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We also need to improve public transportation.
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We also need to improve public transportation.

A person drives a rickshaw


Transport is responsible for 24%The world’s largest source of energy-related carbon emissions. Half of those emissions are from carrying goods and services, and the other half are from carrying people from A to B – also known as “passenger transport”.

Passenger transport has a huge impact on our surroundings, and it’s one of the biggest factors in determining where we live and work. It can be bumper-to-bumper LA traffic, bike-filled Danish cities, Japanese bullet trains, buzzing Vietnamese mopeds, taxi ranks lined with India’s famous three-wheeled rickshaws, or bustling London subways.

Introducing electric vehicles (EVs) on a massive scale has often been framed as the solution to reducing passenger transport emissions – witness the UK’s plansAll new and newly constructed homes will be equipped with EV charging stations by 2022.

However, recent researchThe US has demonstrated that electrification of cars will not suffice to enable the transport sector reach its ambitious global goals. climate action targets aiming to prevent more than 2 °C of global warming.

Additionally, cities that continue to rely on cars pose significant problems. With urbanisation on the rise, and space at a premium we need to reduce car ownership in cities if they are to remain as affordable and accessible as possible. Huge amountsLand that could be used for housing or nature conservation is still available for roads and car parking.

While EVs are a great way to reduce transport emissions, it is not enough to just replace conventional cars with electric vehicles. missed opportunityAlternatives for countries to develop means of transport beyond car dependency.

A person drives a rickshaw
Many Indian cities are known for their three-wheeled rickshas as a popular transportation method.
Adam Cohn/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Climate action funds – including the Adaptation Fund, a UN-backed international fund helping developing countries to adapt to climate change – are projected to reach £74 billion of funding by 2023. Most of this money will be used for sustainable infrastructure projects. This could help developing countries build efficient and sustainable mass transit systems.

The UN’s intergovernmental panelClimate Change advocates for an approach to passenger transport planning called “Avoid, Shift, Improve”, which is adapted from a framework first developed in Germany in the early 1990s:


“Avoid” refers to reducing the need for transport in the first place. This includes planning new urban areas as well as redeveloping existing ones to make them as efficient as possible so that people don’t have to travel long distances for their shopping, work, and leisure needs. Despite the fact that it has been difficult for some cities to transition away from car use over the years, many of our growing cities are still uncertain about the future.

Xinzhuang Flyover in Nanjing, China
Many cities have been designed with widespread car ownership in mind, but newer cities don’t have to follow this pattern.

This approach also involves connecting homes and rural towns to the internet so that people can easily and cheaply work from home, leaving road space free for people – like doctors or teachers – who cannot.


“Shift” means switching necessary travel to more sustainable, active and higher-occupancy modes of transport. You can now use buses, trains and bikes instead of single-occupancy vehicles. There are many exciting examples of countries making this transition away carbon-intensive car dependency all over the world.

The TransMilenio bus system, operating in the cities of Bogotá and Soacha in Colombia, is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It can transport between one and two millions people each day, thanks to its wide range of stops, dedicated bus lanes, affordable ticketing stations, and the availability of bus lanes.

This shift can also be encouraged by encouraging more people to use active travel modes. E-bikes are a popular choice. fastest growingTypes of transport in China Motor-assisted cycling encourages longer distances on bicycles in warmer areas, hilly areas, and among those who are less physically fit. Research from Sweden NorwayStudies show that cyclists who switch to e-bikes from their conventional bikes increase the number of trips they make and the distance they cover on average per journey.

A red and yellow bus on a road
TransMilenio’s bus service has been widely recognized as an example of sustainable mass transportation.
Felipe Restrepo Acosta/Wikimedia

Recently, residents of Berlin voted to expand car restrictions in the German city to cover 88 sq km of the city – a proposal which would create the world’s largest car-free urban zone. These actions can address safety concerns for pedestrians and cyclists who fear being accompanied by heavy, fast-moving vehicles. Importantly, researchers have notedWithout curbing car use, any other measures to encourage public transport, walking, and cycling will have little impact.

Once unnecessary travel has been cut from things like poor urban planning and employer policies requiring workers’ presence in offices, and once safe public transport systems or active travel options have been provided, we can focus on making the vehicles we currently have more sustainable.


Although fuel efficiency has slightly reduced the fuel consumption per kilometre of car transport, passenger transport demand continues to grow – meaning that overall, increased emissions from passenger transport outstrip efficiency reductions. As a result, the “improve” part of the UN’s framework involves switching bus, rail and car transport from fossil fuels to electric.

Access to and use of electric vehicles is the key to reducing passenger transport emissions. We can end car dependency and allow people to travel as much as possible by doing this.


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