17 May, 2021

Emissions will rise as global transport activity doubles

Transport activity will more than double worldwide by 2050, and emissions will increase by 16% compared to 2015, even if existing commitments to decarbonise are met. This bleak reality was revealed by intergovernmental organisation, the International Transport Forum (ITF) in its latest published projections.

ITF Transport Outlook 2021 presents scenarios for global transport demand over the next three decades. The study considers projections for transport’s CO2 emissions under varying conditions, showing the potential impacts of future activity on climate change. This latest edition examines the impact of COVID-19, and how it creates challenges and opportunities for the decarbonisation of transport.

The ITF Transport Outlook provides policymakers with insights from ‘cutting-edge ITF research on the three major challenges of our time: the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and inequality,’ said ITF secretary-general Young Tae Kim. ‘It shows how they are linked, but also identifies actions - actions that are critical to ensure an effective and equitable transition to sustainable mobility on an urban, regional and global level in the wake of the pandemic.’

Insufficient policies

The new outlook document projects that while passenger transport will increase 2.3-fold, total demand will actually be slower than foreseen in the last edition, when a trifold increase was expected. Slower demand is the result of less optimistic projections for economic growth and decarbonisation commitments made in the last couple of years.

COVID-19 has a large part to play, with future demand obscured by an uncertain path to recovery. However, continuing economic development and an increasing population is expected to translate into more demand overall.

Ambitious policies

Looking at the policies overseeing these trends, the publication revealed that any expected emissions reductions would be more than offset by growing demand. However, there is hope for reduced emissions if the correct policies are put into place. The ITF outlines that CO2 output could be cut by almost 70% between 2015 and 2050 with such measures. This would bring the goal outlined in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius into reach.

These policies would require better-targeted actions to reduce unnecessary travel, transition to sustainable modes, improve energy efficiency and increase the use of electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs) and other low-carbon based transport.

Some 40% of all CO2 emitted in urban areas comes from the movement of people. Additionally, 75% of these emissions come from private cars. The report found that under more ambitious agendas, CO2 from mobility in these areas could be slashed by 80% compared with 2015.

Actionable recommendations

The ITF provides governments with six actionable recommendations to get them on the path to sustainable mobility, achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and supporting the UN’s sustainable development goals.

  • The first is to make sure COVID-19 recovery packages are aligned to achieve an economic revival, combat climate change, and strengthen equity. While the last year has been a global disaster, it does provide an opportunity to combine economic development with changes in mobility behaviour, advancing low-carbon systems and increasing consumer access
  • The second is to implement more ambitious policies that reverse the growth of CO2 levels. The revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement in 2021 will be crucial
  • The third point identifies the need for specified policies for different areas of transport. Each sector contains its own challenges and potential for reducing emissions
  • The fourth recommendation outlines a requirement for greater technological innovation. The ITF states that governments will need to support this development, particularly in sectors like aviation and haulage
  • The fifth point clarifies that accessibility will need to be prioritised, taking aim at planning to make sure people can actually get to where they need to go
  • Lastly, the report identified the need for greater collaboration with ‘non-transport sectors’ as well as between the private and public worlds. This is because of the intrinsically-linked nature of transport. For example, low-emission mobility through electrification is only possible via a green grid.