Nobody throws a lance when they have no target: what climate policy can learn from human resource management
By Hans Michael Kloth
The annual round of climate negotiations known collectively as COP kicks off on 1 November in the Scottish port city of Glasgow. It will be the 26th edition of the “Conference of the Parties” to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change since 1995, the year when signatory countries began to meet annually to assess progress in their efforts to combat climate change.
This year’s edition, COP26, is a critical meeting for that combat, for time is running out. Most data-based scenarios see temperatures rising far above sustainable levels if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut radically. And scientists warn that climate change will become irreversible as various tipping points approach that threaten to cascade and conjure a “hothouse” climate that will be less inhabitable for humanity.
COP26 is also critically important because the positive dynamic has also changed. The pivot was the Paris Agreement, negotiated in the City of Lights at COP21 in December 2015. There, nearly 200 countries agreed to draw up national decarbonisation strategies and to submit them to a public registry maintained by the UN.
More importantly, they committed to continually tighten the screw for carbon emissions and submit more ambitious reductions strategies every five years. COP26 marks the first of three rounds in which plans with increased ambition, better measures and concrete targets must be put on the table (the original date of 2020 was pushed back because of Covid-19).
In between these five-year intervals, the world community will take stock of whether the world is on track to achieve net-zero emissions and climate resilience by 2050 – or not (see illustration below).
Not looking too good
At the moment, it doesn’t look too good. Only eight parties to the Paris Agreement have enacted a legal net-zero target, according to Climate Watch. Fourty-four more have made a political pledge to implement net-zero or evoke this target in policy documents. But six years after Paris, 145 countries have not in any way indicated that they are working towards net-zero in 2050 or how – and these 145 make up just under half of GHG emissions.
A review of how countries tackle transport CO2 in their decarbonisation strategies – commonly known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs – does not make for encouraging reading either. Only 14% of NDCs contain a concrete target for reducing transport CO2, which is responsible for around a quarter of man-made CO2 emissions – a disappointing share that also hasn’t changed with the new submissions since 27 September (there was only one in fact, from South Africa).
To make matters worse, this group of committed transport decarbonisers which have set an overall reduction target for the sector accounts for a paltry 5% of all transport CO2 emissions. Conversely, a look at the ten largest overall emitters reveals that all of them acknowledge the role of transport for decarbonisation of the world economy and 7 out of 10 propose concrete measures. But only one of them, Canada, has a concrete transport sector target (and there, it is only the province of British-Columbia, which aims for a 27-32% CO2 reduction by 2030 compared to 2007 levels).
A glass half full?
Those who like to see the glass half full can point to the fact that three quarters (77%) of ParisAgreement Those who like to see the glass half full can point to the fact that three quarters (77%) of ParisAgreement signatory countries at least list transport decarbonisation measures and that these generate fully 87% of global transport CO2 emissions. Some of these even have sub-targets for specific parts of the transport sector.
The European Union’s Green Deal, for instance, sets the goal of a 55% CO2 reduction from cars and 50% from vans by 2030, and zero emissions from new cars by 2035. Such specific targets are valuable and worth applauding, but they raise the question why such help to get their bearings right is not extended to airlines or the road haulage sector and, ultimately, transport as a whole. That said, the EU does have an economy-wide target of reality climate-neutrality by 2050.
High-level targets help to create a sense of purpose, align efforts and bundle available resources. Based on decades of research in the cognitive sciences, human resource professionals advise managers to set “SMART” objectives for their teams – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. They also recommend that targets should be a bit of a stretch to activate energy, motivation and learning.
It sounds just like what most national climate strategies need now.
The signatories of the Paris Agreement have to submit more ambitious decarbonisation plans by early November. Wetake a look at how committed they are to reducing transport CO2.
By Hans Michael Kloth
Finally, during the third all-nighter in a row, the breakthrough came. In the catacombs of the airport-turned-convention centre in Le Bourget on the northern outskirts of Paris, lawyers huddled from 2 a.m. to comb through 29 articles of fiendishly complex text. As morning broke, translators went to work. In the afternoon, deft diplomacy forestalled a surging last-minute drama over a single contentious word.
At 7:16 p.m. on Saturday, 12 December 2015, France’s foreign minister took the stage. Only barely controlling his emotions, Laurent Fabius announced the almost unimaginable: nearly all the planet’s sovereign nations had found a common way forward to stop climate change. “We are now at the end of one path, and without doubt at the beginning of another”, Fabius exclaimed. “The world is holding its breath and counting on all of us.”
Six years later, the world is still holding its breath, and it is still counting. Much has started to move since the historic moment in Paris. But will it be enough?
Almost all recent analyses agree that the international community is not yet on a path to achieve the goal agreed in Paris: to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius above the temperature level of the pre-industrial era. “The pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net-zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise”, warns the International Energy Agency.
A nifty mechanism
Yet the Paris Agreement created a nifty mechanism to nudge countries towards sustained action. It not only obliges them to draw up national decarbonisation plans and submit them to the United Nations. The treaty also requires signatories to repeat this exercise every five years, and with more stringent measures.
In the words of the Paris Agreement, successive plans “will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition”. In simpler language: countries must continuously up their game, and to the max.
The second round of those “Nationally Determined Contributions”, known for short as NDCs, was due in 2020. By the deadline – extended to 30 July 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic – only 110 countries had submitted new or updated NDCs. Latecomers will not be turned down (although left out of the UNFCCC’s “synthesis report” that will take stock of progress) – indeed, fourteen more NDCs have since come in. And what the lagging nations bring to the table can make a considerable difference for the overall picture. That will be reviewed in Glasgow in November at COP26 (short for “26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change”), hosted by the United Kingdom.
Eyes on transport
Many eyes will be on transport. Almost one-quarter of all CO2 emissions from fuel combustion comes from transport activity (see chart). Half a century after the first oil shock, transport remains more than 90% dependent on oil. Increasing demand for mobility drives transport CO2 emissions further up: the International Transport Forum projects global transport to more than double by 2050, with traffic emissions rising by 16% compared to 2015 – even if existing commitments to decarbonise transport will be fully implemented.
How, then, does transport figure in countries decarbonisation commitments? An analysis of the first round of NDCs was hardly encouraging. The 2018 report “Transport CO2 and the Paris Climate Agreement” found that 8 out of 10 NDCs evoked transport somehow, but only 6 in 10 included transport measures, and a disappointing 10% set targets.
Even those first NDCs which acknowledge transport merely listed “CO2 reduction ambitions, but not yet clear pathways or measures”. And the quality of the measures, the report concluded, “often … remain vague at best” and “in some cases, the mitigation potential of identified ‘measures’ is contestable”.
Rough but illuminating
Five years on, things look ambivalent at best from a transport decarbonisation perspective. On the positive side, nearly all signatory countries now recognise transport in some shape or form in their current NDCs. The Transport NDC Tracker of the International Tramsport Forum clocked in at 94% on this measure on 27 September 2021. Only eleven countries still ignore transport, and of these nine still have to submit second-round NDCs – so it is still possible to reach 99% overall by November.
Those countries which mention transport in their NDCs do so 33 times on average. This number might be interpreted as awareness for the role of transport in climate change mitigation, but it is misleading, for 14 countries mention transport only once. Another 11 do so twice. Two nations drive up the average: Colombia’s NDC includes 112 references to transport; that of South Sudan 117.
On this level, transport mentions in NDCs are illuminating but only the roughest of indicators for decarbonisation ambitions. What about concrete measures to decarbonise transport? Five years ago, 60% of the parties to the Paris Agreement listed at least some in their first NDC submissions. At the end of September 2021, the share has increased to over three-quarters (77%). Depending on how many outstanding second-round NDC will include transport-related measures, that share could still go up to as much as 92%.
The gold standard of decarbonisation
How effective these measures can be will require a thorough qualitative assessment. A first glance reveals a wide range of proposed actions – some bordering on the trivial, others well-aimed and with a solid evidence base like the decarbonisation measures listed in the Transport Climate Action Directory.
The gold standard in decarbonisation policy is concrete CO2 reduction targets, however: benchmarks against which the real impact of interventions can be measured and which help steer ambitions towards real results. Yet targets can also be a two-edged sword, as missing goals may cause political backlash. So they need to be developed with great care, based on a good understanding of the complexities involved.
For those reasons, it was not so surprising that only a smattering of first NDCs contained concrete quantitative targets for cutting transport CO2 emissions. Many will find it disappointing, however, that five years on the share of NDCs with transport CO2 reduction targets has grown by only four percentage points, from 10 to 14%. So progress for the most important action item has been much less than for the other two indicators, which grew by 13 (mentions) and 17 (measures) percentage points over the same period.
Several dozen second-round NDCs are still due for COP26. There and then, the world will get a better sense of whether it still needs to hold its breath, and on whom it can count.
by Sophie Punte, Managing Director of Policy, We Mean Business coalition and Michael Grubb, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at University College London Institute for Sustainable Resources
Most people planning to buy a new car in the next year are likely to be considering an electric one. For anyone not considering going electric, they may live to regret it. In just three years’ time, electric cars will likely beat petrol and diesel cars on cost, environmental impact and performance.
It feels like the progress on electric cars has moved at high speed over the last year, and data shows it’s only going to get even faster. This is because electric vehicle (EV) uptake is on what’s known as an ‘S-curve’ of growth. On every occasion this has happened in the past with other industrial transitions, governments, business and consumers have been taken by surprise.
Remember the years up to 2012, when we would proudly pull out our latest model of (for many) the Nokia mobile phone? Yet once smartphones arrived, we all switched rapidly without much thought. What you got with a smartphone for a fairly equivalent price made it worth it. The speed of the transition was phenomenal. We’ve seen similar patterns of S-curve growth with the switch from video rental to streaming. The telecommunications and film industry business models have been completely transformed.
So what can we expect in the car industry? A new study by the University College of London (UCL) in collaboration with the We Mean Business Coalition (WMB) shows that global EV sales have increased by an average of 41% per year since 2015. If growth follows this S-curve trajectory, all new cars sold could be electric by 2040.
In terms of the climate crisis – while this is positive news – we’ll need to push harder to get on track for halving emissions by 2030 and a net zero future by 2050. To achieve that, we need new passenger road vehicle sales to be 100% zero-emission by 2035.
Given the exponential growth so far, we may be tempted to hope that the market will take care of the problem itself. But we must not underestimate the measures needed to ensure a smooth path to 100% EVs. Current charging infrastructure is inadequate; there isn’t enough of it and it’s not seamlessly set up to make it easy enough for consumers. Also, EV purchase costs are still out of reach for many.
How do we deal with these challenges? Governments have a critical role to play, as featured in the report’s principal policy recommendations:
Invest in infrastructure for reliable, seamless and publicly accessible charging.
Commit to public procurement of EVs and incentivise private companies to do the same, for example through the Climate Group’s EV100 program.
Help buyers overcome up-front EV purchase costs by stimulating leasing schemes and second-hand markets for EVs and batteries.
Tighten emission standards and implement fiscal incentives to accelerate the simultaneous phasing out of the internal combustion engine.
Invest in a simultaneous rapid transition to renewable power to ensure EVs are genuinely zero-emission.
And let’s make sure that we look beyond EVs because this is the decade of action. We must take a holistic approach to maximise the opportunities available including to:
Futureproof legislation and infrastructure for a future where vans, light duty trucks and possibly even heavy trucks will go electric.
Continue energy efficiency improvements, for both vehicles and for more efficient driving and route planning.
Encourage appropriate use of cars and trucks alongside other transport modes; incentivise passenger travel by train, bike or foot, and efficient transportation of goods by rail or ship.
Moving on an EV s-curve will have deep implications, not limited to the clean vehicle and clean energy markets. Governmental action to stimulate a transition to EVs and renewable energy will therefore also require actions that go beyond the role that policy should take to stimulate these transitions. An upcoming ITF report points to three major areas that are worth greater consideration by policy makers and offers relevant recommendations on how to handle the challenges affecting them. These relate to changes in the demand for new materials and related supply chains, structural changes in government revenues from fuel taxes and impacts that a switch to EVs and renewables – as well a digital technologies – will have for jobs and changes in skillsets. Indeed, as we get excited about EVs, we should consider how to help transition workers from the traditional automotive industry into new jobs in EV manufacturing and beyond.
Taking action on all these fronts will ensure that the transition is achievable, sustainable and causes the least disruption to people as possible.
Our overall approach to car use could also make or break the success of the EV transition. What has become all too clear during the Covid-19 crisis is that collaboration between countries is essential to succeed. The same is true for the climate crisis. Emerging economies are an important market for second-hand cars including more polluting models. There is a risk is that these countries could soon be the dumping ground for petrol and diesel cars, keeping their emissions levels high with the associated localised air pollution effects. Tighter emission standards and preferably import bans for ICE vehicles and engines can reduce this risk.
The UCL/WMB report aims to give both business and policymakers worldwide the confidence to increase ambition in the transport sector and to boost the S-curve. Along with the ITF analysis on cleaner vehicles, it also helps to ensure that this technology transition will be resilient.
As we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, governments can help business at key moments like the G7, G20 and COP26 to deliver clear, detailed policies to achieve their national targets in line with the Paris Agreement climate goals. As passenger road vehicles are responsible for 45% of global transport emissions, it is critical that we maximise their emissions reduction potential now. And EVs are not only better for the climate than petrol and diesel vehicles. They also improve human health through cleaner air and, if planned well, could increase jobs and growth. They can play an essential role in helping us build back better.
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 droughts, 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.
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 person flew once every 22 months – twice as frequently as in the year 2000.
Flygskam gains momentum
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Electricity plus efficiency
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.
has made the electrification of short-haul aviation by 2040 its official policy
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.
Ultimately, flight shaming remains a concept that has traction mostly in European countries with 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 travel 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.
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.
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.
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
The ITF Transport Outlook 2019 is available via the OECD iLibrary here
Michael Cramer of the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport talks about the imbalance between transport modes and the lessons from “Dieselgate”.
A lot of innovation is happening in transport right now – headlines about self-driving cars and electric vehicles abound. Are we finally on the path towards sustainable mobility?
Cramer: Billions are still invested in forms of mobility that ruin our climate. And it’s still all about cars. Without reinventing mobility we will not be able to stop climate change. A veteran German politician, former Munich mayor Hans-Jochen Vogel, said it well as early as 1972: “Cars are murdering our cities. Those who sow streets will harvest traffic”. Even if one day all cars will be electric, they will still be murdering our cities. When all cars are self-driving, they will still be murdering our cities. We must reduce emissions, sure. But it’s not only about energy efficiency, we must also reinvent mobility as a whole. 90% of car rides in German cities are shorter than 6 kilometers. These are ideal distances to go by tram, bus, bicycle or to walk. Electric cars are being subsidized with billions of Euros – indiscriminately, regardless of the real effect. By comparison, peanuts are given to support the use of electric bicycles or of cargo bikes, where they could have a real impact – cargo bikes could take over half of inner-city deliveries. Neither is there enough investment into the electrification of rail. The interests of car manufacturing are still dominating policy decisions.
But all car companies are busy rethinking their business models. Most are taking a broader view and branch out into areas like Mobility as a Service. Is your description not outdated?
The car industry must change much faster if it really wants to avoid the fate of the large energy utilities. Those ridiculed renewable energies for decades and now find themselves rather wrong-footed. Edzard Reuter, who was boss of Daimler-Benz from 1987 to 1995, warned thirty years ago that car manufacturers would only survive if by evolving into providers of mobility. In those days, Daimler-Benz not only built cars but
also trucks, busses, trams, light rail trains, high-speed trains and even bicycles. His successor sold all those activities. Today, automotive companies are completely dependent on car sales, while they could have profited from the global boom in trams and light rail, for instance. I don’t see much innovation coming from big players who can hardly budge; it will be small and agile companies that plant the seeds of change.
What about the institutions that set the rules under which innovations either thrive or fail – do governments and regulatory agencies also need to become a little more agile?
Let me be a little cynical: No, they really don’t need additional agility. They need to discover what it means to be agile in the first place. One way of becoming more flexible, reactive and creative is to listen less to lobbyists. Take the “Dieselgate” scandal. We Green members of the European Parliament had to go to enormous lengths to get an inquiry going into the tempering with emissions tests. This inquiry has found EU member states and the European Commission guilty of negligence. The committee of inquiry proposed to set up an independent body with responsibility for controlling vehicle emissions. The Parliament’s transport committee, which I shared at the time, voted for this proposal as well. But it was subsequently killed in the parliament by organised interests who lobbied deputies with the spectre of job losses in their region.
What is the lesson from that for you, as a policy maker?
It is hard to stomach that Diesel is still subsidised in many countries, despite being much more harmful in terms of NOx, NO2 and particular matter than standard petrol. Half a million people die as a result of particular matter, NOx and NO2 emissions every year in the European Union. Imagine our drinking water would be polluted like that – there would be immediate action. Not for the air we breathe. Europe’s political institutions – the Council, the Commission, and the European Parliament – must work harder. If after this criminal fraud we can’t abolish subsidies for Diesel, we shouldn’t even be using the word “sustainability”.
Ultimately, are you an optimist or a skeptic regarding the future of human mobility?
A bit of both. We have all the opportunities in the world. When I started out in politics, I was treated as a freak because I advocated cycling as a mode of transport. But it is now a reality. In Copenhagen more than 50% of all inhabitants cycle to work. In Berlin, the number of cyclists has doubled over the past ten years, and without major policy interventions. People will do what is right, and that is my hope.
This article, by Shayne MacLachlan of the OECD Environment Directorate, is co-published with the OECD Insights Blog.
Newcastle, Australia has the dubious honour of being the world’s largest port for coal exports. There’s even a coal price index named after it: The NEWC Index. Surfing Novocastrian beaches not only means “watching out” for great-white sharks, but also “being watched” by the lurking great-red coal ships out beyond the breakers, waiting to come in to port for their fill (see photo). Growing up accustomed to these ever-present leviathans, I never questioned what ships did to the environment and to our health apart from when they crash and leak oil. This all changed recently as I discovered a raft of statistics about the shipping industry that indicate we’ve been sailing too close to the rocks since the engine started replacing sails and oars in the early 1800s.
A stern warning for climate change, and our health
Shipping brings us 90% of world trade and has increased in size by 400% in the last 45 years. Cargo ships, tankers and dry-bulk tankers are an essential element of a globalised world economy, but they are thirsty titans and they won’t settle for diet drinks. There are up to 100,000 working vessels on the ocean and some travel an incredible 2/3 of the distance to the moon in one year. Some stats floating around state that the 15 largest ships emit as much as all the 780 million cars in the world in terms of particulates, soot and noxious gases. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) says sea shipping makes up around 3% of global CO2 emissions which is slightly less than Japan’s annual emissions, the world’s 5th-highest emitting country. Ships carry considerable loads so they’re reasonably efficient on a tonne-per-kilometre basis, but with shipping growing so fast, this “broad in the beam” industry is laying down a significant carbon footprint. And local pollution created by ships when they are moored and as they rev hard to get in and out of port can be severe as most use low-grade bunker oil, containing highly-polluting sulphur. Ships also produce high levels of harmful nanoparticles, but encouragingly we’ve seen IMO collaboration to raise standards on air pollution from ships.
Mal de mer with rudderless regulation
A recent estimate forecasts that CO2 emissions from ships will increase by up to 250% in the next 35 years, and could represent 14% of total global emissions by 2050. This could wreck our hopes of getting to a well-below 2°C warming scenario. Even though many, including Richard Branson, called for emission reduction targets for international aviation and shipping to be included in the COP21 Paris Climate agreement, we failed. The IMO has introduced binding energy-efficiency measures so by 2025 all new ships will have to be 30% more efficient that those built today, but in my view there are questions about stringency and seemingly they don’t go far enough.
As the Arctic ice sheet melts, a route across the North Pole would be about one-fifth shorter in distance than the Northern Sea route. But this isn’t what I have in mind for reducing shipping fuel consumption and emissions. We need to develop a copper-bottomed response to the challenge by further boosting investment in innovation and research. It’s great to all these sustainable shipping initiatives in the offing:
Fit wind, wave and solar power such as kite sails, fins and solar panels. There’s some research into other energy sources underway such as nuclear cargo ships, but of course that presents another element of risk if something goes wrong.
Increase carrying capacity of ships and future proofing of ships for a further 10-15 years with increased fuel efficiency by retrofitting vessels with more technologically advanced equipment.
Use heat recovery technology to harness waste energy from exhaust gases to create steam, then mechanical energy, then electrical energy to power elements of the ship’s systems.
Construct ships with sleeker design to reduce drag and install more efficient propellers.
Use Maritime Emissions Treatment Systems (METS) in the form of a barge which positions large tubes over ships’ smoke stacks and captures and treats emissions from berthed vessels.
Let’s sink fossil fuels
Innovation and efficiency is hardly a “cut and run” approach. And typically when an industry reduces fuel costs they use the savings to increase activity, meaning carbon reduction is limited. This “rebound effect” could happen in maritime shipping. Truly green shipping will require vessels that are 100% fossil-fuel free. To help drive down fossil-fuel use, a carbon charge for shipping (and aviation) has been proposed. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) queried the carbon price of $US25 per tonne. Indeed this is higher than the price on CO2 for onshore industries in developed countries. What’s needed is a system where emitters that aren’t linked to a country’s climate policies are accountable. At COP17 in Durban, delegates discussed a universal charge for all ships that would generate billions of dollars. The money could be channelled to developing countries’ climate policy action. Phasing out subsidies on bunker fuel used by ships is also needed to get us on the right course.
You can’t cross the sea by standing and staring at the water
Following Paris it’s time for specific shipping emissions targets. It appears we know the co-ordinates but the fuel tanks are full of the wrong stuff. Earlier this month, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the IMO discussed emissions targets but only got as far as approving compulsory monitoring of ship fuel consumption. This is a key step if one day we introduce market-based mechanisms to reduce shipping emissions. What’s needed is accelerated action consistent with the Paris agreement.
In the doldrums of COP21, it seems shipping (and it’s by no means the only sector) is rather like that surfer, sitting on their board waiting for the next wave. At the same time it’s trying to avoid the lurking great white shark.