Tuesday 19 April 2022

IPCC Working Group points to a paradigm shift for mobility in latest report

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III published its sixth assessment report on mitigation of climate change this month (April 2022). This new release follows reports from Working Groups I and II, which set out the physical, scientific basis of climate change and vulnerability of socioeconomic and natural systems. Both reports sent alarming messages: the climate is changing faster and with more severe consequences than anticipated. This third report focuses on key solutions to stop rising temperatures, and UIC has reviewed the content on decarbonisation of the land transport sector, identifying key themes: a paradigm shift, a shift in cities, close ties with the energy sector and the co-benefits of sustainable mobility.

Transport is highlighted as a sector with steadily growing emissions, with the report noting that the sector’s emissions have increased faster than for any other end-use sector since 2010. It makes it clear that addressing emissions from transport is crucial in many countries, as the sector represents the largest energy-consuming sector in 40% of countries worldwide.

Paradigm shift
To keep below 1.5 degrees of warming, transport emissions must fall by 59% by 2050, or 29% for a 2-degree warming scenario relative to modelled 2020 emissions. The conclusion is that systematic change is required and that through a balanced, intermodal application of ‘Avoid, Shift and Improve’ measures, it is possible to meet the needed reduction targets in the transport emissions. Citing a SLOCAT publication (2021, which includes a UIC contribution), the report makes it clear that along with technological solutions, a paradigm shift is needed. This new approach is described in the report as a prioritisation of high-accessibility transport solutions that minimise the amount of mobility required to meet people’s needs and favours transit and active transport modes.

Overall, however, the working group is not optimistic about how quickly transport can drastically reverse the growth trend. With high levels of confidence, the working group concludes that the “transport sector likely will not reach zero CO2 emissions by 2100 and therefore negative emissions are likely needed to counterbalance residual CO2 emissions from the sector”. Thus, for transport to come close to meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement, all the measures at our disposal must be taken. For land transport, the report highlights a series of mitigation actions considered to be effective, pointing in particular to the efficiency of collective transport services (bus and railways), which generate about 7% of passenger transport-related CO2 emissions despite covering 20% of passenger transport globally.

A shift in cities
Urban areas and cities are crucial in climate change mitigation. The working group identifies an opportunity to “increase resource efficiency and significantly reduce GHG emissions through the systemic transition of urban infrastructure and urban form through low-emission development pathways towards net-zero emissions”. An important part of transforming cities is through the manner in which people and goods arrive and move around. Strategies are needed to prioritise and improve non-motorised (e.g. walking, cycling) and public transport in integrated urban environments, designed to optimise travel around the city and maximise quality of life for its inhabitants. This strategy directly aligns with the UIC 2030 Vision , which cites transformation in cities and connecting communities as one of four key transformations.

The IPCC concludes that there are significant opportunities for cities in combining mitigation strategies for systematic changes. Changes in urban form, including connectivity, in conjunction with programmes that encourage changes in consumer behaviour (e.g. transport pricing) are considered particularly helpful in reducing or slowing transport-related greenhouse gas emissions in both developed and developing countries. Again, with reported high confidence levels, the working group highlights investments in public inter- and intra-city transport and active transport infrastructure (e.g. bike and pedestrian pathways) as effective in supporting the shift to less GHG-intensive transport modes. Electric vehicles including electric trains, powered by low-emission electricity, are thought to offer the largest decarbonisation potential for land-based transport.

Close ties with the energy sector
IPCC makes the important point that transport cannot be considered independently from other sectors, in particular the energy sector. For the electrification of mobility to be sustainable, the supply must also be green. The potential for GHG reductions, both direct and indirect, for the transport sector largely depends on greening in the energy sector. It is for this reason that there are strong recommendations in the report in favour of the integration of transport and energy infrastructure strategy, planning and operations. This systems thinking is considered very powerful in enabling sectoral synergies and reducing the environmental, social and economic impacts of decarbonising the transport and energy sectors. Such an approach could also benefit railways through greater energy reliability and security.

Although not directly highlighted for transport, it is also critical that emissions from the construction of railway infrastructure be addressed. Embodied carbon, operational efficiency and clean energy sources are the three pillars that can unlock the decarbonisation potential of the transport sector and fully realise the sector’s contribution to achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Co-benefits
What is exciting about the potential for strategies to shift modal choice is that they do so much more than simply reduce GHG emissions. The IPCC report highlights several co-benefits, including air quality improvements, health benefits, equitable access to transportation services, reduced congestion and reduced material demand. Electrification combined with low-GHG energy, and shifts to public transport, can enhance health and employment and can deliver energy security and equity.

Rail is a climate solution
Transport policymakers around the world and the railway community should consider this important report as an urgent call to action. In a sector heading in the wrong direction, the IPCC Working Group agrees that rail and public transport is a critical climate solution.

As a global organisation and founding member of the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action, UIC takes its role very seriously. UIC is working to transfer and share knowledge and technical solutions. This global exchange will help developing countries to leapfrog to and continuously pursue efficient and low-emission transport systems, reaping the full range of environmental, economic and social benefits.

Authors: Lucie Anderton, Head of Sustainability & Joo Hyun Ha, Sustainability Strategy & International Partnerships Senior Advisor at the International Union of Railways (UIC)
Source: IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al Khourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA. doi: 10.1017/9781009157926

For further information, please contact Lucie Anderton, UIC Head of the Sustainability Unit at anderton@uic.org & Joo Hyun Ha, UIC Sustainability Strategy & International Partnerships Senior Advisor at ha@uic.org

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