Shifting gear in race to sustainable mobility is urgently needed

30 Sep 2019

At present, the transport sector accounts for around 28 percent of the global energy- related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is estimated that this may more than double by 2040 as a result of projected increases in the number of light-duty vehicles and associated fuel consumption. For example, according to ICCT [1], the number of motor vehicles on the world’s roads will be roughly double what it was in 2010: about 2.8 billion cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other vehicles. CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft are on a pace to triple by 2050, as both passenger air travel and air freight surge worldwide.

The Paris Agreement calls for global carbon dioxide reductions to hold warming to a ‘well-below-2-degrees’ Celsius target, which is typically taken as a 1.5-degree Celsius target. For the transport sector, the goal is to largely decarbonise and move from 7.7-gigatonne (Gt) emissions/year down to 2-3 Gt by mid-century, instead of a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, which would see emissions increase to 13–15 Gt by 2050.

For transport to become a part of the “Net Zero Emission” economy, transformative changes are required. A holistic conversation is urgently required among policy makers and citizens about how transportation can evolve to meet growing and evolving needs and adapt to changes in society, technology, the environment, and public policy.

In this article, IPEEC’s Executive Director Benoit Lebot reflects on the challenges facing decarbonisation in the transport sector and what G20 economies can do to turn needs into opportunities.

Current status of Transport Policies – Insufficient to meet the impending challenge

According to the International Transport Forum [2], current and foreseeable policies to mitigate CO2emissions from global transport activity will not suffice to achieve the international community’s climate ambitions. Moreover, with the current ambition scenario, where current and announced mitigation policies are implemented, worldwide transport CO2 emissions are projected to grow by 60% by 2050. This growth is driven mainly by increased demand for freight and non-urban passenger transport, both of which are projected to grow 225% by 2050. Emissions from urban passenger transport, in contrast, are projected to fall by 19%, reflecting the existing strong focus of current policies on urban transport.

To overcome this, innovation needs to be accelerated and radical policy choices have to be made to decarbonise transport. Since technology will provide about 70% of the possible CO2 reductions to 2050, the abundant potential must not be underestimated. We need to think much harder about things like shared mobility, changes in supply chains and even new transport modes.

In line with this, during the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth in Japan this year [3], G20 Countries committed to exploring the innovation potential for heavy-duty transport, industrial energy use and seasonal electricity storage and technologies such as electrification of vehicles and powertrains.

How G20 could contribute to tackle the challenges?

Transition towards Sustainable Transport – Ambitious Policy Interventions Required

For the transition towards sustainable transport, several transport specific policy interventions can be made for improving vehicle efficiency and adopting low carbon vehicle and fuel technologies. Some of them include: transportation fuel taxes, vehicle efficiency standards, Feebates and financial incentives to motivate interest in efficiency, low-carbon standards for transportation fuels (encouraging the use of sustainably produced biofuels or electricity and hydrogen when produced using renewable energy or other low-carbon technologies), measures to curb private vehicle use (for example by tele-commuting and internet shopping and  by shortening travel distances such as through the densification and mixed-zoning of cities) and measures targeted to ‘’other’’ main passenger modes such as from private cars to public transport, walking, and cycling and freight modes.

In addition, innovation can help to accelerate the transition by reducing costs, promoting technology learning, and improving performance of both conventional and zero-emission vehicles (electric or fuel cell electric). Innovation in efficiency technologies and low-carbon vehicles and fuels is particularly important in harder-to-abate modes like heavy-duty vehicles, maritime and aviation.  For example, electric transit buses offer a strong starting point: they have a compelling business case, and can reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. With declining battery costs and lower fuel and maintenance expenses, electric buses have lifecycle costs that are increasingly competitive with diesel buses in many markets.

International collaboration can help to transform the transportation sector

One good example is IPEEC’s Transport Task group [4], which is helping G20 countries build domestic support and enhance capability for action to reduce the energy and environmental impacts of motor transport, especially heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs). They do so by identifying best practices on implementing cost‑effective energy efficiency and emissions control measures in transport, and exchanging these among G20 countries; conducting analysis and outreach to assess the opportunities, barriers, costs and benefits of HDV energy efficiency action; and subsequently, recommending a course of action for participating G20 countries.

In 2018, the TTG launched a project – called the Deep Dive – to help interested countries accelerate the development of robust HDV efficiency standards. Through a series of technical webinars and in-person workshops, participating countries are learning how to acquire and adapt existing tools, skills and methods required to define and certify minimum HDV standards while also building institutional capacity to oversee their implementation.

Shifting gear is thus essential for sustainable mobility

In the next years, technology is poised to transform transportation and impact society and the environment in ways we cannot fully predict but must be prepared to manage. In addition to coping with a technological revolution, we also face hard questions about how to reduce transportation’s greenhouse gas emissions; make it more resilient, efficient, safe, and equitable; and pay the staggering costs of doing so.

More ambition and action are needed at both national and subnational levels, and transport needs to move up on the international climate change agenda. 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. In addition, behavioural economic analysis of the implications of norms, biases, and social learning in decision making, and of the relationship between transport and lifestyle could help us to getting anywhere close to a 1.5°C compatible pathway.


[1] ICCT (2019), https://theicct.org/transportation-roadmap

[2] ITF (2019), https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/transp_outlook-en-2019-en.pdf?expires=1567433812&id=id&accname=ocid177496&checksum=0E7D1B0E98287D76FEABECCFA73B578A

[3] G20 (2019), https://www.g20karuizawa.go.jp/assets/pdf/Technology%20innovation%20to%20accelerate%20energy%20transitions.pdf

[4] TTG (2019), https://ipeec.org/taskgroup/2-Transport%20Task%20Group%20(TTG).html