The challenge of moving the world with less carbon

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Efforts to decarbonise international transport and the roadmap against climate change.

The problem is ours. The problem is us.
When our forefathers figured out a way to mine and burn fossil fuel to run machines, they built a network connecting all corners of the planet. Moving goods and people is now easier, faster, and cheaper than it has ever been before. Every one of us is a node in a wide transport network and a demand point in a global supply chain. We all enjoy it, being a part of it and benefit from it. In the process, we have burnt billions of tons of hydrocarbons into the air and seas. How much exactly? Well, more than ten times the rate at which natural geologic processes can trap it and return it belowground. For the past 500 million years, the Earth had maintained its carbon cycle at an equilibrium. We, in a little over two centuries, have put it off balance and now all the living beings including ourselves face dire consequences.

Now.
Before the pandemic disrupted human activities and halted economic growth, the year 2019 recorded roughly 36.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by human activities. Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2019 were the second warmest since modern record-keeping began in 1880, behind the year 2016.


Transport is the fastest-growing source of global emissions.


In 2018, the transport sector accounted for 21% of total man-made emissions. By 2050, the global transport volumes are forecasted to triple. Unless we take action now, the situation is predicted to go from bad to worse. And then to irreversible and hopeless. The bottom line is that the Transport sector is over-dependent on a single energy source, petroleum. The industry is operating on infrastructure that represents trillions of dollars of investment over many decades. If we are to salvage ourselves, a substantial transformation is mandatory in a little more than a generation.


A movement for carbon neutrality is taking shape across nations.
The majority of the world has realised the significance and the urgency of the issue at hand. Countries representing more than 65% of harmful greenhouse gasses (GHG) and more than 70% of the world economy have committed themselves to achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of this century.

Fighting against climate change on the roads.
Out of the total man-made carbon emissions, road transport accounts for 15%. As a fix, carbon tax and carbon pricing policies have been proposed and implemented. But in the long run, they are expected to bring a little change for a bigger challenge. Most efforts should be directed toward new standards and technologies.


Nations worldwide have made more stringent national vehicle emission regulations. In 2021, US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to revise existing national GHG emissions standards for passenger cars, light trucks, and heavy-duty trucks. The EU’s plan to sell 100% emissions-free cars in 2035 shall switch sales from polluting engines to fully electric. Notably, electric vehicles are gradually becoming more competitive in many countries as the global demand is set to increase at a Compound Annual Growth rate of 26.8%.


On seas
Although there have been rapid and radical changes to decarbonize land transport, air and maritime transport is in the initial stages of finding its way to carbon neutrality. Since these modes are engaged majorly in the transportation of goods and people across nations, a global coalition is essential to make progress.


Maritime transport is responsible for about 2.5% of global GHG emissions. If we do not act, projections indicate significant increases between 50% and 250% by 2050. As a matter of urgency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN’s specialised agency responsible for shipping remains committed to reducing GHG emissions. IMO together with its stakeholders has been working on it for a long time, but now for the first time, everyone is in it together. In 2018, the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee agreed on a programme to implement the initial strategy, targeting Short-term measures between 2020 and 2023.
Under the IMO’s purview, a global data collection system is now active to gather ship fuel oil consumption data. Based on the insights IMO shall take informed actions to achieve its rigorous target of cutting the GHG emission by 40% from 2008 levels by 2030. The IMO’s strategy is consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.

In skies
As the aviation industry recovers gradually from a pandemic-induced recession, the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the demand for passenger and freight aviation to triple by 2070. Usage of new materials and technologies has paved the way for lighter aircraft and has made a difference right away. Advances in air traffic control and flight routing help to shorten flights and reduce unnecessary fuel burn. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), a viable alternative to traditional aviation fuels have been made from everyday waste and are being used right now with the potential to reduce emissions by 80% or more.
Current battery technology means that most electric planes are being designed for relatively short trips – typically up to 300 miles. This makes them perfect for domestic flights and countries.

Norway and Sweden are already aiming to introduce short-haul electric routes by 2040. Long-haul flights will take a little longer.
The future is today. The matter is urgent. International transport connects the world, bringing people and goods together. But the benefits also have an environmental downside. There are multiple potential pathways to decarbonize the transport sector, but it is neither necessary nor possible to know all the details of how this will play out. History shows us that the future shall hold even more advances and opportunities that we cannot predict or even imagine right now. As these changes emerge, their adoption can allow reductions of emissions beyond those we can identify and assess today. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is scheduled to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, between 31 October and 12 November 2021 and provides an unmissable opportunity for the transport industry to enact real change.

References

  • Humans Release 40 To 100 Times As Much Carbon As Do Earth’s Volcanoes https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidbressan/2019/10/02/humans-release-40-to-100-times-as-much-carbon-as-do-earths-volcanoes/?sh=176a31b41c6e
  • The Effects of Climate Change https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/
  • Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/news/TemporaryReductionInCO2EmissionsDuringCOVID-19.html
  • NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal 2019 Second Warmest Year on Record https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2945/nasa-noaa-analyses-reveal-2019-second-warmest-year-on-record/
  • Cars, planes, trains: where do CO2 emissions from transport come from?
    https://ourworldindata.org/co2-emissions-from-transport
  • Carbon neutrality by 2050: the world’s most urgent mission
    https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/articles/2020-12-11/carbon-neutrality-2050-the-world%E2%80%99s-most-urgent-mission
  • Why Carbon Pricing and Electric Vehicles Won’t Avert Climate Crisis
    https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/why-carbon-pricing-and-electric-vehicles-wont-avert-climate-crisis
  • Regulations for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Passenger Cars and Trucks
    https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/regulations-greenhouse-gas-emissions-passenger-cars-and
  • Electric Vehicle Market by Component, Vehicle (Passenger Cars, CV), Propulsion (BEV, PHEV, FCEV), Vehicle Drive Type (FWD, RWD, AWD), Vehicle Top Speed (<125 mph, >125 mph), Charging Point, Vehicle Class, V2G, Region-Global Forecast 2030
    https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/electric-vehicle-market-209371461.html
  • Reducing emissions from the shipping sector
    https://ec.europa.eu/clima/eu-action/transport-emissions/reducing-emissions-shipping-sector_en
  • Initial IMO GHG Strategy
    https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Reducing-greenhouse-gas-emissions-from-ships.aspx
  • UN body adopts climate change strategy for shipping
    https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/Pages/06GHGinitialstrategy.aspx
  • Transport sector CO2 emissions by mode in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2000-2030
    https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/transport-sector-co2-emissions-by-mode-in-the-sustainable-development-scenario-2000-2030
  • How airlines can chart a path to zero-carbon flying
    https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/travel-logistics-and-infrastructure/our-insights/how-airlines-can-chart-a-path-to-zero-carbon-flying
  • Lighter planes for less pollution
    https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/89841-lighter-planes-for-less-pollution

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