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low-carbon transport

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.

Three reasons why maritime transport must act on climate change

Nancy Vandycke's picture


For years, the transport sector has been looking at solutions to reduce its carbon footprint. A wide range of stakeholders has taken part in the public debate on transport and climate change, yet one mode has remained largely absent from the conversation: maritime transport.

Tackling emissions from the shipping industry is just as critical as it is for other modes of transport. First, international maritime transport accounts for the lion’s share of global freight transport: ships carry around 80% of the volume of all world trade and 70% of its value. In addition, although shipping is considered the most energy-efficient mode of transport, it still uses huge amounts of so-called bunker fuels, a byproduct of crude oil refining that takes a heavy toll on the environment.

Several key global players are now calling on the maritime sector to challenge the status quo and limit its climate impact. From our perspective, we see at least three major reasons that can explain why emissions from maritime transport are becoming a global priority.

Climate finance: why is transport getting the short end of the stick?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Going nowhere fast... Photo: Simon Matzinger/Flickr
Climate change is a global challenge that threatens the prosperity and wellbeing of future generations. Transport plays a significant role in that phenomenon. In 2013, the sector accounted for 23% of energy-related carbon emissions… that amounts to some 7.3 GT of CO2, 3 GT of which originate from developing countries. Without any action, transport emissions from the developing world will almost triple to reach just under 9 GT of CO2 by 2050.

In previous posts, we’ve explored the policies that would maximize a reduction of transport emissions. But how do you mobilize the huge financial resources that are required to implement these policies?  So far, transport has only been able to access only 4.5% of Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and 12% of Clean Technology Funds (CTF). Clearly, the current structure of climate finance does not work for transport, and three particular concerns need to be addressed.

Urban transport: Lagos shows Africa the way forward (again)

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Ben Eijbergen
With a metropolitan population approaching 23 million, Lagos is the economic engine of Nigeria and one of the largest cities on the African continent. Rapid growth, unfortunately, has come with a myriad of urban transport challenges. To get around, most residents rely on the thousands of yellow mini-buses that ply the streets—the infamous "Danfos"—and on a growing supply of three-wheelers. These limited options, combined with endemic congestion, make commuting in Lagos a slow, unreliable, and expensive endeavor.
 
But this entrepreneurial city cannot afford to be stuck in traffic. Things started moving in 2008, when Lagos introduced Africa's first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor with technical support from the World Bank under the Lagos Urban Transport Project. The corridor was referred to as BRT-lite, a local adaptation that did not apply all the "classical" features of a BRT (level loading, fancy stations) but was well integrated with the local environment and became immediately successful. In fact, the operator was able to recoup its capital investment in the bus fleet in 18 months even without banning competitor services. The BRT services demonstrated that improving the erstwhile chaotic system was indeed possible.
 
Building on this success, Lagos has taken steps to improve and expand the reach of the BRT. The Second Lagos Urban Transport Project (LUTP2), supported jointly by the World Bank and the French Development Agency, provided about $325 million in 2009 toward building a 13-km extension of the BRT corridor between Mile 12 and the satellite town of Ikorodu. In addition to the BRT infrastructure, the project financed the rehabilitation and widening of the road from four to six lanes, the construction of pedestrian overpasses, a bus depot, terminals, a road bridge, measures to enhance flood resilience, as well as improved interchange and transfer facilities.

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