Transport and energy

The challenge of climate change
Secretary General of the International Transport Forum

©ITF/DR

For transport, a major contributor to greenhouse gases, the challenge to reduce emissions is immense, particularly as most forecasts see transport activity doubling or tripling in the next 30 years.

2007 was an extraordinary year of global political attention on the issue of climate change. From Brazil to Bali, no longer can anyone have any illusion as to the size of the challenge.Fortunately, governments in the OECD area (which is where most greenhouse gases come from) are starting to act, though much more needs to be done.That is why the first International Transport Forum, to be held in Leipzig, Germany, from 28-30 May 2008, will be devoted to the theme “Transport and Energy: The Challenge of Climate Change”.The new forum provides a unique opportunity for leaders in the sector–both private and public–to chart the strategies and measures that must be put in place, nationally and internationally, to help the world reach its goal of reducing global emissions by around 50% over the next half-century. Indeed, without improvements in transport, that goal will be very hard to achieve. Preparatory work, for example on instruments, alternative fuels and behaviour, is providing new ideas and evidence on the options available and their relative benefits and costs. The forum’s combination of key players and up-to-date analysis provides the essential platform for the transport sector to set out an ambitious and responsible way forward.click here for larger graphAt the forum, decision-makers in transport will be able to show how, in concrete terms, they will deal with global warming. Top researchers and representatives of nongovernmental organisations will also be there in force, to discuss, debate and provide views on how the sector might best reduce its impact on global warming.The forum is not a talk shop, but a high-level event geared towards action. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will deliver a keynote speech at Forum 2008. Among the speakers are eminent industry leaders, such as Thomas Enders, CEO, Airbus; Thierry Morin, CEO, Valeo; and leading academics like professor Julia King, author of a recent report entitled “The King Review on low carbon cars”.Leaders of key international agencies will also lend their expertise to the event, joining Angel Gurría of the OECD and Nobuo Tanaka of the International Energy Agency. In other words, this first-ever annual International Transport Forum truly promises to be an important milestone on the road to addressing climate change.Transport is more than an environmental issue of course. Well-functioning transport systems underpin economic growth and social cohesion. They are a force for openness, for integration and even for peace in the world. They are part of humanity’s heritage that will be passed on to future generations.Still, there is no skipping the fact that these enormous benefits are compromised by environmental and other impacts. Transport is still far too dirty and its emissions pose serious health hazards, particularly in countries where environmental standards are weak.Safety remains a huge concern: over a million people die on the world’s roads every year.However, climate change is a new, wider challenge. After all, we know how to reduce many traditional pollutants and get accident numbers down, but can we decouple growth in transport from rising CO2 emissions? The transport sector already accounts for nearly a quarter of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, and this is growing. The figure is 30% in the OECD area.The trouble is that, despite promising technological innovations, transport is almost entirely dependent on oil. This leaves transport–indeed, whole economies–vulnerable to price and supply shocks, and as our economies expand, it makes the task of improving transport efficiency and developing new technologies all the more pressing. In fact, substantial worldwide growth in transport use will add to the challenge of reducing CO2 emissions over the next 30 years. Trade will continue to grow, incomes will rise and developing countries, particularly China and India, will continue to take to cars.Air passenger traffic will be 2.5 times higher in 2025 than in 2005, and air cargo three times higher. Similarly, shipping volumes are on course for a threefold increase between 1980 and 2020. However, while all need serious attention, most figures suggest policy priority should be given to road transport.Whatever the transport mode, a “business as usual” approach would be unsustainable and new policies are needed. These include measures to encourage advances in vehicle and equipment technology, not least to increase fuel efficiency.On the demand side, we must manage our mobility better, which does not necessarily mean restricting it. Policies like better land use and urban planning, public transport investment and road pricing aimed at reducing congestion must all be considered. Opinions and experiences of these approaches are naturally quite mixed and more discussion is needed for policymakers to agree on appropriate and effective ways forward.There are high hopes for new energy sources and dramatic technological breakthroughs, for instance. Even if these occur, they are some decades distant and it is essential now to make improvements that are already available, proven and affordable. These include better tyres, lubricants, air conditioning, lights as well as driving behaviour.We must also avoid investing unfounded faith in expensive options like biofuels that are neither cost effective nor necessarily good for the environment. Innovation is of course essential and we must put in place the systems in which effective breakthroughs will take place. But we must not let future possibilities divert attention from feasible and effective action here and now. This also goes for global solutions.However ideal these may be, implementing them will not happen overnight. International vehicle standards will have to converge, and putting a global carbon tax or effective carbon trading market together will take time to get right. While we must work towards such goals, concrete progress can be made now in different ways and in different regions. The OECD countries have a key responsibility to take a lead, but other countries can also set incentives to greatly improve their performance.The International Transport Forum in May will no doubt bring many views and solutions to the table. While we must encourage genuine innovative ideas and work hard to turn them into reality, it is vitally important to put simple, effective solutions in place as soon as possible. And of all the measures on offer, improving fuel efficiency offers the largest and most cost effective savings we know.The job requires government action to stimulate investments and bolster consumer readiness. Regulatory standards, fiscal incentives and public awareness campaigns are all needed to promote the development and uptake of more fuel-efficient vehicles. More fuel-efficient driving must also be encouraged, through training, information, and on-board technology, for instance. These are the kinds of affordable and proven measures that the Leipzig meeting must bring to the fore. They offer real and immediate returns, and that includes for the environment.*The International Transport Forum is a global platform and meeting place at the highest level for transport, logistics and mobility. Recently transformed from the European Conference of Ministers of Transport, it is an inter-governmental organisation within the OECD family. Key figures from government and politics, business and industry, research and civil society will meet in Leipzig each year to debate a transport topic of worldwide strategic importance. The first annual forum takes place in May: Forum 2008 Transport and Energy: the Challenge of Climate Change, Leipzig 28-30 May.For more detail, see www.internationaltransportforum.org.The OECD Observer would particularly like to thank Kumi Kitamori and Helen Mountford of the OECD Environment Directorate for their kind advice as we put together this spotlight on the environment.©OECD Observer No 266, March 2008


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