World Resource Institute

Resources for Strengthening Climate Action: Transport Sector

Driven by GDP, population, and urban growth, demand for transportation of people and goods is surging. However, current attempts to meet this demand are unsustainable. Transport is poised to generate GHG emissions by 2050 that are three to six times higher than in scenarios consistent with the Paris Agreement, and road fatalities, air pollution and a lack of physical activity kill millions of people annually. To combat these crises and others, transformation is critical.

Download Working Paper: Enhancing NDCs: Opportunities in Transport

Why the Transport Sector Matters

In 2016, the transport sector accounted for one-quarter of total energy-related CO2 emissions, and that share is climbing. Indeed, although the Paris Agreement goals require deep cuts in transport emissions, under business as usual, emissions are projected to double. Accordingly, confronting climate change demands a paradigm shift toward sustainable, low-carbon transport.

Transport is, of course, a major element of the global economy, and international trade depends on transporting goods across borders by road, rail, air, or sea. Transportation costs account for 37 percent of global trade expenditures on the flow of goods, and 17 percent of the flow of services. In addition, in many developed countries, transport accounts for 6–12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and consumes 10–15 percent of household expenditures. Accordingly, the core principles of sustainable mobility maintain a prioritization of moving people and goods as efficiently as possible.

Finally, sustainable, low-carbon transport is vital to achieving more than half of the Sustainable Development Goals, including targets on fossil fuel subsidies, road fatalities, access to public transport, access to quality rural roads, and freight movements. The coming round of NDC updates presents an opportunity to more fully seize the synergistic opportunities available in the transport sector; that is, to articulate an ambitious vision of the transition each country intends to achieve, what it will do to get there, and, for developing countries, what support is needed.

Opportunities in the Transport Sector

Opportunities to enhance NDCs via the transport sector can result in meaningful progress toward achieving the Paris climate goals as well as toward advancing global development in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Accelerate Electrification The cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen 80% over the past decade, transforming the potential to power transport through an increasingly clean grid; improving fuel efficiency also has immediate gains.
Avoid/Shift Support for solutions like land use planning, public transport, walking and cycling is vital to a sustainable transportation sector.
Address Freight accounting for 40% of all transport emissions, significant gains can be made by leveraging new clean fuel, rapidly declining battery costs for electric trucks and information technology to improve logistics.

In light of the pressing issues posed by the COVID-19 crisis, now is a particularly unique time for vehicle owners and operators to invest in EVs--especially electric transit. Accelerated electric vehicle adoption during the pandemic will:

  • Spur the Economy: Procuring more electric vehicles and building infrastructure can immediately create jobs and spur sustained economic activity, in addition to decarbonizing the transport sector and mitigating GHG emissions. The United States power sector alone is projected to need 330,000 public charging outlets and a total of roughly $4.7 billion in EV infrastructure investment by 2025. There is no better investment to spur economic activity than one that requires large upfront investment and provides long-term cost savings and GHG mitigation.

  • Save Money: Despite their large upfront costs, electric vehicles can have a cheaper total cost of ownership and save money in the long term through operation and maintenance savings. Additionally, electric vehicles can generate revenue and support renewable energy by providing stable electricity to hospitals and other parts of the power sector, through vehicle-to-grid solutions.

  • Retain 2020 Local Air Quality Improvements: Over the course of the COVID-19 shutdown, air pollution dropped by almost 60% in many cities. Prioritizing electric vehicle adoption now will ensure retention of air quality improvements and lowered health risk in communities. These benefits can be further improved by using electric vehicles to improve renewable energy integration (for example, solar energy produced during daytime can be stored in electric vehicles and used later by selling it back to the grid).

Read: NDC Enhancement and COVID-19 Recovery: Building Blocks for a Sustainable Future

Ways to Enhance Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the Transport Sector

Countries can strengthen or add:

  • Economywide GHG targets reflecting more ambitious abatement options in the transport sector.
  • Ambitious GHG targets for the transport sector, such as reducing transport GHG emissions by a certain percentage by 2030 from a base year.
  • Non-GHG targets addressing the transport sector, such as:
    • Modal shift targets (e.g., a certain percentage of trips within cities that should happen by walking, cycling or public transit).
    • Targets for kilometers of high-quality public transit (e.g. BRT, LRT, metro).
    • Targets for walking and cycling infrastructure (e.g. kilometers of protected cycling infrastructure, bicycle share systems or standards for inclusion of pedestrian infrastructure).
    • Vehicle electrification and alternative fuel targets (passenger and freight, as well as light- and heavy-duty vehicles).
    • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure targets.
    • Phase-out targets for internal combustion engines.
    • Fuel efficiency targets.
    • Targets to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, coupled with policies to offset any economic impacts on vulnerable populations.

Countries can link COVID recovery to stronger climate action:

Transport Sector in First Round NDCs

Countries included a variety of targets, policies and measures in the first round of their NDCs. Most NDCs acknowledge the important relationship between transport and climate, but few include concrete, quantitative targets to address it.

Additional resources on climate action within the transport sector

Watch our webinar: Enhancing NDCs: Opportunities in Transport