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Moving toward green mobility: three countries, three different paths

Nancy Vandycke's picture
A local bus in Luxembourg. Photo: Fränz Bous/Flickr
As discussions concluded at COP24, countries still struggle to translate their climate commitments into effective and socially acceptable actions. This sense of stagnation is particularly evident in transport. With 23% of energy-related GHG emissions coming from the sector, transitioning to greener mobility will be crucial to the overall success of the climate agenda. Yet the world remains largely reliant on fossil fuels to move people and goods from A to B. As shown in Sustainable Mobility for All’s Global Roadmap of Action, there are multiple policy options that could help countries move the needle on green mobility, each with their own fiscal and political costs. To illustrate this, let’s look at three countries that did take concrete measures to cut carbon emissions from transport but opted for three different options: France, Luxembourg, and Norway.
 
What these countries have in common
 
These three countries all have a high level of income, which means the majority of their residents can afford to buy and own a car. The governments of these countries have also invested heavily into road and rail systems—including France’s transformative high-speed railway network. This effort has significantly increased the number of people who have access to fast and reliable transport, and helped bridge the social divide between urban and rural areas.
 
But “universal access” is only one of the four policy goals to achieve sustainable mobility: efficiency, safety, and green mobility are equally important.  Now that the infrastructure is in place, and carbon-intensive cars and trucks are on the roads, the challenge for policy-makers is to figure out how we can reach these three other goals in a world where individual mobility has become a new “social right”.  In other words, which policies will be most effective for reducing the environmental footprint of the current mobility system (GHG emissions, noise, and air pollution)?

Motorization and its discontents

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Sarah Farat/World Bank
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  While visiting the World Bank library the other day, I was struck by how many development publications featured pictures of motor vehicles on their covers, even though most of them covered topics that had little to do with transport.  The setting and tone of the pictures varied – sometimes they showed a lone car on a rural highway, sometimes congested vehicles in urban traffic, and sometimes a car displayed proudly as a status symbol – but the prevalence of motorized vehicles as a visual metaphor for development was unmistakable to me: in the public imagination, consciously or otherwise, many people associate development with more use of motorized vehicles.

Indeed, motorization – the process of adopting and using motor vehicles as a core part of economic and daily life – is closely linked with other dimensions of development such as urbanization and industrialization.

Motorization, however, is a double-edged sword.

For many households, being able to afford their own vehicle is often perceived as the key to accessing more jobs, more services, more opportunities—not to mention a status symbol. Likewise, vehicles can unlock possibilities for firms and individual entrepreneurs such as the young man from Uganda pictured on the right, proudly showing off his brand new boda boda (motorcycle taxi). 

But motorization also comes with a serious downside, in terms of challenges that many governments have difficulty managing.  Motor vehicles can undermine the livability of cities by cluttering up roads and open spaces—the scene of chaos and gridlock in the picture below, from Accra, is a telling example. In addition, vehicles create significant safety hazards for occupants and bystanders alike… in many developing countries, road deaths have effectively reached epidemic proportions. From an environmental standpoint, motorized transport is, of course, a major contributor to urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, motorization contributes to countries' hard currency challenges by exacerbating their long-term demand for petroleum products.

Given these challenges, how are developing countries going to align their motorization trajectories with their development goals?  What should the World Bank advise our clients about how to manage this process?

How Virgin Atlantic used behavior change communication to nudge pilots to use less fuel, reduce emissions

Roxanne Bauer's picture

The idea that there are untapped opportunities for improving the energy efficiency of individuals and homes is common.  Energy efficient windows, lightbulbs, and appliances are sold worldwide.  People are advised to “turn off the lights when you leave a room,” and schemes have been introduced to reduce energy consumption by tapping into social psychology. But what about large firms? Or entire industries? Companies, after all, want to minimize costs to save money, don’t they?  How about airlines, whose bottom lines are subject to the international price of fuel?
 
It seems rational, but the International Energy Agency does not mention the aviation sector in its Energy Efficiency Market Report, nor does Kinsey in their comprehensive catalog of potential energy efficiency measures. Most reports (that I could find) focus on regulation of commercial enterprises.  This is a shame. The environmental impact of aviation is clear: aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates, CO2, and other harmful gases that contribute to climate change. Despite more fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines for airplanes as well as innovations in air frames, engines, aerodynamics, and flight operations, the rapid growth of air travel in recent years has contributed to an increase in total aviation pollution. In part, this is because aviation emissions are not subject international regulation thus far and because the lack of global taxes on aviation fuel results in lower fares than one would see otherwise.
 
Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, the National Bureau of Economic Research just released a working paper that suggests airlines’ fuel consumption can be reduced if they “nudge” the pilots to use less fuel, using behavioral interventions.

Behind the numbers: China-U.S. climate announcement's implications for China’s development pathway

Xueman Wang's picture
Solar cell manufacturing in China


The past five weeks have given us what may be defining moments on the road to a Paris agreement that will lay a foundation for a future climate regime.

  • On October 23, European Union leaders committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 and increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use by at least 27 percent by 2030.
  • On November 12, during the APEC Summit in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama jointly announced their post-2020 climate mitigation targets: China intends to achieve peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with best efforts to peak as early as possible, and increase its non-fossil fuel share of all energy to 20 percent by 2030; and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
  • On November 20, at the donor conference in Berlin, led by the U.S., Germany, and others, donors pledged about US$9.3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

China’s announcement in particular is considered by many to be a game changer. China, the world’s biggest emitter with its emissions accounting for more than 27 percent of the global emissions, is setting an example for other major developing countries to put forward quantifiable emission targets. The announcement will hopefully also brush away the “China excuse,” used by some developed countries that have avoided commitments on the grounds that China was not part of action under the Kyoto targets.

British Columbia’s carbon tax shift: An environmental and economic success

Stewart Elgie's picture

British Columbia. Brian Fagan/Flickr Creative Commons

By Stewart Elgie, Professor of Law & Economics at University of Ottawa and Chair of Sustainable Prosperity; Ross Beaty, Chairman of Pan American Silver Corp. and Alterra Power; and Richard Lipsey, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Simon Fraser University.

 

We often hear claims that a carbon tax would destroy jobs and growth. Yet the evidence from a Canadian province that actually passed such a tax – British Columbia – tells a very different story.

The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that B.C.’s policy has been a real environmental and economic success after six years. Far from a “job killer,” it is a world-leading example of how to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time: building an economy that will prosper in a carbon constrained world.

Carbon pricing – delivering economic & climate benefits

Thomas Kerr's picture

 TonyV3112/Shutterstock

A dangerously warming planet is not just an environmental challenge – it is a fundamental threat to efforts to end poverty, and it threatens to put prosperity out of the reach of millions of people.  Read the recent Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change if you need further evidence.

If we agree it is an economic problem, what do we do about it?  There is general agreement among economists that a robust price on carbon is a key part of effective strategies to avert dangerous climate change. A strong price signal directs finance away from fossil fuels and toward a suite of cleaner, more efficient alternatives.

This logic is not lost on governments and companies.  Momentum is building around the globe to put a price on carbon.  Consider these facts:

Liability insurance for climate change

Connor Spreng's picture


Our response to climate change at the global level clearly needs improving. While some governments are managing to set and enforce limits on the emission of greenhouse gases, an international agreement that is both enforceable and meaningful remains elusive. Measures undertaken by private individuals and organizations, though plentiful, largely fail to connect to the political process and continue to fall short in aggregate. Is there a way to combine these public and private efforts? We think there is, as we’ve explored in a recent NZZ article and ETH blog post: a new type of liability insurance.

Looking to the insurance industry for addressing climate change is not new (see, for example, Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller’s column; the Geneva Association’s statement; and the climate change and insurance links discussed at the World Bank’s recent Understanding Risk conference). What has been lacking, however, are ideas for employing insurance instruments at scale, across national boundaries, and in a way that maximizes existing capacities and market mechanisms.

Make a Wish: Climate Change or Energy Poverty

Mats van Kleef's picture

Make a WishIf you could have just one wish, would you choose to solve climate change or energy poverty?

Resolving these two calamities is fundamental to the wellbeing of the planet and people. Climate change is caused mainly by the consumption of energy and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Energy poverty is the lack of access to modern energy services. Helping 1.3 billion people access electricity and 2.6 billion people to have clean cooking facilities will greatly increase the world’s energy consumption and resulting GHG emissions. Spending money to mitigate climate change uses valuable resources that could more directly benefit the poor who have so little energy and such unhealthy cooking facilities. How do we address both energy poverty and climate change? This is as much an ethical dilemma as a technological challenge.

Communicating Climate Risks to Investors: the Next Major Ratings Failure

Alan Miller's picture

 Reserves of coal outside a power generation plant. - Photo: Shutterstock

Only a few years ago, the failure to properly quantify and communicate the risks of a widely traded commodity, mortgage-backed securities, caused major damage to the US and ultimately the global economy. According to the IMF, total losses will approach $4 trillion (pdf). A significant share of the losses were incurred by pension funds and insurance companies typically viewed as among the more risk-averse and cautious segments of the investment community.

A new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Grantham Research Institute on the Environment and Climate Change evaluates the failure to properly value the risks of climate policy to companies with major fossil fuel reserves and finds a similar potential for massive financial fall-out. They conclude that “Between 60-80% of coal, oil and gas reserves of publicly listed companies are ‘unburnable’ if the world is to have a chance of not exceeding global warming of 2°C.” (A short video explaining the research and mapping the amounts of investment at stake in different countries is available online).

Buying time as the climate clock ticks on

Mary Barton-Dock's picture

 

We’ve all had our moments of frustration with the unending negotiations on mechanisms to control carbon dioxide emissions. In the last Conference of Parties held at Durban in 2011, it was decided that the global deal for the post Kyoto framework will only be reached by 2015.

Meanwhile, the climate clock is ticking: countries continue to face the impacts of climate change with the poorest being hardest hit. Science has shed the spotlight on a “parallel track” which could help us deal with part of the climate change problem in a faster, cheaper way – it is tackling short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), primarily black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

These pollutants, while being extremely potent in terms of their global warming potential are short-lived in the atmosphere. For example, black carbon persists in the atmosphere for about two weeks (compared to CO2 that lives for up to 100 years) and is 917 times more warming than CO2 over a 100 year timeframe (and 3,320 times over 20 years).So, action on SCLPs can help buy time in addressing the more important and longer-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.