G20 countries must scale up ambition and action to decarbonise transport

19 Mar 2019

By Hannah E. Murdock, Project Manager & Analyst at REN21

Decarbonising the transport sector is key to meeting global climate change goals established under the Paris Agreement. More than 80% of all Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted under the framework of the Paris Agreement mention transport and acknowledge its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, but ambition and strategies for action are lacking.

Nearly 97% of total final energy consumption for transport comes from fossil fuels globally. The sector currently consumes more than half of the global oil demand and contributes one quarter of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Current projections forecast the sector’s emissions will continue to rise, posing a major challenge for policymakers.

To highlight the importance of the sector for climate policy, GIZ, Agora Verkehrswende, and REN21 have compiled the report, Towards Decarbonising Transport – Taking Stock of G20 Sectoral Ambition, summarising mitigation policies enacted for the transport sector by G20 countries and illuminating where more action is needed.

Current status – G20 in the driving seat

The G20 is responsible for the majority of global energy consumption for transport and related CO2 emissions, collectively accounting for 69% of global transport emissions, 85% of which come from road transport.

While the G20 as a whole expresses commitment to climate action, Japan is the only G20 member with a quantitative emissions target for transport in its NDC. Generally, G20 countries show more ambition in national policy than stated in their NDCs at the international level. This discrepancy between national and international ambition may be the short time frame provided to prepare the NDCs. This discrepancy reveals room for stepping up international ambition in the transport sector. Nevertheless, the national targets remain insufficient for limiting global warming to well below 2°C

Currently, only a small fraction of fuels used in the transport sector is renewable. More than 95% of energy used for transport in G20 countries is based on fossil fuels. The majority of the renewable share of transport energy comes from biofuels (2.5% bio gasoline,1.4% biodiesel, 0.43% other liquid biofuels). Renewable electricity makes up just 0.3% (another 1.2% of electricity for the sector in G20 countries is from non-renewable sources).

Way forward

As the countries responsible for the largest share of energy consumption and emissions in the transport sector, the G20 economies have an obligation to lead on decarbonising the sector as well as assisting other countries in adopting sustainable pathways toward carbon-free transport. G20 countries need to increase ambition significantly in the next round of NDC submissions in 2020 and include strategies for translation into action.

While fuel economy and CO2 emissions standards are crucial instruments for improving efficiency, even more stringent standards would not result in sufficient decarbonisation to reach international climate goals. The remaining energy must come from zero- or near-zero-carbon options – namely, renewable energy sources.

Renewable fuels and enhancing the renewable share of electricity generation are prerequisites for decarbonisation of the sector. Biofuels continue to play a large role in the sector, and their sustainable sourcing should be ensured. Additionally, there are various propulsion solutions based on renewable electricity, the most efficient of which being the direct use of electricity in battery electric vehicles. Electricity from renewable sources can be used to generate fuels for conventional vehicles as well as produce hydrogen, which can be used in fuel cell electric vehicles.

More ambition and action are needed at both national and subnational levels, and transport needs to move up on the international climate change agenda. A comprehensive vision is needed to transform the sector, taking into account the promotion of renewable energy and sector coupling, public and non-motorised transport, technological advancement, evolving mobility patterns, new infrastructure, fuel economy and emissions standards, carbon pricing policies, multi-stakeholder dialogue, collaboration and knowledge exchange, and removal of counterproductive measures such as fossil fuel subsidies.

Comprehensive, coherent policymaking is necessary to achieve decarbonisation in the transport sector (and beyond), without which, the Paris Agreement and global climate goals will not be achieved.

Hannah E. Murdock
is Project Manager & Analyst at REN21, where she leads REN21’s work on transport and coordinates the Renewables Global Status Report, REN21’s flagship publication and the most referenced report on renewables worldwide.