Seven reasons why it is so difficult to decarbonize global transport

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Transport accounts 21% of global carbon emissions. It is currently the largest emitter in many developed countries. While Europe and North America dominate historic transport emissions, most of the projected growth in emissions is in Asia.

Even if current and committed policies are successful, transport carbon emissions will still be Grow by almost 20% by 2050. Highly ambitious policies can reduce these emissions by 70% – but not to zero.

Ahead of the “transport day” at the COP26 climate summit, here are seven reasons why it is particularly difficult to decarbonize global transport.

1. Demand is closely linked to population and economic growth

As economies and populations grow, so does the demand for goods and the number of people who have the desire and opportunity to travel. Globally, total transport activity expected to more than double By 2050, compared to 2015 under trajectory reflecting current efforts. Any technological progress in decarbonizing transport will be more than offset by increased demand for mobility. This has led many to believe it. no way to meet decarbonisation targets Without the Paris agreement reducing demand to more sustainable levels by 2050.

But that’s hard to do. It requires the transformation of the entire transport system, including tackling how often and how far we travel and transport goods. some of the more promising options like path-area reallocation and higher fossil fuel taxes met resistance.

2. Transport still 95% dependent on oil

(close) total dependence on oil It is difficult to change in all forms of passenger and freight transport.

Big ship viewed from above

It’s hard to stop.
StockStudio Antennas / Shutterstock

Substituting oil with low-carbon “fuels” such as electricity will drastically reduce emissions by 2050. But even an optimistic scenario in which 60% of global new car sales by the end of the decade is electrified will see CO₂ emissions from cars. Only 14% decrease by 2030 Compared to 2018.

3. We’re so obsessed with electric cars

NS COP26 presidential program focuses entirely on road transport electrification. However, life cycle emissions from electric vehicles are highly dependent on the type of electricity, battery and materials used. Globally, uptake has been slow – financed by revenues from fossil fuel exports, with the exception of a few leaders like Norway who turned things upside down in the transition. Even if all new cars are electric from today, it’s still 15-20 years to replace the world’s fossil fuel cars.

Electric cars do not solve traffic jams, safety and other problems. car addiction. They also need a reliable source of electricity, which is not available in many parts of the world, and transport inequality and social injustice within and between countries, especially in the developing world, where e-cars may only be an option for the powerful and wealthy.

4. ‘Jet zero’ is still a mirage

Medium and long-haul air travel is difficult to decarbonize because it is realistic “jet zero” technologies are limited for longer distances. Aircraft electric batteries cannot store enough power while remaining light enough. Zero-carbon aviation fuels and electric airplanes are neither proven nor can they be upgraded to the level required for emissions from flight to drop rapidly.

airplane landing time lapse

A few frequent flyers cause most of the emissions.
Parent capital / shutter stock

However, we should be able to reduce the total number of flights, for example by introducing: frequent flyer taxes. Few frequent flyers cause most emissions: In 2018, 50% of aviation emissions are caused by 1% of the world’s population. About 80% of people in the world have never flown. new research It shows that a 2.5% annual reduction in flights could significantly limit the warming impact of aviation by 2050. While most people won’t be affected, frequent flyers will need to radically reduce their habits – this can be difficult to implement as they are more likely. be rich and powerful.

5. Cargo ships run on diesel and last for decades

The hard-to-decarbonize shipping sector was not part of the Paris agreement and 10% of all global emissions by 2050 if unchecked. Ships last for decades and run largely on the most polluting type of fossil diesel. Electrification is not a viable option.

As in aviation, ships operate in a global market, so they are difficult to manage and regulate. But the industry has significant potential to reduce emissions through a retrofit combination to use zero-carbon fuels such as green ammonia, and “slow steaming”. A 20% reduction in ship speeds can save approximately 24% CO₂.

6. A collective sense of entitlement to the status quo

A collective sense of entitlement and dislike to limit “personal choice” has a lot to do with inaction to reduce and improve motor travel. Many people are reluctant to give up their cars or fly, considering it a violation of their rights. Efforts to decarbonize transport are hampered by a cultural commitment to the polluting status quo unavailable in other industries.

A small old car next to a big new car

Do we have the right to have a big car that pollutes the environment?
John_Silver / shutter stock

7. We’re locked into bad habits

Many developed countries are firmly committed to high carbon infrastructures and lifestyles. Most modern cities are built to serve cars, not people. Necessary roads, parking lots, driveways are set to last for decades.

To reverse this requires a change in the way we use our land and transform our cities, both in terms of mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts. This will require investment and political will. Large funding for new road construction programs must be reallocated to finance high quality. zero emission public transport and active travel. This is the easy part. Political will and leadership are harder to find in the face of uncertainty and initial resistance to change.


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