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

 

 

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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