by José Viegas, ITF Secretary-General
Humans don’t enjoy being stuck somewhere. We like to move, go places. In fact, man values this mobility so much that he created extraordinary tools to get from A to B, starting with the wheel and not ending with the airplane.
We value our freedom of movement because it generates such incredible value for us. Imagine for a moment that all the means of transport you’re using have disappeared. Not that easy to get to work. No fresh groceries in the supermarket. You’ll need to walk to the doctor despite the sore knee.
Conjecture? For you. But for millions, lack of access to transport – and therefore to the things that transport provides access to – is a reality. There are still children that don’t go to school because they can’t get to school. It’s the same for health services and jobs. And it’s true for the larger economy as well – well-connected countries tend to thrive; those that do not struggle to bring their goods to world (or indeed national) markets.
The freedom to hop in a car
We won’t be easily persuaded to give up the freedom to hop in a car or on a plane. On the contrary, billions of people in the emerging economies are discovering the advantages – and joys – of modern-day mobility. If anything, global demand for transport will grow.
In itself that is not a bad thing – but only if we manage to, among other improvements, decarbonise transport. Today, our mobility is almost completely driven by fossil fuels. Even the electricity for electric cars or for trains often comes from coal or oil-powered plants. Compared with other sectors, transport emissions make up almost a quarter of all CO2 emissions from fuel combustion (pdf) – by 2035 it could reach 40%, which would make transport the world’s largest emitter.
The link between mobility and harmful CO2 emissions must be broken if we want to continue to remain as mobile as we are. If governments were forced to limit mobility in order to save the planet, the economic, political and human costs could be huge.
Back to the future
The better way is to provide carbon-free transport. In around 1900, the majority of cars in New York City were electric – let’s go back to the future. Improved or new technology alone will not solve the problem. To decarbonise transport over the next 35 years or so, all the levers we have at our disposal need to be aligned towards this goal, many of which are outside the transport sector: digital connectivity and 3D printing may make some passenger and freight transport superfluous in the future, and urban land use policies can be improved to reduce the need for urban motorised travel.
The International Transport Forum is launching a major initiative to help achieve this alignment. Anchored in the ITF’s Corporate Partnership Board (CPB), our Decarbonising Transport project will provide decision makers with an effective tool to develop a road map towards decarbonisation, and then help to navigate it. It will allow governments and enterprises to test and gauge the impact of individual actions in a highly complex and interdependent reality.
Quantitative and inclusive
There are three core elements on which the Decarbonising Transport project builds: First: COP21. The Paris agreement of December 2015 doesn’t actually mention transport. But it creates a framework in which countries will review their emissions reduction targets in five-year cycles, starting in 2020. Others, like the transport sector could follow this lead, creating synchronicity with countries.
Second: the data. The Decarbonising Transport project will evolve around in-depth quantitative analysis. Our ambition is to federate existing data and knowledge on transport to create the most comprehensive model of global transport activity to date. ITF has strong in-house modelling, and we are already reaching out to potential partners to link up existing models and leverage their collective power to become more than the sum of the parts. Decision makers will be able to use the simulations to calibrate their emissions reduction actions.
The third characteristic of the Decarbonising Transport project is that it will be inclusive. The modelling will serve dialogue and mutual learning among a broad set of partners who are joining forces to design the roadmap towards carbon-neutral transport. Governments, corporations, universities, multilateral institutions, foundations, NGOs will all have their place and contribute knowledge, data or money. 19 major international companies are already involved through the CPB.
Getting ready for 2020
The Decarbonising Transport project will be officially inaugurated on 19 May, at the ITF’s 2016 Summit in Germany. We plan to present intermediate results a year later. And by May 2019, we want the modelling to be robust enough to provide effective support to the 2020 reviews of COP emissions reduction commitments.
This is an open project, and very much a work in progress. All who have an interest in helping to make our mobility, and therefore our way of life, sustainable are invited to become part of the effort. Join me on Periscope (Twitter’s live stream app) for a Q&A session on Decarbonising Transport on Wednesday, 2 March at 15:00 Central European Time (CET) if you want to know more.