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low-carbon transport

The world is going digital—time for the rail industry to jump on board

Stephen Muzira's picture
Photo: Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock
Over the last five decades, Rail transport has faced major headwinds. The transformation of global supply chains has made the logistics business more challenging than ever, with increasing pressure to deliver fast and flexible services at a lower cost. In that quickly-evolving context, freight rail is grappling with fierce competition from road transport—a trend that will only intensify under the effect of disruptive technologies like autonomous trucks and on-demand mobility services. In addition, railways around the world have been hit by significant government budget cuts, limiting their ability to invest in infrastructure or maintain high service standards. Stiff competition from roads, which have the door-to-door delivery advantage have offered added pain.

At the same time, railways are in the midst of a profound transformation, driven by emerging digital technologies like 5G, big data, the Internet of Things, automation, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. On a recent study tour in China, I had the chance to learn more about these developments, and to reflect on how digitization may help the rail industry reinvent itself.

Sustainable Mobility for All: Changing the mindset, changing policies

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo: Photoviriya/Shutterstock
The global conversation on transport and mobility has evolved significantly over the past five years. Take transport and climate, for instance: although data on the carbon footprint of major transport modes had been available for a long time, it was not until COP21 in 2015 that mobility became a central part of the climate agenda. The good news is that, during that same period, the space of solutions expanded as well.  For example, data sharing is now viewed as an obvious way to promote better integration between urban transport modes in cities.

In that context, the task at hand for the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative (SuM4All) was clear: How can we work with decision-makers and the international community to transform the conversation, harness the full potential of these emerging solutions, and take on the world’s most pressing mobility issues?

To tackle these challenges, the initiative decided to focus on three essential steps.

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)?

Time to ask the tough questions about transport and climate

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo: Bernard Spragg/Flickr
Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change drew global attention by providing fresh and overwhelming evidence about the urgency of the climate situation. According to the agency’s latest report, global temperatures will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels within the next 12 years—unless we act now. 
 
Transport bears a huge responsibility in the current situation: the sector contributes to nearly a quarter of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and 18% of all manmade emissions in the global economy.  Under a business-as-usual scenario, this figure will continue rising to reach 1/3 of all emissions by 2040.
 
This means cutting emissions from transport will be central to solving the climate equation. To kickstart this process, the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative (Sum4All) just released a preliminary Global roadmap of action towards sustainable mobility that lays out concrete policy measures for a healthier transport future. Our coalition of 55 leading public and private organizations looks at all dimensions of sustainability: safety, efficiency, equitable access, and, of course, environmental impact.
 
As global leaders head to Poland for the COP24 Climate Conference, now is a good time to identify the most effective solutions for lowering the carbon footprint of transport. In that spirit, we encourage all interested parties to provide input and feedback on SuM4All’s Roadmap of Action: Which policy interventions do you think should be prioritized? Are there any critical measures that are missing from the proposal?  How can the private sector be part of the solution?

Advocating for change: When will transport have its "plastic straw moment?"

Shokraneh Minovi's picture
Photo: Phil Wong/Flickr
In case you haven’t heard, plastic straws are bad news for the planet. This much was made clear over the summer as a surge of anti-straw sentiment spread across many countries. News channels all over the world highlighted how this small and light piece of hollow plastic has been contaminating the oceans and posing a risk to the environment. Outcry was swift and decisive. Practically overnight, countless individuals vowed never to use them again. Even beverage industry giant Starbucks decided to eliminate plastic straws by 2020!  
 
Interestingly, straws make up a fairly small share of the overall plastic pollution in our oceans, especially compared to other sources of plastic waste such as fishing nets and gear. Still, every small piece of plastic that does not end up contaminating the environment is a win. But what’s truly remarkable here is how the global community rallied behind a simple and impactful change, and then followed through with it.
 
The whole campaign about plastic straws and the quick reaction that ensued got me thinking about what a “plastic straw moment” could look like for the transport sector. What small change can we all take to get the world to rally behind transport?

How can Indonesia achieve a more sustainable transport system?

Tomás Herrero Diez's picture
Photo: UN Women/Flickr
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,500 islands, is the fourth most populous country in the world, with 261 million inhabitants, and the largest economy in Southeast Asia, with a nominal Gross Domestic Product of $933 billion.

Central government spending on transport increased by threefold between 2010-2016. This has enabled the country to extend its transport network capacity and improve access to some of the most remote areas across the archipelago.

The country has a road network of about 538,000 km, of which about 47,000 km are national roads, and 1,000 km are expressways. Heavy congestion and low traffic speeds translate into excessively long journey times. In fact, traveling a mere 100 km can take 2.5 to 4 hours. The country relies heavily on waterborne transport and has about 1,500 ports, with most facilities approaching their capacity limits, especially in Eastern Indonesia. Connectivity between ports and land infrastructure is limited or non-existent. The rail network is limited (6,500 km across the islands of Java and Sumatra) and poorly maintained. The country’s 39 international and 191 domestic airports mainly provide passenger services, and many are also reaching their capacity limits.

The transition to low-carbon buses in Mexico: It’s not (only) about the money

Alejandro Hoyos Guerrero's picture
Credit: Taís Policanti/WRI
Transitioning from diesel buses to cleaner technologies can significantly contribute to tackling air pollution in cities and reducing the carbon footprint of urban transport. As alternatives to diesel are getting more and more viable, many governments and development partners are encouraging bus operators to make the switch, mostly by offering financial incentives such as example 1 or example 2.

However, after promoting cleaner buses in Mexico for five years, we have seen firsthand that financial incentives alone are not enough. Specifically, there are three main obstacles that impede the expansion of cleaner bus fleets, and should be addressed appropriately.

New technologies and risk aversion

In general, private bus operators tend to be very risk averse when it comes to experimenting with new vehicle technologies. This is not exactly surprising: according to our own calculations from different projects in Latin America, variables related to vehicle performance—like fuel and maintenance—make up over 2/3 of costs over the life cycle of a conventional diesel bus. In that context, operators who are not familiar with the performance of new vehicle technologies can understandably perceive the transition to a cleaner fleet as a huge financial gamble.

Technology holds great promise for transport, but…

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo: Automobile Italia/Flickr
Not a day goes by without a new story on how technology is redefining what is possible for transport. A futuristic world of self-driving, automated cars seems closer than ever.  While the ongoing wave of innovation certainly opens up a range of exciting new possibilities, I see three enduring challenges that we need to address if we want to make sure technology can indeed help the transport sector move in the right direction:      

The focus is still on car-centric development

The race towards incredibly sophisticated and fully automated cars is well underway: companies like Google, Uber, Delphi Automotive, Bosche, Tesla, Nissan Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have already begun testing self-driving cars in real conditions.  Even those who express concern about the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles still agree that this innovative technology is the way of the future.

But where is the true disruption? Whether you’re looking at driverless cars, electric vehicles, or car-sharing, all these breakthroughs tend to reinforce a car-centric ecosystem that came out of the industrial revolution over a hundred years ago.

Sustainable Mobility for All: Bringing the vision to life

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo: Imedagoze/Flickr

Making sustainable transport a reality requires a coordinated strategy that reflects the contributions and various interests of stakeholders around the world.
 
The Sustainable Mobility for All partnership has a critical part to play in kickstarting this process. The initiative is working to raise the profile of sustainable mobility in the global development agenda and unite the international community around a vision of transport that is equitable, efficient, safe, and green.
 
The issue of mobility and sustainability resonates well with countries’ concerns. The recent UN Resolution focusing on the role of transport and transit corridors in sustainable development demonstrates the continuing importance attached to the issue of transport and mobility by national governments around the world.

Low-carbon shipping: Will 2018 be the turning point?

Dominik Englert's picture
Photo: Peter Hessels/Flickr
As highlighted in a previous blog post, international maritime transport has not kept pace with other transport modes in the fight against climate change.

While inland transport was included in the 2015 Paris Agreement and international air transport followed suit in 2016, progress in the international shipping sector, which carries 80% of the world’s trade volume, has been more modest. Back in 2011, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) did adopt a set of operational and technical measures to increase the energy efficiency of vessels. Realistically though, it may take about 25-30 years to renew the world’s entire fleet and make all new vessels fully compliant with IMO’s technical requirements.

In any case, focusing only on technical and operational efficiency simply won’t be enough. The demand for maritime transport is growing so quickly that, even when taking all these energy efficiency regulations into account, CE Delft projects that emissions from international shipping could still increase by 20-120% by 2050, while IMO estimates range between 50-250% for different scenarios. This clearly calls for a bolder agenda that includes credible market-based solutions, too.

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