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Are We Doing Enough To Tackle Global Transport Emissions?

In last month’s article, we reported on which countries were the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and CO2. This week, we’re taking a closer look at global emissions. It is not surprising that the transport industry is currently the biggest source of emissions.

In last month’s article, we reported on which countries were the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and CO2. This week, we’re taking a closer look at global emissions. It is not surprising that the transport industry is currently the biggest source of emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, “72% of global transport emissions come from road vehicles, which accounted for 80% of the rise in emissions from 1970-2010.” The biggest offenders are car, freight, aviation and marine emissions. Surprisingly, declines have been recorded in the rail industry, which is powered in large proportion by electricity. However, for the rest of the transport industry, oil continues to be the main source of fuel. In 2015, it accounted for almost two-thirds of global oil consumption.


Image: Zach Shahan,

“Emissions from the transport sector are a major contributor to climate change — about 14% of annual emissions (including non-CO2 gases) and around a quarter of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.” —  World Resources Institute

What is perhaps more of a concern is that, despite a decrease in figures around 2007, the industry began to witness a rise in emissions again in 2012. Advances in cleaner energy have been negated by increased volumes of traffic. Cities like London have seen a noticeable fall-off in the numbers taking the bus, with some lines now in jeopardy of being cut. Jenny Bates, a campaigner at Friends of Earth, argues that we need to do more to make a difference. “The only way to stop transport from leading us to further climate breakdown is to drastically cut the miles traveled by car. Cleaner options such as bicycles, buses and trains need to be made more accessible and more affordable, which will be good for the health of people and the planet.”

Image: World Resources Institute

So what is being done to tackle this growing issue? There is a call to introduce tighter fuel efficiency standards, in particular for heavy duty vehicles such as buses and trucks, along with a push for more electric vehicles. “Freight transport consumes around 40 percent of the energy used in the transportation sector.” Despite calls not to ignore emissions from electricity generation and transmission, that they do exist, electric cars do eradicate tailpipe emissions and work to decarbonize the power grid. According to a report from the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency in January 2018, these alternative fuel vehicles are “beginning to have a measurable and meaningful impact on overall new vehicle fuel economy and CO2 emissions.” The report states that in 2016 the fuel economy was increased overall by 0.1 mpg, although it only represented 1% of new vehicles being produced in the US. The report also claims that “electricity’s share in transport energy consumption is projected to increase sevenfold from its 2011 level by 2050.”

In New York City, a new bill has been launched to build more sustainable and integrated cycle lanes, in a push to turn the city in a more cyclist-friendly place such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam. In the UK, the “Committee on Climate Change recommended bringing forward the deadline so that only zero-emission vehicles would be sold after 2035. By the end of last year, while almost 2% of new registrations were ultra-low-emission vehicles, they comprised only 0.5% of all cars on UK roads.” And in Europe, the European Commission is enacting a strategy for low-emission mobility, calling for “increasing the efficiency of the transport system, speeding up the deployment of low emission alternative energy for transport and moving towards zero emission  vehicles.”

However, with transport the backbone to any city, overall change is likely to be slow.

“Currently, around 1 out of 5 of the national climate plans (NDCs) submitted as part of the Paris process include quantified mitigation targets for transport. A small handful of those include targets for public transport and EVs. Countries should specify transport sector targets and plans addressing those opportunities, not only in their NDCs but also in their Long-Term Strategies. Of the 13 Long-Term Strategies already submitted, 12 include transport sector strategies; 11 include strategies for electrification, ten for public transport and nine for new mobility.”

With COP 25 only weeks away, it will be interesting to see what changes will be made.

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Written By

Ciara Gillan is a writer, audio producer and a lover of crime stories. She writes about the environment and is currently figuring out how long it would take her to get from Berlin to Dublin 'Greta Thunberg' style. You can find her on Twitter, or find her audio work here.


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