped the level of ethanol that can be added to petrol at 10%; the fuel quality information standard requires service stations to display labels indicating the percentage of ethanol where petrol contains more than 1% ethanol.
VI. Vehicle Emissions Standards
A. Australian Design Rules and Harmonization
National emissions standards for newly manufactured and imported new or second hand motor vehicles are contained in the Australian Design Rules (ADRs), which are authorized by the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (Cth). The ADRs are currently in their third edition. The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities (DIRDC), which is responsible for managing policy and standards development on vehicle emissions, explains that
[t]he ADRs apply to vehicles in accordance with the “applicability dates” set out at the beginning (usually in an applicability table) of each standard. These dates (and not the year listed in the title of the standard—which in many cases only represents when the ADR was re-made for the FRL [Federal Register of Legislation]) are the key to identifying which ADR applies for a particular year of manufacture of a new or used vehicle.
Users of the ADRs should be aware that in some circumstances ADRs referred to here can have application to vehicles other than new vehicles. There are two ways this can occur:
Firstly, other laws may call up the ADRs. For example, each state and territory generally requires vehicles manufactured to a particular set of ADRs to continue to comply with them (or a later version) while in-service.
Secondly, the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 call up the ADRs for used commercially imported vehicles. This generally requires vehicles to comply with the ADRs applicable when the vehicles were originally manufactured (Note: used imported trucks exceeding 12 tonnes and used imported buses with more than 12 seating positions must comply with the latest ADRs).
As indicated in this explanation, “[t]he regulation of emissions from vehicles once they are on the road (in-service) is the responsibility of the state and territory governments.”
In making the standards contained in the ADRs, the relevant minister is able to incorporate documents “produced by the Economic Commission for Europe, the International Electrotechnical Commission, the International Organization for Standardization or Standards Australia or by any other organisation that is determined, by legislative instrument, by the Minister.” Before determining the standards, the minister must consult with relevant state and territory authorities, persons or organizations involved in the road vehicle industry, and organizations representing road users.
In terms of harmonization, the DIRDC states that
[t]he Australian Government’s policy is to harmonise the national vehicle safety standards with international regulations where possible and consideration is given to the adoption of the international regulations of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Australia is a signatory to the UNECE 1958 Agreement and the 1998 Agreement. The policy to harmonise is also important to fulfil World Trade Organisation and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation commitments.
B. Current ADRs on Emissions
Emission requirements and standards for new vehicles are currently contained in ADR 79/04 (Emission Controls for Light Vehicles) and ADR 80/03 (Emission Control for Heavy Vehicles). Appendix A of ADR 79/04 incorporates Regulation No. 83 of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, titled “Uniform provisions concerning the approval of vehicles with regard to the emission of pollutants according to engine fuel requirements.” The current minimum standard in ADR 80/03 is “based on the Euro V standards, with equivalent US or Japanese standards accepted as alternatives.”
In addition to these requirements, ADR 81/02 contains requirements for fuel consumption and emissions labeling for light vehicles. The required label “indicates the vehicle’s fuel consumption in litres of fuel per 100 kilometres (L/100km) and its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in grams per kilometre (g/km).” The intention is to provide information to consumers; there are no current fuel economy standards for light vehicles.
As discussed in Part VII, below, “[t]he Australian Government’s Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions is currently undertaking a review to consider whether Australia should adopt the Euro 6 standards for light vehicles and Euro VI standards for heavy vehicles.” It is also considering whether to introduce mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards.
VII. Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions
On October 31, 2015, the Australian Government announced the establishment of the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions to conduct a “whole of government review of vehicle emissions.” The Ministerial Forum is “supported by an interdepartmental working group which is examining issues [related] to reduced vehicle emissions, including the implementation of Euro 6 noxious emissions standards, fuel quality standards, fuel efficiency measures (CO2) for light vehicles, and emission testing arrangements.”
In announcing the review, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, Paul Fletcher, stated as follows:
Presently we do not have the same levels of smog pollution in Australia that other countries face. Nevertheless, we must work hard to keep our air clean and reduce CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change by ensuring our new vehicles meet world’s best standards.
Tough noxious emissions standards already ensure that air quality in Australian cities is good by international standards, but we are taking direct action on climate change through a range of initiatives. It is the Australian Government’s policy to harmonise our vehicle standards with international standards developed through the United Nations.
We have recently adopted the United Nations based Euro 5 noxious emissions standards for light and heavy vehicles and are now considering the adoption of Euro 6. We are also working with other countries to improve the vehicle testing arrangements for noxious emissions.
The press release further stated that “Australia already has in place a mandatory consumer information programme that mandates fuel efficiency labelling on new cars, as well as a voluntary programme through the Green Vehicle Guide that aims to assist consumers to make informed purchasing decisions,” and that “[t]he Government will examine further measures such as incentives and standards to encourage the purchase of more fuel efficient vehicles.”
In February 2016, the Ministerial Forum released a discussion paper on possible measures for reducing Australia’s vehicle emissions. Following consideration of the submissions received on the discussion paper, the Ministerial Forum released three further consultation documents in December 2016:
A discussion paper on improving the fuel standards under the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 (Cth)
A draft regulation impact statement (RIS) on strengthening noxious gas emissions standards for vehicles (under the ADRs)
A draft RIS on improving the efficiency of new light vehicles
Subsequently, in January 2018, the Ministerial Forum released a draft RIS proposing improvements to the fuel standards under the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 (Cth), with the goal of bringing Australia’s fuel quality “into line with international standards.” Submissions on the RIS closed on March 8, 2018.
Following continued public consultation, the Ministerial Forum “intends to provide a draft implementation plan on potential measures for consideration by Government.”
A. Proposed Changes to Fuel Quality Standards
The draft RIS related to fuel quality standards notes that the existing legislative instruments under the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 (Cth) are due to sunset (i.e., cease to have effect) in 2019. Changes are proposed to “many parameters” in the five existing fuel standards, “most notably, to levels of sulfur, aromatics and possibly octane in petrol, as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and cetane in diesel.” In addition, a new standard is proposed for a B20 diesel-biodiesel blend.
The RIS states that proposed reforms focus on petrol because “Australia’s petrol is not as high quality as petrol in other OECD countries.” Three policy options are considered, including (A) maintaining the status quo; (B) revising the fuel standards to harmonize with European standards, including phasing out regular unleaded petrol as well as broadening the scope of the diesel standard; and (C) harmonizing with European standards, with the exception of retaining regular unleaded petrol but with a lower sulfur level.
Information is provided regarding the cost-benefit analysis for each of these options, with different implementation dates considered, along with an assessment of the options against certain policy assessment criteria. It concludes that option C, above, “is likely to produce the greatest community net value.”
The RIS notes that
[i]nternational vehicle manufacturers are designing vehicles to meet the more stringent fuel efficiency and emissions standards adopted by our trading partners. These vehicles are designed to perform optimally on higher quality fuel than is currently available in Australia, particularly in relation to petrol sulfur, aromatic and octane levels.
Harmonisation of Australia’s fuel quality with the quality of fuel that these vehicles are designed to operate on will maximise vehicle emissions control system operability and fuel efficiency outcomes, and will limit vehicle operability issues (for example, to vehicle catalysts).
Harmonisation with European fuel standards was strongly supported by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which advised that to offer vehicles with world-class pollutant emissions standards, Australia must harmonise fuel standards with leading overseas markets.
B. Proposed Changes to Vehicle Emissions Standards
The draft RIS on noxious gas emissions standards considered the following six regulatory and nonregulatory options:
Option 1–Business as usual;
Option 2–Fleet purchasing policies;
Option 3–Voluntary standards;
Option 4–Mandate Euro 6 for light vehicles under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989;
Option 5–Mandate Euro VI for heavy vehicles under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989; and
Option 6–Mandate both Euro 6 for light vehicles and Euro VI for heavy vehicles under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989.
Following a qualitative assessment, options 1, 4, 5, and 6 “were considered viable.”
The RIS notes that “[i]f the ADRs do not keep pace with international trends, Australia runs the risk of foregoing the benefits of technology available in other developed countries. Manufacturers may find it more cost effective to continue supplying older technology to the Australian market.”
C. Possible Introduction of Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Standards
The draft RIS on vehicle efficiency “examines the case for Australian Government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving the efficiency of new light passenger and commercial road vehicles supplied to the Australian market for use in transport.” The RIS notes