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Seven reasons why global transport is so difficult for carbon reduction
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Seven reasons why global transport is so difficult for carbon reduction

Large ship viewed from above


Transport accounts for 21% of global carbon emissions. It is now the biggest emitting sector in many advanced countries. While North America and Europe are the largest emitters of historic transport emissions, Asia accounts for much of the projected increase in emissions.

Even if current and committed policies were to succeed, transport’s carbon emissions would still grow almost 20% by 2050. These emissions could be cut with ambitious policies by 70% – but not to zero.

Ahead of “transport day” at the COP26 climate summit, here are seven reasons global transport is particularly hard to decarbonise.

1. The demand for goods and services is closely related to the growth of the economy and the population.

As countries and populations grow, so does the demand for goods. With this comes a greater desire to travel and more money. Globally, total transport activity is expected to more than doubleBased on current efforts, 2050 will be 2050. Any technological advances in transport decarbonisation would be offset by an increase in mobility demand. Many believe this. there is no way we can meet the decarbonisation targetsParis agreement by 2050 without reducing the demand to more sustainable levels.

This is not an easy task. It will require a complete overhaul of the entire transport system, including how far and how often we travel, and how we move goods. Some of the best options are: road-space reallocationResistance has been shown to higher fossil fuel taxes.

2. Transport is still 95% dependent upon oil

The (nearly) total dependence on oilIt is difficult for all forms of freight and passenger transportation to be changed.

Large ship viewed from above

It is hard to stop.
StockStudio Aerials / shutterstock

Substituting oil with low carbon “fuels”, such as electricity, will drastically reduce emissions by 2050. But even an optimistic scenario where global new car sales were 60% electric by the end of the decade would see CO₂ emissions from cars drop by only 14% by 2030Comparable to 2018.

3. We are too obsessed about electric cars

The COP26 presidency programmeThe entire focus of this article is on road-transport electricification. However, the type of battery, electricity, and materials used will have a significant impact on the life-cycle emissions of electric vehicles. Globally, uptake has been slow apart from a few leaders, such as Norway, which has thrown everything at the transition – funded by revenues from fossil-fuel exports no less. Even if all cars were electric today, it would still take. 15-20 years to replace the world’s fossil fuel cars.

Electric cars cannot solve the problems of road congestion, safety, and other issues. car dependency. They also need a reliable electricity supply – not a given in many parts of the world – and do not address transport inequalitySocial injustices within and between countries, particularly in the developing world, where ecars may not be an option for the wealthy or powerful.

4. ‘Jet zero’ is still a mirage

It is difficult to decarbonise air travel from long- to mid-distance because it is realistic “jet zero”Technology is limited for longer distances. Electric plane batteries simply can’t store enough power while remaining light enough. Electric aircraft fuels and electric planes are not proven or can be scaled up to emit fast enough to fly without carbon emissions.

Plane landing time lapse

The majority of emissions are caused by frequent flyers.
Ancapital / shutterstock

However, we can reduce the number total flights by, for instance, introducing more affordable flights. frequent-flyer levies. Emissions are most concentrated infrequent flyers: 2018, 50% of aviation emissions were caused by 1% of the world’s population. Around 80% of people on the planet have never flown. New research shows that a 2.5% annual decline in flights could significantly limit aviation’s warming effect by 2050. While most people won’t be affected, frequent flyers would have to radically curtail their habit – which may be tough to enforce, as they are more likely to be wealthy and powerful.

5. Cargo ships are powered by diesel and can last for many decades

The difficult-to-decarbonise maritime shipping sector was not part of the Paris agreement, and is projected to represent up to 10% of all global emissions by 2050 if left unchecked. Ships last decades and run largely on the pollutingest type of fossil fuel diesel. Electrification cannot be considered a viable option.

Like aviation, ships are subject to global regulations and can be difficult to regulate. However, the sector has been regulated. significant potential to reduce emissionsA combination of retrofitting to use zero carbon fuels, such green ammonia, and “slow steaming”. A 20% reduction in ship speeds can save about 24% of CO₂.

6. A collective sense that the status quo is rightfully ours

A collective sense of entitlement and dislike of limiting “personal choice” have a lot to do with inaction on reducing and improving travel by powered vehicles. Many people don’t want to give up their car and fly, believing it is an infringement upon their rights. Efforts to decarbonise transport are being hindered by a cultural attachment to the polluting status quo, which isn’t as present in other sectors.

A small old car beside a large new car

Are we allowed to own large polluting cars?
John_Silver / shutterstock

7. We are trapped in bad habits

Many developed countries are locked into high-carbon policies. infrastructures lifestyles. Modern cities were built to serve cars and not people. To last for decades, the roads, parking lots, and driveways that are required are built to last.

This must be reversed. We need to change how we use land and transform cities, both in terms adapting to climate change and mitigating it. This will require investment and political will. To fund high-quality roads, it is important to reallocate major funding for new road-building programs. zero-emission public transport active travel. That’s the easy part. It’s harder to find political will and leadership when faced with uncertainty and initial resistance to change.

COP26: the world's biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage on COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.

The Conversation is here to help you understand the climate news and stories. More.

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