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Mark Kenber

15 June 2005
Mark Kenber

Over the last 30 years transport-related {CO2} emissions from industrialised countries have doubled and globally the transport sector now contributes a quarter of all anthropogenic {CO2} emissions released into the atmosphere. By 2030, there are projected to be more vehicles in the developing world than in developed nations. Mark Kenber, The Climate Group's Policy Director discusses what can be done to reduce emissions from transport and how The Climate Group intends to promote action.

Why is reducing emissions from transport a priority for climate change mitigation?

Over the past 30 years, the transport sector's share of {CO2} emissions (emissions resulting from the movement of people and goods) has increased at a faster pace than other sectors. From 1971 to 1997, transport-related {CO2} emissions from industrialised countries nearly doubled and globally the transport sector now contributes a quarter of all anthropogenic {CO2} emissions released into the atmosphere. Approximately 80% of those emissions are from road transport usage and vehicle production, of which 60% is from automobiles and sports utility vehicles used to meet commuter and other household transport needs.

Rapid development of transport infrastructures throughout the industrialising world has the potential to drastically increase global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport. By 2030, there are projected to be more vehicles in the developing world than in developed nations. The sheer volume of emissions from the transport sector, both now and in the future, means that must be a priority for any credible climate change strategy. If ways of decoupling transport emissions from economic growth are not found, the consequences for the climate are likely to be dire.

What is the role of The Climate Group in reducing emissions from transport?

Our work has demonstrated that organisations in a variety of sectors can reap positive benefits from committing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and sharing best practice on the policy, financial and technological measures required to make these reductions. Climate Group research has demonstrated that in the majority of cases these actions have made economic sense and in many cases proved profitable.

We believe that by working with a range of public and private institutions that are successfully taking up the challenge of reducing emissions from transport, we can highlight that not only is climate action possible within the transport sector, but also that it is economically viable. The Climate Group plans for transport to become a major component of its work over the coming months and years, focusing on leadership and innovative solutions.

What do you see as the major options for reducing transport emissions?

There are three distinct areas of action; technological advancement - changing fuels and fuel efficiency; promoting non-motorised transport; and transport management. All come with inherent benefits and challenges and the choice of which to use will depend on the specific context.

The Climate Group's first publication in the field of climate change and transport, a briefing paper entitled Low Carbon Leaders: Transport, highlights three examples of how these options have been deployed, each approaching transport emissions from a different angle and each achieving impressive results. Toyota, a leading auto-manufacturer has pioneered the use of hybrid technology in its vehicles and has successfully moved the electric/'gas' engine from niche to mainstream markets. Pfizer, a global pharmaceuticals company, implemented an innovative transport plan at its European Research and Development Facility in Kent, which has lead to a large scale switch from private car use by employees to alternative modes of transportation. And the Greater London Authority has implemented its congestion charging scheme, now the largest such transport management strategy in the world.

How are these areas proving to be effective in reducing emissions?

Promoting fuel efficiency and use of less carbon-intensive fuels is a popular measure with manufacturers; acting early and investing in technological R&D are likely to allow for significant market advantage in the coming years, especially as demand for fossil fuel alternatives grows. Volkswagen has committed to developing optimised fuels, such as biofuels (SunFuels) and synthetic fuels (SynFuels) - lower carbon alternatives which can be used in the internal combustion engine as an interim measure whilst giving zero emissions technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells (being pioneered by companies including UTC, Ballard Systems and Johnson Matthey) time to come to market.

Promoting non-motorised transportation is an effective solution for reducing emissions from private transport use, since measures can be implemented immediately and the majority of these measures are zero-emission - walking and cycling for example. One-quarter of all car journeys are less than two miles, a distance which could easily be covered by foot or cycle, alternatives that also have inherent health benefits.

Freiburg in Southern Germany has pursued an environmentally friendly urban development policy for 30 years with a strong transport focus. A cycling plan was drawn up in 1970 and the city now has over 500 km of bicycle paths. As a result a third of all journeys are now made by bicycle. There are more than 5000 bicycle parking spaces in the city, with more at tram stops for "bike and ride" commuters. The main railway station has parking and other cyclist facilities for 1,000 bicycles and the old town centre became car-free in 1973.

Is there a potential role for offsetting, where motorised transport is unavoidable?

Yes, and there are a number of examples where offsetting has been introduced on a relatively large scale. There is great potential for offsetting to play an important role in cutting emissions, but this has to be done as part of an integrated transport strategy.

BP has been a pioneer in offsetting the climate impact of its fuels since 2001 when BP Australia, with Det Norske Veritas, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the Australian Greenhouse Office, initiated the Greenhouse Friendly programme, which offset all emissions associated with BP Ultimate. BP scaled back the offer in 2002, due to a lack of customer understanding and instead began to offer the product exclusively to commercial users of its fuel credit cards. This retrenchment saved the programme and BP now has more than 6,500 commercial card customers who have collectively offset more than 819,000 tonnes of GHG emissions. In addition, sixteen corporate customers, including Queensland Rail, have partnered directly with BP to purchase more than 300,000 tonnes of GHG reductions. The company also offsets 100% of its own staff's transport emissions.

In addition, throughout the summer of 2005 BP partnered with the Eden Project in the UK, to offset the vehicle emissions of visitors to the centre in Cornwall. Visitors have been offered the opportunity to purchase the number of carbon credits required to offset their annual GHG emissions from car travel.

The British government too has recently committed to offsetting the emissions from international air travel by 2006 by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects; the travel emissions associated with the recent G8 summit in Gleneagles are also to be offset. Likewise London has committed to make the 2012 Olympics effectively climate neutral.

Going forwards, what do you think will be the most successful measures in reducing transport-related greenhouse gas emissions?

All potential measures to reduce the impact of transportation on the global climate have both strengths and weaknesses. Technological advances are unlikely to provide a 'silver bullet' immediately but in the longer term potentially offer the biggest solution. Switching fuels can reduce emissions but, with the multitude of fuel options available, these vary in efficiency and viability. Whilst a number of organisations have demonstrated that modal shifts and transport planning are effective, these are only realistic on a small scale unless a there is a fundamental change in public perception about the role of automotive transport in society and active support at the macro level from national and regional authorities.

Whilst dealing with transport impacts on the climate is extremely challenging, to avert dangerous climate change it is imperative that innovative leadership in reducing transport-related emissions promptly leads to large scale change. It is most likely that this will occur if a combination of strategies is implemented simultaneously. Best technology is likely to be most effective if it is supported by fuel taxes, or a reduced rate in tax for low carbon vehicles-but only if the revenues are reinvested to fund R&D into further advancements. Promoting the switch to low carbon transport will only work if the consumer can be reassured that their investment will lead to further positive results and/or more economic benefits.

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