Limiting warming in line with the Paris Agreement goals requires deep cuts in transport emissions, even as demand for transport continues to grow. Yet under business as usual, emissions are projected to double. Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – countries’ plans to address climate change under the Paris Agreement – can help correct course. Yet while most countries mention transport in their NDCs, few draw on the full range of available solutions. Only 29 specify quantitative targets for transport. Reviewing the current NDCs – as well as recent technological advances – through the lens of the “Avoid-Shift-Improve” framework for sustainable transport, we identify meaningful, novel opportunities for countries to enhance their NDCs by better integrating transport solutions. We highlight three key opportunities to enhance NDCs via transport: accelerating electrification while addressing fuel economy; strengthening “avoid and shift” measures that support travel by low-carbon modes; and seizing new opportunities to address freight emissions via electrification and use of information technology.

Key Findings

We identify three key opportunities to enhance NDCs via the transport sector:

  • Accelerate electrification while continuing to advance fuel economy. Most current NDCs do not adequately address transport electrification, yet it is key for long-term decarbonization goals. Improving fuel efficiency offers near-term gains. Advances in technology and policy enable electric vehicles to improve the efficiency and reduce emissions from the grid through targeted vehicle–grid integration. Countries should adopt policies and programs including zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates and incentives, supporting the transition of all modes to zero emission vehicle, investing in smart charging infrastructure, and policy and regulatory development to maximize the environmental, economic, social, and operational benefits of electric mobility for the transport and energy sectors. 

  • Amplify avoid and shift solutions, such as land use and mobility planning, public transport, cycling, and walking. Only one-third of the current NDCs that address transport acknowledge policies to avoid unnecessary travel and shift to or retain low-carbon modes such as public transport, cycling, and walking. This requires immediate, medium, and long-term solutions in land use and planning to induce shorter trips or foster more compact development while increasing the quantity and quality of public transport, walking and cycling. We suggest action areas that include measures such as eliminating fuel subsidies, adopting national urban growth and transport master planning, investing in infrastructure prioritizing sustainable mobility such as high-quality public transport, and encouraging the retention or growth of safe cycling and walking in cities.  

  • Address freight emissions by leveraging new clean fuels and information technology. Freight is only lightly addressed in the current NDCs – although it accounts for around 40 percent of transport emissions, it appears in only 21 percent of the NDCs that address transport (SLoCaT 2018). However, a variety of emerging policy options address this subsector. For example, electric freight vehicles are becoming a feasible option—in 2019, Amazon ordered over 100,000 electric trucks—whereas in the last round of NDCs the technology was much less advanced. Countries should include freight in their move toward electrification and should also take advantage of Avoid and Shift policies, for example, by using information technology to improve logistics and operational efficiency and by shifting road freight to rail where possible.

Executive Summary

Full executive summary available in the paper.