Why flight shaming won’t take off

Exploding demand for air travel, low ticket prices and the simple ease of flying make it hard for the flight shaming movement to develop truly global momentum

By Emma Latham-Jones

Since 2017, there has been a surge in the number of northern European campaigners boycotting air travel for leisure. But this so-called flygskam (“flight shaming”) movement is up against the lure of low prices for air tickets, the sheer convenience of flying and a rapidly growing number of air travelers particularly in the newly prosperous Asian countries.

Flygskam has arisen from a broader concern that man-made climate change poses a serious threat to people’s livelihoods around the globe. Rising temperatures cause draughts, rising sea levels threaten low-lying regions, and ever more extreme weather leads to severe disruptions.

International aviation is responsible for only 2% of all man-made CO2 emissions. But this does not take into account the warming impact of aircrafts’ non-CO2 emissions. Planes also emit other substances such as contrails, aerosols, nitrogen oxides and particle emissions that are a major contributor to the warming impact of aircraft. Scientists have shown that non-CO2 emissions occurring at high altitudes have a much stronger climate impact than those produced by other modes of transport.

A record number or air travellers

Since 2010, international flights (measured in passenger-kilometres) have increased by 61%.  In 2018, a record 4.3 billion airline passengers were counted, up 6.1% from the year before. Between now and 2050, demand for air travel could again triple, according to the most recent projections by the International Transport Forum.

Global demand for air travel is set to quadruple over the next 30 years

If airlines were treated as a country, they would already now be among the ten biggest greenhouse gas emitters ahead of Brazil, Mexico and the UK, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes. “Even trying to stabilise aviation CO2 emissions at today’s level is challenging”, explains Andreas W. Schäfer, Professor of Energy and Transport at University College London and Director of the Air Transportation Systems Laboratory. “This is due to the strong growth of the sector, its capital intensity, the comparatively limited number of mitigation options and longtime constants—half of the aircraft introduced today will still be operating at mid-century.”

Of all transport-related CO2 emissions, aviation contributes over 10%. And transport’s carbon footprint has grown faster than that of any other sector over the past 50 years. The main reason is the rapidly growing demand for mobility – not least for air travel. In 2017, an average earthling person flew once every 22 months – twice as frequently as in the year 2000.

Flygskam gains momentum

Flygskam was originally championed by Swedish singer Staffan Lindberg and Olympic athlete Bjorn Ferry and gained momentum thanks to social media and the so-called “Greta Thunberg effect”: The Swedish teenage climate activist made her – widely publicised – trip to the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos entirely by train.

Rather than flying, climate activist Greta Thunberg took a train to Davos and a boat to New York

This gave birth to tagskryt (“train-bragging”), soon popularised by a Facebook group in which Swedes share stories of, and tips from, their journeys via train. The group now has 14.6K followers. Greta Thunberg has since moved to on to another emissions-free transport mode, sailing across the Atlantic to New York for the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit on a sleek hydrofoil yacht, the Malizia II.

Could Flygskam kick-start change in behavior on a scale big enough to counteract the predicted boom in global air travel?  Three main reasons make this seem doubtful.

Lack of alternatives

First, the lack of more sustainable alternatives for many flight routes. Europe and East Asia have well-developed high speed rail network. All bar two of the 20 countries with the best high-speed rail links are in Europe and East Asia. Among the extensive high-speed rail networks in Europe there are now many international links across orders. In these regions, travellers can fairly easily switch from air to rail, certainly for shorter flights. Indeed, Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen train has a greater market share than air transport on domestic routes under 600 kilometres.

Europe has a densely-woven network of high-speed rail lines

The picture in other parts of the world looks much less positive. In North America, the United States have no train line that is entirely high speed. The Acela Express that links New York and Washington, D.C., has an average speed of 106 km/h, less than half the speed of most high-speed trains. California is building a high-speed rail system, but its first phase won’t be completed until 2029.

The fastest train from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes 9 hours and 18 minutes. Any of more than one dozen airlines gets you there in 90 minutes. And “even where there is good alternative infrastructure, high-speed rail often simply cannot compete with the low prices and convenience of short-haul flights,” explains Jagoda Egeland, Aviation Policy Lead at the International Transport Forum.

No Chinese word for flygskam

A second reason why flight shaming may not take off is the soaring demand for air travel in Asia. There simply is no sign that newly prosperous Chinese, Indonesians or Uzbeks intend to forgo the pleasures of flying to Paris or Phuket.

The Asia-Pacific recorded the biggest numbers of overall aviation passengers in 2017, with 1.5 billion passengers and a 36.3% market share. The region also saw the highest year-over-year increase in traffic and had the five busiest international airline routes.  The Asia-Pacific region “will account for up to half of total annual increase in air traffic by 2020,” predicted Shukor Yusof, an aviation expert at Endau Analytics, in a conversation with Deutsche Welle.

China is the engine of much of this demand growth. The 400 million members of its relatively new middle class have an increasing thirst for exploring the world. Within the next decade, China will overtake the USA as the largest aviation market in the world. But currently there isn’t a word for flygskam in Chinese.

Passengers check in at an airport in China

Biofuels against flight shaming

A final factor that may contain flygskam are biofuels. Significantly, Northern Europe, where flight shaming originated, is now pushing hard towards making the fuel mix used for air travel less objectionable. The Swedish government has set a tax on avfuel – previously untaxed – and is contemplating to require 30% biofuels to be blended into kerosene by 2030.

Norway already requires 0.5% biofuel for airlines operating in the country and also targets 30% by 2030. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also calls for a significant proportion of conventional aviation fuels to be substituted with sustainable aviation fuels by 2050 in its  2050 Vision for Sustainable Aviation Fuels

The problem is that scaling up the production of biofuels may be difficult, and that growing more of the organic matter required for biofuels can actually increase greenhouse gas emissions. Which is why offsetting emissions is important. The ICAO’s 192 member countries agreed a global deal called CORSIA in 2016 that committed aviation to achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and to halve net emissions levels by 2050 compared to 2005. Any rise in international aviation emissions above 2020 levels will be offset, mostly through planting trees. While some of the largest environmental NGOs argue that the carbon stored in trees or biological carbon is not equivalent to fossil carbon, this may still help travellers to feel less guilt about flying.

Will short-haul flights be electric a couple of decades from now?

Electricity plus efficiency

Electrification of aircraft is another hotly pursued aviation innovation since explorers Bertrand Picard and André Borschberg demonstrated the viability of the concept with their circumnavigation of the globe in their solar-powered “Solar Impulse 2” aircraft in 2016. Electric aircraft are now being introduced by airlines in the US and in Canada. Norway has made the electrification of short-haul aviation by 2040 its official policy target.

This would have a truly drastic effect: Electrification of short-haul flights and more stringent carbon pricing would cut  CO2 emissions from domestic aviation by as much as 81% and those of (mostly longer-haul) international aviation by 19% by 2050, according to the ITF’s Transport Outlook 2019.

In the meantime, upgrades that increase the efficiency of conventional engines will likely continue, and the question of life-cycle emissions is also being addressed: The Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe has set itself some challenging environmental goals that include ensuring all aircraft are designed and manufactured to be recyclable.

Cancelled out

Ultimately, flight shaming remains a concept that has traction mostly in European countriesw ith already environmentally engaged citizens. The idea is unlikely to make a difference to consumers’ travel behaviour across the globe, as it is not catching on in some of the world’s largest aviation markets and is easily cancelled out by exploding demand for air travel.

However, the aviation industry is taking note of the movement. Airlines fear reputational damage and are keen to find ways to ensure their services will be less obvious targets for being branded as “shameful” by climate activists – and they are even willing to forgo some business: In reaction to flygskam, Dutch airline KLM recently launched a platform called “Fly Responsibly”: The website invites passengers to compensate for their trave CO2 – and also highlights that getting to Brussels from Amsterdam is faster by train than by plane.


Emma Latham-Jones is a Young Associate at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

Getting Maritime Subsidies Right

by Olaf Merk, ports and shipping expert at the International Transport Forum

Many countries support their shipping industry via maritime subsidies. The value of well-functioning maritime transport for trade is undisputed. But is this, in itself, a justification for passing taxpayers’ money on to operators? Clearly, the private sector can provide shipping services. Subsidies would only make sense if they serve a clearly defined public interest that cannot be achieved otherwise. They would also need to be designed in ways that will not distort shipping and logistics markets.

In practice, this appears to be challenging. To begin with, nobody really knows how much governments spend on maritime subsidies. Support often comes in the form of favourable tax treatment, which is largely invisible in most government budgets. Even countries that make an effort to monitor maritime subsidies, notably in Northern Europe, have difficulties in establishing the actual numbers. Many countries seem to be little fussed, perhaps even happy, that the monetary value of their maritime subsidies remains unknown.

More worryingly, maritime subsidies often do not have a clearly defined public interest purpose. The usual justification is that they support the competitiveness of the shipping industry. The standard threat evoked is the relocation of a shipping registry or of ship management activities to low-tax jurisdictions. The problem with that is that hosting these is no guarantee for good maritime connectivity or for a maritime cluster that adds significant value to the economy.

Many subsidy schemes assume specific outcomes, but do not actually make direct or indirect financial support conditional on achieving them – be it on ships flying a domestic flag, operators hiring domestic seafarers or vessels reducing emissions. Unsurprisingly then, only a few subsidies seem to actually achieve their stated goals. Despite an impressive range of subsidies, only 16% of the world fleet sailed under the national flags of OECD countries in 2019, down from 54% in 1980. The share of domestic seafarers has continuously declined in maritime countries like Germany, France and the UK.

A vicious circle is also at work. Maritime subsidies by one country provoke subsidies by others. This happened already in the 19th century, and it continues to be the case. This perverse dynamic has been fuelled by “flagging out” of vessels to countries with low taxes and little regulation. This development has led to the emergence of the tonnage tax in the European Union: a very favourable tax the shipping sector pays in lieu of corporate income tax. In some cases, regulations have been put in place to avoid a race to the bottom. The proliferation of tonnage tax schemes within the EU has prompted the European Commission to formulate maritime state aid guidelines to avoid tax competition between EU member states. Yet the tendency over time has been to allow more generous schemes that opened the door for other countries to apply similar generosity.

Finally, there is evidence that maritime subsidies distort wider logistics markets. A new study by the International Transport Forum at the OECD found that many tonnage tax schemes for shipping companies can also be applied to their cargo-handling operations in ports. The European Commission has approved this practice in its decisions when it reviewed the tonnage tax schemes of individual EU countries. This creates a competitive advantage for shipping companies that are vertically integrated with terminal operators, by allowing theses to profit from a lower tax burden compared to corporate income tax. This distorts the market for cargo handling, as independent terminal operators do not have these fiscal advantages.

How can these challenges be solved? Governments should be more transparent about the money they spend on maritime subsidies, as well as the impacts generated. And subsidies could be better justified if more conditions were set regarding those impacts, tying support closely to specific outcomes governments want to see. Distorted markets should not be among those, and subsidy schemes ought to be carefully crafted to this. Finally, governments should understand that it is in their own best interest to avoid a maritime subsidies race.

Download the report for free at this link

“The Paris Agreement Can’t Save the Planet Without Transport”

More than 190 governments will meet in Santiago de Chile in December 2019 to agree how to make the objectives of the seminal 2015 Paris Climate Agreement a reality. More than ever, transport will be the focus of attention: it contributes nearly a quarter of man-made CO2 and its share is still rising. Emma Latham-Jones talked to Pierpaolo Cazzola, a renowned expert on the links between energy and mobility, on what needs to happen to clean up transport.

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Climate change is threatening the fundamentals for human life on earth

If we don’t prevent runaway climate change, what will be the effect on lives around the world?

Pierpaolo Cazzola: There is a broad consensus that human activities are causing changes in the climate that lead to major risks. These include droughts, rising sea levels that threaten low-lying regions, extreme and less predictable weather, and loss of biodiversity with potential impacts on human health, food security, water supply and economic development.

Transport is a major contributor to CO2 emissions. How can we accelerate the transition to carbon-neutral mobility?

PC: That is a major undertaking. We can only achieve it through joint actions targeting several areas at the same time. And we must not forget to the human side in order to ensure that the transition is fair and equitable for everyone.

What are the main areas of action?

PC: I would say that there are six pillars upon which the decarbonisation of transport will have to build.

Firstly, we need to better manage travel demand. Policies that favour the development of compact cities with mixed-use buildings, for instance, reduce travel distances by cutting trip lengths and allowing more trip chaining.

Secondly, what experts call “modal shift”: Creating incentives for people to use transport modes that use less energy for the same service, such as public transport, and ensuring that it can be provided at affordable costs, promoting transit-oriented urban developments.

Thirdly, we need to maximise the capacity utilisation of vehicles. This reduces the energy needed to move each passenger or each unit of goods. Digital technologies can help to achieve this, and the right policy actions can do a lot to reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles.

Fourthly, vehicles need to become much more energy-efficient. It is crucial that policies support the deployment of technologies that use less energy per kilometre. Policies must also seek to accelerate the transition towards technologies that produce zero emissions, in particular electric mobility.

Fifthly, the so-called energy vectors for transport need to be decarbonised. Energy vectors are the technologies that store energy and make it available for transport – e.g. liquid fuels, electricity, or hydrogen. If their generation cause emissions, not much is gained.

Finally, emissions from vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure construction also need to be minimised. This requires improvements in the design and usage phases to minimise the use of materials. It also requires greater recycling rates, along with the use of recycled inputs and a growing reliance on materials that can be manufactured through processes with low energy and greenhouse gas emission intensity.

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Charging of Electric Vehicle

Let me also add that the transition of transport towards zero emissions does not only need to go hand-in-hand with the decarbonisation of the rest of the energy system, but it can even contribute to foster it, through sector coupling. The latter creates mutual benefits by linking energy consuming sectors such as transport, housing or manufacturing with the power production when thinking about decarbonisation.

And how could that work?

PC: For example electric vehicles could be used as distributed energy storage for the power system. This in turn would help the energy providers to better deal with the supply imponderables associated with wind or solar power and thus encourage them to embrace renewable energy. Similar opportunities exist if hydrogen became part of the transport fuel mix. Digitalisation can be a powerful enabler for sector coupling – if policy creates the right conditions in time.

You mentioned improving energy efficiency of vehicles. But what’s the point if cars keep getting bigger and heavier?

PC: That’s a good point. We should also pay attention to resource efficiency. From a climate change perspective there is no point in making engines more energy efficient if the gain is used to propel heavier vehicles – emissions won’t fall. So the growth of vehicle size should be managed, as should the material requirements. A lot can be gained by choosing the powertrain technologies that is optimal for the use of the vehicle. Full electrification, for example, is best suited to vehicles that operate within a defined range and are used intensively, for instance taxis or urban buses.

Can we stop climate change without addressing transport emissions?

PC: Honestly, no.

So how much of an impact does the transport sector have on global carbon emissions?

PC: Transport is almost entirely dependent on oil and emits between 20 and 25% of the direct CO2 emissions due to fuel combustion, which is the bulk of all emissions from greenhouse gases. Without immediate action, its share could reach 40% by 2030.

Transport’s contribution to CO2 emissions is even larger from a life cycle perspective. We mustn’t overlook the emissions stemming from the production and distribution of transport fuels, resulting from the manufacturing of vehicles, and finally those caused by the construction of transport infrastructure. To give an example, this could be the cement used for roads, railways, ports and airports.

To put it bluntly, the Paris agreement can’t save the planet without the transport sector making major changes.

Will transport be a topic of discussion at COP25, the follow-up to the 2015 conference that resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement?

PC: Yes. The Chilean presidency of COP25 is organising a high-level event to bring together transport ministers at the conference in Santiago in December. This will be the first time transport ministers are invited to participate, and that is a significant, symbolic and important step. They have discussed transport and climate change at their own Summits, most recently in Leipzig in May 2019, where a group of ministers led by Sweden’s Thomas Eneroth and Chile’s Gloria Hutt agreed a statement on transport and climate change. But they have so far not been included in the wider climate change negotiations.

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Gloria Hutt Hesse (Minister of Transport and Telecommunications, Chile) and Tomas Eneroth (Minister for Infrastructure, Sweden) present a joint declaration of several ministers on “Transport and Climate Change” at the International Transport Forum’s Summit 2019

Do you think the debate around mitigation policies for transport is sufficiently grounded in empirical evidence?

PC: The policy debate on climate is well informed. In particular the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has provided politicians with a solid factual basis for decision-making.

At the ITF, we also support policy action through the work of our Decarbonising Transport initiative. We provide quantitative evidence, through data analysis and advanced modelling that makes detailed projections on future transport activity and calculates the impact on transport CO2 emissions, among many other things.

If we have the evidence, why isn’t transport already carbon-free?

PC: Liquid fuels for use in combustion engines have a high energy density. They are also cheap. Competing with these characteristics proved to be very hard. As a result, transport today relies on oil for 92% of its energy, and that makes the sector particularly hard to decarbonise. Other energy sources have only managed to establish themselves in some niches, for example electricity in rail.

But the negative side effects of fossil fuel use such as pollution were fairly evident right from the outset, weren’t they? Why did that not help to push alternatives?

PC: Problems that could have questioned the dominance of combustion technologies and fossil fuels, were addressed by treating the symptoms, rather than the causes. The local pollution generated by exhausts, for instance, was tackled by developing exhaust after-treatment technologies.

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Oil pumpjack in Texas

Now there are new constraints on fossil fuel use that won’t be so easily overcome, notably the CO2 emissions from the combustion process. The availability of oil and our capacity to extract more capital-intensive oil resources fast enough will further contribute to diminishing benefits.

What opportunities are there for us to move away from fossil fuel use in transport?

PC: A good example is the combination of batteries electric motors and renewable electricity. Bioenergy presents another opportunity. Low-carbon biofuels are especially relevant for long-distance travel, where batteries are less well suited. Hydrogen could emerge as a climate-friendly transport fuel, or as an important element in the production of other climate-friendly fuels, for example ammonia or synthetic fuels. In parallel, digital technologies make it easier to share assets and use resources more efficiently – think about ride sharing.

So what exactly can decision-makers do at the national level to make the most of these opportunities?

PC: They should use fiscal levers such as carbon pricing and differentiated taxes on new vehicles. Distance-based charges will also be an important tool for steering mobility behaviour. Then, standards for fuel economy of vehicles and for the carbon-content of fuel are needed. Urban planning should favour compact cities and make using public transport easy. Providing a clear framework for shared mobility solutions will ensure that these services complement public transport and do not compete with it. If governments take action on these fronts now, we can shift transport emissions onto a solid downward path.

We talked about the COP25 conference in Chile in December. What is the host country doing to encourage greener transport?

PC: Chile has the largest fleet of electric buses in Latin America. There are more than 200 electric buses on the roads of the capital Santiago today.

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People waiting for their bus in Santiago de Chile

All 6 000 buses of the capital’s network will be successively replaced. President Sebastian Pinera has in fact pledged to electrify the public transport system across the country by 2040 – and, importantly, also set the goal of sourcing all of Chile’s electricity from renewable energy by that date.

Thank you so much for your time, Pierpaolo.

Pierpaolo Cazzola is Advisor for Energy, Technology and Environmental Sustainability at the International Transport Forum (ITF). His interests include creating synergies between the transport and energy expert communities, life cycle emissions of urban mobility options, and the global fuel economy. Currently he is investigating how India is mitigating transport CO2 emissions as part of the ITF project “Decarbonising Transport in Emerging Economies”. Pierpaolo is the author of numerous reports, including most recently the 2019 Global EV Outlook. He has worked at the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United Nations, the European Commission and the OECD.

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.

 

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.

man on cycle path
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.

Cyclists in Vietnam

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