Transportation leads all sectors in the United States in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and significantly affects air quality, particularly within cities. The pollution from transportation produces major environmental costs, health impacts and social justice externalities. For example, more than 80% of people living in cities with monitored air quality are exposed to pollution levels that exceed limits set by the World Health Organization.

With the rise of e-commerce and delivery services, GHG emissions and air pollution from transportation, particularly from delivery services and urban freight, are increasing rapidly. Between 2016 and 2019, trucking GHG emissions rose 7.5%. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted disadvantaged communities’ inequitable exposure to harmful air pollutants nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Zero-emission zones — like low-emission or ultra-low emission zones before them — are a way to control traffic in key areas to only those vehicles with tailpipe emissions below certain levels. WRI seeks to understand their effectiveness at reducing local air pollution and GHG emissions, enable their equitable implementation, and understand how they can work for delivery and municipal fleets.

In recent years, zero-emission delivery zones or corridors, also known as zero-emission zones for freight, have been introduced in several cities around the world to lower transportation emissions, reduce traffic congestion and advance the e-mobility sector. There has been a wide range of implementation mechanisms employed thus far, ranging from strict access restrictions into limited zones to those that are voluntary. The diversity in implementation gives policymakers much-needed flexibility in designing zero-emission delivery zones based on local needs, but also raises questions about what works best. Through research informed by extensive interviews with policy experts, businesses and local communities, WRI aims to offer a clear-eyed view on the impact of zero-emission delivery zones and how they can be implemented in disadvantaged communities.

More cities are expected to soon adopt zero-emission zone policies of different types. Recently, 35 cities signed the C40 Green and Healthy Streets Declaration, and through the Zero Emission Area Programme, committed to establishing at least one zero-emission zone by 2030. More opportunities are expected to arise in advancing equity-centered zero-emission zone implementation.

Cover image credit: Eric Garcetti / Flickr