In the race against climate change, cooperation between energy and transport is more critical than ever

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Two men about to board on the tramway service between Rabat and Sale in Rabat, Morocco
© Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

In the face of the climate crisis, addressing carbon emissions from transport is more urgent than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue and threatened to reverse recent progress on sustainable mobility, with many people switching from public to private modes of transport.

Addressing transport emissions is a complex challenge that requires sweeping changes in technology and behaviour. To achieve real progress on this agenda, the transport community must work hand in hand with all relevant stakeholders.  That includes, most importantly, ensuring closer collaboration with a wide range of partners — including, in particular, relevant stakeholder in the energy sector. 

This is where the new Digital Toolkit for Energy and Mobility comes in. Specifically, the toolkit ties the two sectors together by looking at synergies between transport and energy in three key areas identified in the Global Roadmap of Action toward Sustainable Mobility (GRA):

  • Expand public transport infrastructure
  • Plan for integrated multimodal freight transport networks
  • Promote public discussions on new mobility solutions for example, autonomous vehicles, e-mobility, and on-demand transportation

The development of this toolkit is part of a comprehensive effort undertaken by the SuM4All partnership to elaborate an actionable GRA. Led by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funded High Volume Transport (HVT) Applied Research Programme under the SuM4All umbrella, the toolkit is developed for public policymakers, transport and energy experts, researchers, and the wider public and private sector stakeholders interested in or implementing action on low-emission mobility addressing the nexus between transport and energy.  

At a panel discussion to launch the toolkit, moderated by Francesco Dionori, Chief of Transport Networks & Logistics Section, Sustainable Transport Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, questions about the need for action and the use of the toolkit were put to an expert panel. 

Key highlights from the panel discussion include: 

Public acceptance through discussion is crucial

Martin Humphreys, Lead Transport Economist at the World Bank, outlined that the majority of current users are not concerned about where the energy comes from for their transport. Yet the source of energy for transport is the crux to achieving green mobility. This means users will have to accept changes that might not be appealing. 

He said: “Public discussion is crucial to facilitate public acceptance of what are likely to be higher costs of mobility, a reduction in the option of modes and possibly destinations, and, inevitably, less mobility in some cases.”

Speaking from a city level perspective, Maína Celidonio, Secretary of Transport for the City of Rio de Janeiro, explained that policymakers need to ensure users understand these changes, and show that there are not only costs but also benefits. She said: “When this comes out the change becomes more solid and long term… We need to give short-term benefits and also give people the long-term benefits.” 

Investment is key to make change happen 

Knowledge resources like the toolkit are an important step for making the transition from rhetoric to action. But this needs to be followed by adequate investment. International Finance Institutions like the World Bank have a responsibility to convey good practice to client countries and to share what has worked and what must create sustainable plans grounded in evidence. Finance is not yet properly in place to support the nexus between energy and mobility, but new initiatives are emerging to grow investment and momentum between these sectors. 

We need a structural shift 

Hannah E. Murdock, Project Manager & Analyst at REN21, spoke about the need for a structural shift from fossil fuels to a renewable energy-based system — not just for transport but across the full energy system. She said: “It doesn’t mean moderately increasing the share of renewable energy from one year to the next, or gradually decreasing the contribution of fossil fuels, but really a radical transition starting today.” 

Overall, the discussion highlighted how decarbonizing the energy sector is needed to decarbonize the transport sector, and showed how the new toolkit could help break the silos between the two sectors. “This toolkit is the first attempt of the SuM4All partnership to tie in these two very different discussions and it provides three clear examples as to why we need to do it: decarbonizing the energy sector is needed in order to decarbonize the transport sector,” said Nancy Vandycke, SuM4All’s Program Manager, in her concluding remarks. 
In the run towards COP26, SuM4All will continue to stimulate informed discussion on the right pathway towards decarbonizing the transport sector, taking into account all the different dimensions of sustainability. Carbon emission reduction through green mobility is one goal of sustainable mobility — and a very important one — but we have to consider the three other goals as well: universal access, efficiency, and safety. 

Click here to download the Digital Toolkit for Energy and Mobility
Click here to download the two-page snapshot 
Click here to watch the recap of the event
Click here to learn more about the GRA in Action Series

Note: The authors appreciate Helen Platt (HVT/IMC Worldwide) and Jennifer Okaima Piette (World Bank) for their editorial input, including the editing of the event video.


Bernard Obika

Senior Technical Director, High Volume Transport Applied Research, FCDO

Clotilde Rossi di Schio

Senior Specialist, Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL)

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