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  • Is it all hot air? Global warming and the transport industry

Is it all hot air? Global warming and the transport industry

Climate change is a critical subject and has been yet again in the forefront of the public eye recently at the COP21 summit held at the end of 2015 in Paris. At this summit, countries committed to proposed measures to curb peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, in order to keep global temperature increase ‘well below 2°C’.

One of the main themes was Transport, and lowering carbon emissions a key area identified. The transport industry already accounts for 22% of worldwide carbon emissions, with growing volumes.

What's causing the problem?

Ultimately, it is fossil fuel emissions from the aviation, shipping, and motor industries.

Aviation contributes roughly 2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest growing mode of passenger transport, and corresponding is one of the biggest culprits of increasing fossil fuel emissions.

The international ocean freight shipping industry currently produces 2.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the Germany’s overall annual emissions. In an industry with very tight margins, fuel costs are bundled within the total cost of ship hire, with little commercial incentives from customers to reduce emissions by utilising full loads on return trips, or through new efficient fuels or ship design.

The largest of the three contributors is car transport. In the US, cars and trucks make up nearly one-fifth of all emissions, and in developing countries the number of vehicles is rising dramatically, increasing the level of concern.

Ocean freight shipping industry produces 2.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to Germany's overall annual emissions.

What progress has been made?

It is widely acknowledged that action is needed in order to reduce carbon emissions, and some progress has already been made.

The aviation industry is setting a good example as it established global goals back in 2008 to manage its climate change impact, with the aim of carbon neutral growth to stabilise emissions by 2020, and to reduce emissions by 2050. Progress has been made on this with twenty airports globally already being carbon neutral. But there is still a long way to go.

The development of ultra-low emission vehicles has come a long way in recent years. Moorhouse has supported the Department for Transport in helping promote this in the UK through recharging infrastructure and incentives. Setting up this infrastructure is a known critical enabler to accelerate the use of such vehicles both in cities and nationwide.

One achievement of the COP21 conference was setting up an ‘electro-mobility call to action’ group that would like 20% of all cars on the road, in any country, to be electric by 2030. The use of electric cars is increasing and the potential is enormous, however this is a solution for short journeys and does not address international travel. Many cities have introduced congestion charges, carpool lanes, or traffic restrictions, in an attempt to change behaviour by reducing private car journeys and encouraging the use of public transport.

The use of biofuel in the transport industry is increasing and some of the advantages are already being recognised. One of the main advantages is that existing engines can be used, meaning that new cars and planes are not required, reducing capital costs. However, in order for biofuel to have a major impact it needs to be scaled up, which in itself is costly, and requires much more land to grow source crops, raising the related issue of land use.

What more can be done?

Although progress has been made in reducing emissions in the transport industry, the question of how we can further lower emissions, in order to reduce the effects of climate change, still remains. Short term solutions are already under development but there is still much we believe that can be done for longer term solutions:

  • Policy measures: The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that transport emissions could be drastically cut through aggressive policy measures and heavy regulation, to replace fossil fuels with biofuels and renewable energy. This would encourage companies to invest in biofuels and renewable energies and increased incentives could be introduced to encourage people to choose environmentally friendly cars.
  • Increased innovation and continued investment in renewables: The transport sector needs more inspiration and innovation to help reduce carbon emission outputs. Further technology development is needed to make an impact on the industry. However, the initial cost of investment in developing technologies is high, particularly for developing nations. In response, the COP21 pledged $100 billion a year investment in developing nations as well as incentives for innovative companies. Could planes start flying on liquid nitrogen? Prototypes are emerging. Could we see a return to wind-powered boats? Regional projects are underway.
  • Behavioural change: Behavioural change is also needed to change people’s perceptions. The obvious remains increased use of public transport, walking, and cycling. The added benefit of improving public health could yet become a bigger factor as the NHS faces further strain. Urban planning will play a part in attempting to change behaviour, linked with technology advances to underpin environmentally friendly movement.

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