How Indonesia’s Gojek is redefining “on-demand”

By Will Duncan

Following our look into transport innovation in the Global South, we take Indonesia’s Gojek as a case study to examine Southeast Asia’s bustling on-demand transport market.

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Photo: findracadabra/Shutterstock

Born on congested streets

Jakarta might just have the worst traffic in the world. In serious need of solutions, perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the Indonesian capital became home to Southeast Asia’s most successful innovative transport start-up: Gojek.

More than 30 million people live in Greater Jakarta — the third-largest megacity in the world, behind Tokyo and Shanghai. Cars can barely move on its congested streets so locals tend to get around on scooters or motorcycles. After all, they’re smaller, simpler, and importantly, cheaper. As in countless other Southeast Asian cities and towns, the scooter is king.

Ojeks — informal motorcycle taxis — are widespread; often more appropriate than conventional four-doored taxis. In 2010, Gojek was born as a ride-hailing call centre with twenty drivers. Just a few years later, the Jakarta-based company launched an app and with astonishing pace transformed on-demand transport and service delivery in the region. Today, its principle service GoRide, has more than two million drivers in 203 cities and districts in Indonesia. It has expanded internationally into Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand, garnering an estimated worth of US$10 billion, making it Indonesia’s first “decacorn” start-up.

Armed with a fluency of the local market, Gojek has succeeded where Western competitors have not. Ride-sharing services in the busy cities of Southeast Asia tend to move on two wheels. While Uber has been in the region since early 2013, it was late to embrace motorbike taxis, waiting until 2016 to introduce two-wheelers. Gojek’s strongest rival, Singapore’s Grab, also happens to be a regional neighbour. Understanding how Southeast Asia works, how its people typically get around and access services, has proven to not only be an advantage — but essential. After years of competition, in 2018 Uber yielded to its rivals, ceding its ride-hailing and UberEats businesses to Grab in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, in return for a 27.5% stake and a seat on Grab’s board.

Lifestyle on demand

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Photo: findracadabra/Shutterstock

Offering rides on the back of motorcycles was just the beginning. After sufficiently disrupting Indonesia’s typically informal ojek market with a good quality app and a reliable payments system, Gojek, like its rival Grab, has quickly become a one-stop-shop “super app” with over twenty different services, broadening its offering to meet varied and evolving demands. What is striking throughout this expansion is Gojek’s business model, which places a strong emphasis on the role transport plays in all other service markets.

Food delivery quickly became a core element of Gojek’s business. Its GoRide motorcycle drivers could easily double as GoFood delivery people — there’s little difference in carrying passengers to carrying nasi goreng. But why stop there? GoMed offers home delivery for medicines and pharmacy products. Urban logistics are covered by GoSend and GoBox.

GoLife, a smartphone application, allows users to order from GoClean, GoAuto, and GoLaundry — each service is ordered and arrives at customers’ homes on-demand. GoGlam will send a mobile stylist your way; GoMassage lets you order a masseuse!

Despite expanding in several different directions, Gojek’s services are unified both in terms of the user experience, and the logistical networks. A single “super app” with consistent branding supports a sense of familiarity to customers. And each service is powered by Gojek’s locally-driven on-demand transport infrastructure.

This type of service integration within a single umbrella application is radically changing how companies and regulators alike understand app-based mobility services globally. Rather than non-transport sector players using transport providers as a service, Gojek has used its local expertise of how transport works as a springboard for expanding beyond its original business model. In the process, it has flipped traditional roles on their head by sub-contracting non-transport businesses rather than being contracted itself.

A new regulatory challenge

The service industry around the world is experiencing a major shift towards mobile-based on-demand business models. These changes can mean excellent news for consumers; they’ve typically offered greater choice, convenience, comfort, and often lower prices than what was offered before the on-demand disruption began. However, they also pose new regulatory challenges for countries in the Global South and North alike.

First of all, there are safety concerns. Policy makers must ensure that as the market shifts to on-demand gig-economy services, vehicle safety standards are adhered to. Drivers must be properly vetted and trained for the job. It’s worth noting that the rating systems built into most gig-economy applications tend to incentivise personal and professional responsibility on the part of drivers and, indeed, passengers who are also made more accountable for their behaviour. Nevertheless, governments must recognise their role in setting appropriate safety standards.

Then, regulators must confront the global headache that is the gig economy. In Indonesia, millions of people drive passengers, goods, medicines and the like for Gojek, for example, but they aren’t considered employees. This lack of formal employment represents a significant regulatory challenge, both in the Global North and South. It may also offer opportunities, however: in the Global South, to improve the welfare of workers in the informal sector; in the Global North, to create more flexible job opportunities. Gojek again leads the way in this respect, by providing health and accident coverage for its drivers while offering them highly flexible work arrangements.

There are externality issues to consider, too. New home delivery services and on-demand transport options ultimately contribute to more traffic on the roads — motorcycles or otherwise. This means that regulators must consider the traffic and pollution implications of new mobility services — from on-demand ojek services to mobile masseuses.

These challenges are common to countries across the world. And policy makers everywhere should approach regulation carefully. While the changes in the service industry require stricter parameters and oversight, governments risk forcing innovation out of their cities and industries, should their rules go too far.

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To learn more about global transport innovation, check out the ITF Corporate Partnership Board’s new report Expanding Innovation Horizons: Learning from transport solutions in the Global South.

Will Duncan is currently studying a Master in Public Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, and is an intern at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

 

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Born out of need: How the Global South is driving transport innovation

By Will Duncan

The world’s emerging nations are fertile ground for radical and creative mobility solutions. Government-supported innovation is helping the Global South become a leading force in the future of transport.

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RT-Mart electric bus in China | Photo: Mars Hartdegen/Flickr

The transport sector is moving quickly these days. New technologies, shared services, and GPS are changing how we get from A to B. But perhaps one of the most interesting trends in transport is where, exactly, these innovations are coming from.

“The future of transport is in the Global South’s hands,” says Bambang Susantono, former transport minister of Malaysia and now vice-president of the Asian Development Bank.

It’s easy to see why: Twenty-seven of the world’s 33 megacities are in the Global South — a term that describes low- and middle-income countries in Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Extraordinary economic growth and rapid urbanisation have brought sudden change to the Global South. With progress comes a host of challenges — and, first among these is transport.

But need begets innovation. And thus, the assumption that innovation flows from rich to less prosperous regions, from industrialised to developing countries, from the northern to the southern hemisphere is being challenged. Inspiration for tomorrow’s transport solutions can be found in the Global South’s emerging nations by those who care to look.

Decades ahead

Take shared mobility. No other topic preoccupies city officials, transport planners and entrepreneurs in the industrialised North today as much as the question of how to get more than one person into a car built for four or more.

In the South, it’s been a reality for decades. “Shared mobility is everywhere when I travel cities as a global researcher,” says Fábio Duarte, Professor of Urban Planning in Curitiba, Brazil. “I take taxis in Brasília, hold on tight to ojek motorcycles in Jakarta, or figure out how to reach my destinations with matatus in Nairobi.”

Durante says that “thinking of shared mobility as a novelty is a narrow view held in the Global North”. It ignores the creative ways that societies with few cars and inadequate public transport are coping with the lack of options.

WhereIsMyTransport, a UK start-up, secured USD 1.5 million in funding in 2016 to create an accessible and accurate data service for Cape Town’s formal and informal transport routes. Informal shared minibus routes make up a significant proportion of the city’s commutes, which is typical of many cities outside of Europe and North America. WhereIsMyTransport’s digital map has made these services visible. They’re presented as complimentary or, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to any other way to get around the city.

After securing further investment, the company has expanded its data and mapping service throughout Latin America and Asia. A recent project saw informal transport in Mexico City mapped to include over 30 000 informal minibus routes.

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Formal and informal transport networks in Gauteng, South Africa. Source: WhereIsMyTransport

The South is electric

Electric mobility is another example. Despite ambitious pledges, the share of electric vehicles in the Global North remains marginal: just 2.5% of 2018 car sales in the UK were electric, 2.1% in France, and 1% in Japan. Only Norway stands out, with just under 49.1%.

The world leader in electric mobility today is China. Almost 99% of all electric buses and two-wheelers, and 40% of the world’s total of private electric cars can be found there.

This hasn’t happened by accident. The electric mobility revolution that is sweeping the Peoples’ Republic is the result of deliberate government policy. Beijing’s regulatory push mixes substantial investment into research and development, and strict emissions standards designed to force out internal combustion engines with targeted subsidies that have reduced risk for transport operators looking to adapt to the new cleaner technology. Thus, research, industry, and government are steered towards a prevailing direction, turning the country into a world market leader.

Both national legislation and city halls are in a position to provide the “enabling framework” for healthy competition, innovative ideas, and for market disruptions with the potential to greatly benefit citizens.

Emerging nations find themselves with greater freedom to innovate, as they tend to be less restricted by the historical legacies of some more developed countries. “Developing countries can break the mould of traditional transport,” says Susantono. ”The Asian car market is less wedded to internal combustion engines; hence the region now has the largest share of e-vehicles worldwide,” Susantono explains. “In this dynamic, governments of the Global South can be the leaders of change.”

In a further article looking into transport innovation in the Global South, we take Indonesia’s Gojek as a case study and examine Southeast Asia’s bustling on-demand transport market.

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To learn more about global transport innovation, check out the ITF Corporate Partnership Board’s new report Expanding Innovation Horizons: Learning from transport solutions in the Global South.

Will Duncan is currently studying a Master in Public Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, and is an intern at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

 

”We should design cities for active mobility”

Philippe Crist is one of the world’s leading experts on cycling and urban mobility. He sat down with Emma Latham-Jones to talk about cycling culture in emerging countries, infrastructure improvements, and what mayors can do to promote cycling.

At the world’s largest conference on cycling and urban mobility, Velo-City, politicians, city officials, transport experts, advocacy groups and researchers gather to discuss how cycling, and active mobility in general, can complement and replace non-sustainable transport options. At this year’s Velo-City conference in Dublin in Ireland, the keynoter was Philippe Crist of the International Transport Forum, an intergovernmental think tank for transport policy linked to the OECD. I sat down with Philippe to understand more about the role of cycling in modern societies and what cities around the world are doing – or not – to embrace it.


Velo-City is the Mekka of the cycling community. This year in Dublin you roused the audience with your opening speech on “The City of the Future”. What is the main value of events like this one?

Philippe Crist: I think they bring a lot of value! They’re a great opportunity for cross-fertilisation of ideas. It is a good way for public authorities and activists to get inspiration from their peers and to share best practices. Events like Velo-City encourage city officials to talk among themselves to scrutinise policies and work out how to improve them. I think that everyday examples are really important in these discussions. Often the small things can make a big difference. Take for example how the the Dutch and the Danes angle or lower the curbstones next to cycle tracks to make cyclists feel safer and allow easy on-off access to these protected spaces.. These are small touches but they make cycling a more attractive and compelling option for all.

Are cities doing enough for cycling safety?

PC: Some are, some aren’t. Since the 1980s and 1990s, we’ve seen some real leaders emerging from the Netherlands and Denmark. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are constant leaders here, although Rotterdam has significantly redesigned a lot of their city to improve cycling and public transport use.   But we shouldn’t overlook other cities. London, for example, has seen some pretty impressive results and has managed to double the number of cyclists in the past ten years. Bicycles now represent up to 16% of all trips in central London at peak hours.

Cities need to make it inviting for people of all ages and backgrounds to get on a bike. In cities where not much has been done to make cycling a compelling and safe option, the cycling population is not at all representative of the overall population. Instead it is largely skewed to young, male, risk-takers who generally feel comfortable breaking traffic rules they feel are not designed for them. When I see a lot of such cyclists – or a lot of cyclists in lycra — I see that as a symptom of bad cycling policies. Cycling should be made a feasible and attractive option for all – especially those that do not cycle now.

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Cyclist in car traffic in Sao Paulo, Brazil

What are the most noteworthy future trends in active mobility?

PC: There is a kind of tension in what the future holds. On the one hand, citizens want to be more active. Their commute is an obvious, and easy, way to include physical exercise into their day. On the other hand, there is a counter trend to more and more immobility. We’re witnessing a rise in transport that makes things as convenient as possible, which translates into minimising movement – it means moving the least amount possible door-to-door. You see this with ride sourcing and electric push-scooters. These forms of mobility mean you don’t even have to walk down the road to your bus stop or train station. Hence, activity is reduced. We know that the greatest benefits of active mobility are the health benefits and so we should be thinking about building cities to ensure activity mobility. If you make it easier to cross the city by bike than by car, you’ll soon see a rise in the uptake and convenience of active mobility.

Can you list your top three things a city official can do to promote cycling?

PC: Yes! First is managing speed. They need to implement speed limits, while redesigning streets for slower speeds. Where the speed limits have already been put in place, they then must be properly enforced. The second is space! They need to give cyclists more space on our roads. And this space needs to be properly separated. The final thing I’d recommend is making sure that cycling safety is built into the education system. In fact, not just the education system, it should also be a part of the drivers’ licensing system… But these changes must be made at the national level.

Cycling seniors

You mentioned Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and London as pacemakers. All four are in Europe. Are there other cities that stand out to you as cycling pioneers and from which city officials and citizens draw inspiration?

PC: To answer this question fairly, I think you have to take into account where the cities have started from. Mexico City and Los Angeles are now doing a lot, despite little preexisting cycling infrastructure. Taipei is rolling out an impressive bike-sharing system. Rotterdam is known as a cycling leader, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the situation was very different only ten years ago. Back then, they were entirely car-centric. In just two years Seville built an entire city-wide cycling path network. Berlin is looking now to integrate cycling with public transport. Cities are working around the world to rapidly scale-up cycling infrastructure.

Not everyone is keen on cycling. And some, frankly, just aren’t very good at it. What are some of the best low-carbon alternatives for these individuals?

PC: There are all sorts of human-powered vehicles out there. A lot of older people have tricycles to help with balance issues. Children, of course, often use them too. Companies are increasingly using cargo bikes to deliver their products, as they are much more reliable and are able to navigate dense and congested conditions more easily. This translates into high rates of on-time delivery, and so happier customers! Individuals can also use cargo-bikes. They are great for carrying people that are less mobile or incapable of walking.

It seems that mostly young people use bicycles. Is cycling something that is also accessible for older generations and for the less physically fit?

PC: In a city that has done enough to encourage cycling, there should be no difference in terms of the demographic using bicycles. There should be children on a bike, the elderly, fathers with their babies, young women – you name it. We see this when city design has made cycling the most compelling and convenient option. Technology can also help. E-bikes are making cycling investment possible even in cities with low population density, because they extend the range of cycling and overcome some of the topographical challenges.

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Is cycling an option to increase mobility in cities in the developing world?

PC: There is a lot of cycling taking place in the developing world – but it’s often viewed as an “imposed” mobility option rather than a positive one. Cycling is something that poor households do, as it’s the cheapest option. But it is also done in horrible traffic conditions and street spaces that are not at all designed for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians – as soon as households gain income, they typically move away from active modes of travel.  In the developing world too much space is allocated to vehicles that only a minority of the population can afford. Investment in cycling infrastructure is one of the best ways to increase the safety and attractiveness of active mobility. This includes the “hidden infrastructure” that is speed management. Such cycling infrastructure in turn enhances a city’s accessibility and inclusiveness.

Thank you so much for your time, Philippe.


Philippe Crist is Advisor for Innovation and Foresight at the International Transport Forum (ITF). His interests include how to use new data sources to improve transport decision-making. Currently he is investigating how policy and regulation might adapt to an increasingly algorithmically-driven world. Philippe won the Leadership Award for Cycling Promotion of the Danish Cycling Embassy’s in 2016. He is the author of “The Shared-Use City: Managing the Curb” (ITF, 2018)

Cover of the report "The Shared-use City: Managing the Curb" (International Transport Forum, 2018)

Why fighting transport CO2 emissions is like “Game of Thrones”

by Andrew Jackson

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We all enjoy a good story, where the unsuspecting hero faces challenge after challenge, and eventually wins through to bring triumph for those we care for. “Game of Thrones” challenges that paradigm, as the heroes we love are killed off one by one – with betrayal, swords and poison.

While this comment about “Game of Thrones” may be a spoiler to few people, the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the OECD in May published a report on the future of transport which may include the biggest spoiler of any plot. And unlike in our perfect stories, the report’s plot is one from “Game of Thrones” – where our future ends tragically.

The story starts by looking at how much we will travel in 2050. Cheap cars, cheap flights and cheap freight will provide us with great access. We will be able to explore the world more easily and have the things we want come to our doorsteps from anywhere in the world.

The total distance we travel locally and internationally will continue to rise. New technologies, urbanisation, global patterns of trade and world population growth from 7.7 to 9.7 billion people weave together into a powerful story of our future. Increasing wealth sees many more able to afford to adopt the movement lifestyles of the developed world. The story concludes that by 2050 total travel will increase threefold.

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Changing how we move

Not only will there be a significant increase in movement, we will also change how we move. Fewer people will own their cars. More of us will use public transport and cycle and walk. The use of electric vehicles will increase. We will take all of these steps to make our transport system more sustainable.

But the “Game of Thrones”-like ending to our heroic efforts to reduce CO2 emissions will be that we will fail to reduce the amount of carbon produced by transport. The three-fold increase in the amount of miles travelled will mean that despite all of the international efforts to decarbonise transport, our poison pill will be a 60% increase in CO2 emissions from travel and freight by 2050.

The ITF’s analysis includes the assumption that we will follow through on all current pledges of worldwide action. It thus assumes that the percentage of trips by car in OECD cities will decrease from 75% to 46%, and that 35% of trips in cities will be by public transport. Overall, this will lead to 20% fewer of trips being made by car. Further assumptions are that the current rate of uptake of electric vehicles will continue and that we will have electric planes making all trips of less than 1 000 kilometres. But all this will still not be enough even to keep CO2 emissions from transport at current levels, let alone reduce them.

We are offered an alternative ending to the story.  A story where we double our current efforts for change in the transport system. The number of trips by car in cities would fall to 26% of trips. There would be a 5% to 10% increase in the densification of our cities. There would be widespread uptake of electric vehicles, and we will use electric aircraft for all flights up to 1600 kilometres.

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The change we need

Yet even this apparent heroic intervention in the form of major investments, rapid technological advances and promotion of significant social change would be destined to fall short of our goal. Just like in “Game of Thrones”, this would be another hero we could embrace, only to see that our renewed efforts fail to bring about the change we need.  Yes, in this scenario we would see a 30% reduction in carbon emissions from transport by 2050.  But it would be nowhere near the 80% reduction we need to avoid annual weather events of a scale and nature that historically were the tragedies of a century.

Tragedies like the 1931 floods in China, which saw more than a million people die, the North American drought of 1988 which led to damage of USD 130 billion and 10 August 2003 European heatwave, the hottest day in history killing 30 000 people across Europe.

I wish I could finish my story with a third ending, where we will live on happily ever after. I do not have one. This is a story that will only end well if we have heroic political leadership. Leadership that is willing to take decisions that will risk their personal political futures today in order to secure a positive future for society. But at the moment we are on a track to see world temperatures rise to the levels which are the worst nightmare of the climate change activists – summer is coming!

Andrew Jackson is Managing Director at Consulting Jackson. He is a former Deputy Chief Executive of New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport

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The ITF Transport Outlook 2019 is available via the OECD iLibrary here

 

 

Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide

by Will Duncan

Countries around the world struggle with a divide between urban centres and rural regions. Bridging it requires imaginative transport policy to connect citizens everywhere with the services they need and give remote communities a better future.

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Olivier Ortelpa; “Paris, Gilets Jaunes – Acte IX”

After decades of weak growth and limited investment, many regional communities across the developed world feel forgotten; left behind by national governments in thriving capital cities. A sharp rise in regional inequality since the beginning of the millennium has exposed new and profound political divisions.

Take the Gilets Jaunes protests, for example, which have gripped France each Saturday since November 2018. It began as a demonstration against a fuel tax, but evolved into an array of anti-government political objectives. The movement highlights the growing dissatisfaction of a society divided into vibrant, globalised urban centres on the one hand and a periphery that is left behind, still struggling to adjust to decades of economic reform on the other.

It’s important for policy-makers to recognise the political fault line the urban-rural divide represents. Regional inequality, intensified by the global financial crisis in most developed countries, has contributed to “growing public discontent with the political, economic, and social status quo” in neglected regional areas, according to the OECD’s 2019 Regional Outlook,

Productivity growth is concentrated in just a single region in one-third of OECD countries — think the Paris region in France or the wealth gap that separates northern from southern Italy.

Cities are economic powerhouses. They are dynamic, yet efficient; with large, dense populations that concentrate innovation, creativity, and extraordinary productivity in close proximity. With more than half the world’s population now living in urban areas (and nearly three quarters in Europe), it’s no surprise that cities are often the primary focus of transport and infrastructure policy experts. Cities’ exceptionally active economies as well as their specific and complex problems from congestion via crime to inequality demand attention and substantial public investment.

Targeting attention on urban regions risks further alienating rural areas, yet “orthodox economics has few answers to the problem of regional inequality”, as The Economist noted.

Transport as an equity issue

Transport connectivity plays a major role in regional integration — that much is clear. Good physical links ensure accessibility and build stronger communities by fostering economic development and social inclusion.

“In the end, it’s an equity issue”, noted Ofelia Betancor of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria at a session dedicated to remote and rural communities during the recent Summit of the International Transport Forum. “We need to combine .. social evaluation criteria with equity criteria”, argued Betancor.

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From left to right: Ofelia Bentacor, University of Las Palmas, moderator Juliette Foster, Gloria Hutt Hesse, Chile’s Minister of Transport and Telecommunications, and Helen Hughes discuss access for remote and rural communities during the ITF  Summit in Leipzig, Germany, on 23 May 2019.

Basic services such as doctors, libraries and post offices are critically important for rural communities. But the available public and private services are often in decline, due to a lack of profitability (and of resources to compensate for that lack), which has left far-out communities further isolated and disadvantaged.

Stronger links between people and products, employment and markets are essential to empowering citizens in regional areas.

Most developed countries are supporting disadvantaged peripheral communities, providing some kind of buffer to regional decline. But simple redistribution — taking from rich areas in order to give to the less well-off regions — has often proved inadequate in the long-run, and expensive projects do not necessarily generate a significant return on investment.

Connectivity beyond planes, trains, and automobiles

So bridging the urban-rural divide not only requires considerable, disproportionate, public investment — it requires thinking outside the box. Governments must be creative and embrace innovation when considering better regional connectivity.

Investment in rural roads, rail, and aviation is obviously essential to bringing a population closer together. But so is considering structural reforms that might strengthen urban-rural economic interdependencies, and harnessing the possibilities of digitalisation, 5G networks or drone technology to connect remote and rural places.

Digital access via the internet provides new ways of linking in citizens outside the main population centres and should be part of policies for enhancing the well-being of rural communities. ”If you want to overcome social isolation, if you want people to have better access to job opportunities, digital connection is a must now,” summed up Helen Hughes, Director of Professional Services at Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

But it is the countryside where digital connectivity is in greatest need for improvement. Currently, urban areas outperform rural areas in quality of internet access in every American state, for example. And many rural EU regions have poor broadband speeds or no broadband connectivity at all.

A better-connected population would represent a vital step in bridging the divide and avoiding the resentment against better-off better-connected urban “elites”. A long-term commitment to maintaining and expanding and infrastructure important to rural communities and innovative approaches to linking in rural areas is essential to help them remain viable and thrive, and ensure that no-one feels left behind.

Will Duncan is currently studying a Master’s in Public Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, France, and is an intern at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

Links

ITF 2019 Summit session on Ensuring access for remote and rural communities

 

Can Electric Cars Drive Global Decarbonisation?

nancy-vandyckeBy Nancy L. Vandycke, Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative, World Bank

Can one plus one be more than two? I believe that it can. In fact, I would wager that we must find opportunities to do so if we are serious about delivering our goals for the Paris Climate Agreement. The transport-energy nexus is precisely a place where we can find such opportunities; more specifically, I am talking about the possibility of global decarbonisation through the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). That said, we must always be aware of potential pitfalls. Allow me to share my experience.

The promise of global emission reduction

In 2017, transport accounted for 24 per cent of total CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. To reduce emissions, many countries have been promoting the electrification of transport. For many, adopting the trend for EVs is a way to transition passenger fleet away from conventional gasoline and diesel-fuelled cars. In fact, last year, global sales of EV surpassed a million units. Under the current trend, EV production could almost quadruple by 2020, with China leading the way.

34851733984_ef336560fa_kAs more and more EVs replace internal combustion vehicles, the energy burden for transport will eventually shift from oil to electricity. This is good news for the power sector. By riding on the trend of increased EVs, it can become part of a solution for global decarbonisation.

There is an added bonus for the power sector. For years, its profitability has been in decline. Charging EVs will add some load to the power grid, which is a welcome development for utilities against the continued decline in electricity prices.

Such a scenario seems promising, but there are potential pitfalls along the way.

The pitfalls

For a long time now, the transport and energy sectors have been talking about decarbonisation in their own circles.

As I sat in conversations with industry leaders from each sector—both in my role as the lead for Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and as a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) global council on advanced energy technologies—I came to realise how disconnected the conversations about decarbonisation are. If we were to connect the two sectors, we must bring them to sit at the same table.

Accordingly, SuM4All invited experts in the energy sector to the table at our last consortium meeting in January 2019. However, it soon became clear that each side is speaking about decarbonisation in their own language and neither side could understand the other. Until both sides find a common language and tie their conversations together, it is unlikely that developments in these respective industries will succeed at decarbonising the global economy.

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Even if both sides manage to come to an agreement on a common language and approach, one must be thoughtful about the way both sectors collaborate.

As of today, renewable energy accounts for merely a quarter of total global power generation. Without greening the power grid, a wholesale adoption of EVs will not result in true decarbonisation in either sector. Half of the G20 countries have made progress in expanding renewable electricity generation in the years leading up to 2015, but, alarmingly, nine saw declines in 2015 and the preceding years. Reducing the carbon intensity of power generation is what matters in the end.

But this transformation will not happen overnight. As the share of renewables increases in the energy mix, the carbon intensity of energy production will also increase. In fact, in the short term, one expects an overall increase in carbon emissions with the EV deployment, simply because of the EV battery manufacturing.

The way forward

The good news is that if we manage to co-ordinate policy interventions within the transport and energy sectors, we can make great strides towards decarbonisation. For example, policy support measures that target electrification in the transport sector should be linked to renewable requirements on the energy side.  For this reason, I plan to bring a clear and simple message to the Electric and Digital Mobility event ahead of the upcoming ITF Summit: to fully leverage the power of mobility, we need to concurrently clean up the grid.

If we manage to do so, one plus one can indeed be more than two, and the Paris Climate Agreement goals will be very much within our reach.

Nancy L. Vandycke is a speaker at the TUMIVolt Conference on 21 May 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. The ITF Summit follows from 22-24 May.