Keeping transport-related energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from ballooning out of control between now and 2050 will require a mix of improved fuel...

Traffic MessKeeping transport-related energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from ballooning out of control between now and 2050 will require a mix of improved fuel efficiency, new technologies and stronger government policies, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The new report, “Transport, Energy and CO2: Moving Toward Sustainability,” says it’s possible and less expensive than many assume to reduce transport-related carbon emissions far below current levels by 2050, even with the projected rapid growth in car ownership. Doing so would take a shift to more efficient travel modes, an up to 50-per cent improvement in vehicle fuel efficiency and development of electricity, hydrogen and advanced biofuels for transport … and all that would require strong government policies.

Currently, transport accounts for nearly one-fourth of the globe’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. That figure is likely to rise even higher with worldwide car ownership set to triple to over two billion by 2050. Trucking activity and air travel are also expected to rise by factors of two and four, respectively.

“The first priority should be to adopt technologies and practices that are cost-effective today,” writes IEA executive director Nobuo Tanaka in the report’s foreword. “This will lead to substantial gains in vehicle fuel economy — we target a 50-per cent improvement by 2030 for new light-duty vehicles.”

Tanaka adds, “We should also move strongly toward better urban development practices and encourage sensible changes in the way we travel, by investing in a new generation of urban and intercity transit systems.”

Such measures, though, will only be enough to slow the growth in vehicle travel and stabilise CO2 emission levels. To cut carbon emissions in half and move toward a permanently lower greenhouse gas future will require a revolution in technology, the report finds. Such a revolution, it says, must be built on some combination of electricity, biofuels and hydrogen. All of those strategies present significant hurdles, including infrastructure requirements, costs and — especially in the case of biofuels — the need to assure the use of truly sustainable feedstocks.

“Yet through a combination of RD&D, careful and co-ordinated planning, deployment, and learning by doing, the ambitious long-term targets described in this report can be achieved,” Tanaka writes.

Bringing about this technology transition will require both a steep change in policy implementation by governments and unprecedented investment in new technologies, including the support for infrastructure such as electricity recharging systems. Countries will need to work together, and with a range of stakeholders, to ensure everyone moves in the same direction. With the vast majority of growth in travel, energy use and CO2 occurring in non-OECD countries, those countries will need to be part of the solution, the report says.


  • Mekhong Kurt

    January 26, 2010 #1 Author

    In addition to the requirements foreseen by the IEA, there are a number of steps people, businesses, and governments can take now to help cut transportation’s (and other sources’) contribution to CO2 pollution, etc., steps that are non-tech or low-tech.

    Where public transport is either unavailable or not practical, carpooling could help substantially, I imagine, though I have no figures to back that up. However, if 4 people each drive even fuel-efficient vehicles that get, say, 35mpg to work, and if they all work at the same place or very close together — walking distance — they could cut their fuel consumption and resulting emissions by about 75% by carpooling. Not to mention reduce their individual fuel costs correspondingly.

    In limited circumstances, walking and/or bicycling present alternatives, individual or together. Not many people want to commute 20 miles each way bicycling, though a few might; it’s a no-brainer that no one’s going to walk that far — to propose so is completely unreasonable. But a lot of people could walk 1/2 mile or even a mile. No, that’s not energy-free; you have to have energy to walk or ride, so will use some fuel, in the form of food, to power your walk/ride/both. But it will be less. “Factor in the energy use to raise the crops to feed the cows?” you ask? Sure. Also factor in the parallel expenses for building a car. Walking and bicycle riding still come out way ahead.

    Some cities lend themselves to this already, and some that haven’t traditionally — such as Dallas, Texas, the single largest city in my neck of the woods — are actively seeking to make their downtowns, in particular, viable residential areas. Compact areas. Lending themselves to walking and bicycling (though Dallas has paid scant attention to the latter, in the downtown area, so far). No, even a walk or ride of just a half-mile or so isn’t ALWAYS practical. Texas summers, getting-off time, and it’s 105 degrees. Or winters, when a blue norther — a strong arctic cold front — rolls through on its southward barrel, bring temperatures in the teens aggravated by wind chill. Or when thunderstorms park over the area for several days, as they sometimes do, especially during the spring. But even in Dallas, there are quite a fe days a stroll or a bike ride are downright attractive possibilities.

    As for businesses, well, many steps are obvious, even for small businesses with relatively small footprints; even a one-person outfit can cut costs, including transportation costs, by e-mailing or calling instead of going somewhere to see a customer — and to send messages and documents, in many cases, not only saving fuel for the outfit but also by *not* using a messenger company’s or the post office’s fuel. (Yes, face-to-face meetings won’t go away, nor will traditional mail/messenger services; needs for those exist and will continbue to exist.)

    As for truly big outfits, look at what Walmart has done in terms of alternative energy (solar for some of their stores) and packaging (requiring a reduction in the amount of packaging their suppliers use). Now, yes, there’s an argument they’re simply and cynically greenwashing. My question is this: “So what? Aren’t they using less fossil fuel to get their stores powered? Aren’t their suppliers being forced to conserve, not only materials, but in transportation costs to *haul* those materials?? Who *cares* what their motive is, so long as the end result is positive?” (And so long as it doesn’t harm anyone, of course, but that’s a given.)

    Also, a fair number of companies give awards for Employee of the Year, Salesman of the Year, and a wide variety of other noteworthy achievements. Sometimes these awards have actual monetary value, sometimes just a little, sometimes quite large. Without being too pushy, a company could, say, announce that “this year, instead of offering only a 5-day/4-night all expenses paid trip to Paris for two, we’re going to offer that and another couple options. A trip like that sets us back about $10,000 cool cash. If you don’t want to go to Paris, fine — we’ll pay to weatherize your home, and if there’s any money left over, reimburse you for energy-efficient equipment you buy, including a bicycle. Or if you want to buy an energy-efficient car giving [insert some fairly high criteria], then we’ll put the ten grand towards the car’s purchase price.”

    But what about the small outfit that can’t, so doesn’t, have such dream prizes? Well, instead of a check for $200, how about a check for maybe *$100* bucks — and a gift certificate good towards the purchase of food at a local farmers’ market? (that assumes such a market is close enough to make going there worthwhile.) Anyway, something outside the box.

    Even government can help. True, we don’t expect President Obama (or any President) to drive around in his Smart4Two shopping for a discount air ticket for the G20 meeting of heads-of-state in Brussels (or wherever). I might, however, expect the head of the local state Department of Agriculture office in Dallas to take a bus or at least fly economy — DISCOUNT economy — to a meeting in Austin. (Why not save money while saving fuel??? Especially MY tax money??? Okay, okay — and yours.) And if he just HAS to drive, require him to carpool with others in the Dallas area also going — at least 4 to a car, say, 6 to a van. (The Big Three heads sure gave us a lot of ammo in this department when they flew in corporate jets to Washington, didn’t they???) I know that rubs such people’s ideas of self-importance the wrong way, but “tough t*tty,” as some Texans are wont to say.

    *None* of this is high-tech, and much of it is no-tech, and other of it is using existing-tech stuff.

    And they all save transportation costs, in one way or another, and often other costs, both financial and environmental.


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