Global transport activity will more than double by 2050, and traffic emissions will rise by 16% compared to 2015 – even if existing commitments to decarbonise transport are fully implemented.
Any currently expected emissions reductions will be more than offset by the increased demand for transport.

However, transport CO2 emissions can be cut by almost 70% over the 2015-50 period with the right policies.

A reduction of this magnitude will bring the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5˚C into reach. It requires to:

  • put in place ambitious low-carbon policies now;
  • reinforce positive behavioural changes caused by the pandemic
  • gear stimulus packages towards decarbonisation.

There are three main scenarios for the future of passenger and freight transport, and all transport modes. The scenarios include detailed projections for transport CO2 emissions under different conditions, allowing an assessment.

Facts and findings

Based on 2015 figures, today:

  • urban mobility generates 40% of all CO2 emissions from the movement of people,
  • non-urban transport is responsible for the remaining 60%;
  • 75% of all emissions from urban passenger transport come from private cars;
  • reight emits more than 40% of all transport CO2; its share is growing slightly.

If current policies remain in place between now and 2050:

  • passenger transport activity will increase 2.3-fold (measured in passenger-km);
  • freight transport activity will grow 2.6-fold (measured in tonne-km);
  • emissions from urban mobility will fall very slightly, by 5%;
  • freight CO2 emissions will grow by 22%.

Under ambitious policies that also lock in CO2 reduction windfalls from Covid-19:

  • cities could cut CO2 emissions from urban mobility by as much as 80% to 2050;
  • regional passenger transport (e.g. by air, rail, bus) could more than halve its CO2 emissions;
  • freight emissions could be 72% less.

Six recommendations

Six recommendations on how governments can set the world on a path towards sustainable mobility, achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. Align Covid-19 recovery packages to revive the economy, combat climate change and strengthen equity. Recovery from the Covid-19 crisis offers a singular chance to combine economic development with shifting mobility behaviour and scaling up low-carbon technologies while increasing opportunities for citizens by improving access.
  2. Implement much more ambitious policies that will reverse the growth of transport CO2 emissions. Governments must set ambitious targets in the 2021 revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, underpin them with concrete policies, and reinforce them by leveraging Covid-19 recovery packages to accelerate and deepen transport decarbonisation.
  3. Target different transport sectors with strategies that reflect their specific decarbonisation potential and challenges. Not all strategies to “avoid, shift, and improve” are applicable across the sector in the same way.
  4. Support innovation to accelerate the technological breakthroughs needed to decarbonise transport. Technological advances are critical to effectively decarbonise transport, especially in otherwise hard to decarbonise areas such as aviation and long-haul road freight.
  5. Shift the priority to improving accessibility. Transport planning tends to conflate increased capacity with improved accessibility. Yet travelling more and further does not mean citizens have easy access to where they need to go. Transport planning that serves citizens considers their desired destinations and focuses on how well transport options connect them.
  6. Intensify collaboration with non-transport sectors and between public and private actors. Transport decarbonisation is inseparable from developments in other sectors. Sustainable mobility is only possible with clean energy. In turn, low-carbon transport is central to sustainable trade and tourism.

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