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Climate Change and the Decarbonisation of Transport

Climate Change and the Decarbonisation of Transport
Jorge Cachinero el


Headline environmental catastrophes have an immediate effect on keeping climate change in the media and, subsequently, high on governments’ agendas.

And rightly so. Climate change has a devastating impact on peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

Shifts in weather patterns, rising sea levels, extreme flooding, droughts, are the face of climate change that we are used to seeing almost daily.

One of the main causes of climate change is carbon dioxide emissions, often associated with the burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas, crude oil and coal.

These, in turn, contribute to air pollution.

With air quality closely linked to not only the health of the earth’s global climate and ecosystems, but also to our own global health issues, policies to reduce air pollution and an industry uptake of solutions to reduce their carbon footprint is crucial.

On an individual level, we can all of course save energy by, for example, carpooling, using public transport, cycling, but it’s difficult to make a substantial impact on air pollution alone.

The good news is that governments are making a tangible difference by putting in place successful policies which can substantially reduce the harmful effects of air pollution in areas such as industry, power generation, urban planning and transport.

And individual industry sectors are also making a tangible difference.

Take, for example, the road transport sector and their drive to decarbonise transport.

Decarbonisation does in fact pose a significant and specific challenge to the road transport industry, bearing in mind that it relies on oil for 92% of its energy.

However, the challenge is being fully embraced by operators taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

Alongside sweeping changes that will transform the sector, there are also opportunities for operators.

Fuel equates to 30% of operators’ costs, and they are constantly seeking ways to reduce their fuel consumption and thereby also reduce their CO2 emissions.

With environmental sustainability at the heart of all transport operations, IRU has a 2050 Decarbonisation Vision which will guide the industry with five key pillars paving the way towards decarbonising road transport:

Boosting operational efficiency by using measures such as improving load factor optimization, digitization and greater use of collaborative transport platforms, could contribute to CO2 savings of 10% in the EU.

Eco-driver training is a low-hanging fruit which helps the sector reduce its carbon impact.

Increasing the use of alternative fuels is another key pillar of decarbonisation with a range of solutions needed for a complex market.

Improving fuel efficiency will have a significant benefit on decarbonising road transport. Further development and uptake of the latest technologies, such as engine efficiency improvements, waste-heat recovery and improved aerodynamics, is one of the key ways in which operators can reduce their CO2 emissions.

A strong collective transport system offering a viable alternative to private car use is one of the clearest ways to decarbonise the transport sector. The commercial road transport sector is an essential pillar of the global economy and a well-functioning logistics chain also ensures less dependence on private car use thereby both reducing congestion and CO2 emissions.

However, the sector can’t get there alone – it needs other key stakeholders to play their part, including the decision-makers who must ensure that there is an enabling environment.

Investments in infrastructure and in traffic management are essential, as is a legislative framework that encourages innovation and allows industry the flexibility to reduce CO2 emissions in the most cost-effective manner.

The International Transport Forum’s (ITF) Decarbonising Transport initiative facilitates just that – it helps governments and industry to transform climate ambitions into reality by making evidence-based policy decisions related to decarbonisation.

The initiative, launched in 2016, involves a wide range of stakeholders, including IRU, the private sector, intergovernmental organisations, and sector associations.

It helps governments and industry specifically by building a catalogue of effective CO2 mitigation measures, providing targeted analytical assistance for countries to identify actions that work, gathering and sharing best practices, and shaping the climate change debate by bringing the transport perspective to the broader discussion.

With the transport sector contributing around 23% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, possibly reaching 40% by 2030, and with demand for transport set to grow exponentially in the coming decades, ITF’s Decarbonising Transport initiative is going a long way towards helping the transport sector meet its obligations as part of the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.


Photo: Mr Young Tae Kim, Secretary-General, International Transport Forum (ITF).

With the contribution of Janet Waring, Marie-Hélène Vanderpool, Jens Hügel and John Kidd.


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