The Government’s plan to decarbonise its vehicle fleet has hit a roadblock, with agencies saying only 49 percent of the fleet can go electric by the 2025 deadline, Marc Daalder reports

Government agencies will have to purchase carbon offsets for more than half of their vehicles from 2025 onwards.

An effort to decarbonise the public sector, including the nearly 15,000 vehicles owned by government departments, may stall as agencies struggle to electrify their fleets. In response to a survey from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), 57 agencies representing 98 percent of the government fleet reported that only 49 percent of public vehicles could be electrified by the end of 2025.

An emissions-free fleet by 2025 was one of the components of the Labour/New Zealand First coalition agreement in 2017 and the policy was carried over into the new Labour Government when a climate emergency was declared in November. The pledge to make the entire public service carbon neutral through reducing emissions and offsetting whatever was left over accompanied the symbolic emergency declaration.

However, the fleet decarbonisation plan always came with a key caveat – that vehicles would be replaced with electric alternatives “where practicable”. Now that most of the fleet has been tallied up, it appears just 49 percent of it is “practicable” to electrify.

The figure comes from a proactively released Cabinet paper on the progress of the fleet decarbonisation plan, which also contains more information about progress to date.

Government agencies can now choose from 19 models of battery electric vehicle in the official procurement catalogue. They can also use car sharing, which a report from provider Mevo found could reduce fleet emissions by 30 percent.

Less than a third of departments have a fleet optimisation or transition plan in place, MBIE reported, which means further gains could be expected as departments take a more detailed look at their options moving forward. The Cabinet paper said MBIE had directed every relevant agency with a fleet to create such a plan by December 1. Already, 26 agencies expect to reduce the size of their fleet in the lead-up to 2025, compared with just seven agencies expecting to increase their fleets.

Overall, the Cabinet paper said, the government fleet could shrink 20 percent as a result of optimisation. A spokesperson for MBIE said it wasn’t clear whether this would only include the sidelining of fossil fuel vehicles.

So far, the fleet has shrunk by 1100 vehicles in the past year. By July 2021, the number of electric vehicles in the government fleet had more than doubled (from 108 to 260) and, including 91 plug-in hybrids, represented 1.7 percent of all vehicles in the fleet. Another 386 battery electrics were funded by the State Sector Decarbonisation fund and will be added to the fleet in the next 12 months, meaning one in every 20 government vehicles will be either electric or a plug-in hybrid.

Officials calculated that the fleet decarbonisation plan would avoid 163,221 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions over the next 18 years.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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