Tracking Progress: Transport


Transport’s share of global energy-related CO₂ emissions is 23%. Emissions increased by 2.5% annually between 2010 and 2015. This trend must be reversed to get on track with 2DS targets. NDCs to the Paris Agreement targeting transport are insufficient to bring sectoral emissions in line with the 2DS.

Recent trends

With the submission of NDCs to the Paris Agreement, a long-term political signal was sent to decarbonise the transport sector. More than three-quarters of NDCs explicitly identify transport as a mitigation priority; around two-thirds propose sectoral mitigation measures; and 9% specify a transport sector emissions reduction target (PPMC, 2016). A strong bias towards passenger transport is evident in the NDCs. Developing regions tend to highlight a commitment to urban public transit such as bus rapid transit systems (PPMC, 2016). Fuel economy standards and e-mobility pledges are also prioritised to varying degrees, especially in developed economies. Freight is mentioned in only 29% of NDCs, and the most widely cited measure is to target a shift from road to rail and/or ships (PPMC, 2016).

In 2016, a global market-based measure was introduced to mitigate CO₂ emissions from international aviation (ICAO, 2016). The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) aims to stabilise CO₂ emissions from international aviation by 2020. Emissions exceeding the threshold would be offset (ICAO, 2016). The IMO also agreed on a global sulphur cap of 0.5% on marine fuels (IMO, 2016), but has not yet defined a GHG emissions mitigation target.

Tracking progress

Global transport sector GHG emissions continue to grow. To reach 2DS targets, sectoral emissions must begin to decline within the coming decade. OECD economies must reduce wheel to wheel (WTW) GHG emissions by more than 20% by 2025 to offset continued emissions growth of more than 18% in non-OECD countries over the same period. Transport-related mitigation measures proposed in NDCs are expected to fall short of both medium- and long-term 2DS targets.

Positive trends continue in electrification. Sales of EVs continue to increase, with the light-duty EV market growing by 50% (EVI, 2017) compared with 2015, with China leading market growth. Aviation, shipping and heavy-duty road are the most difficult modes to decarbonise. Despite the aforementioned adoption of new regulatory policies and other measures, these sectors are still under-regulated when compared with LDVs. The WTW GHG emissions of the shipping sector, for example, are expected to grow at a rate of 1.9% per year from 2015 to 2025 in the RTS, and aviation at 2.0% per year. However, emissions must stabilise in these sectors to align with the 2DS by 2025, and decline rapidly afterwards. Road freight WTW GHG emissions grow by 2.2% per year over the same period in the RTS, but here emissions growth must be capped at 1.0% to meet the 2DS targets.

Recommended actions

The ambition expressed in the NDCs must translate into concrete actions to put transport on track with 2DS targets. Mode-specific measures should target proven and rapid means of reducing emissions.

Policies must raise the costs of owning and operating the modes with highest GHG emissions intensity to stimulate investments and purchases of energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies and modes. A price on carbon is essential, and could be particularly effective in reducing GHG emissions from shipping and aviation, sectors that are currently subject to low or no fuel taxation. Complementary additional measures are also needed, including investments in energy-efficient transport modes (such as rail and public transport), regulations mandating ambitious vehicle efficiency improvements and measures encouraging the adoption and development of low-carbon fuels.

The development of CORSIA has both positive and negative implications. The acknowledgement of the need for climate change mitigation and the elaboration of a unified aspirational goal for the industry are both welcome developments. But these developments could come at the expense of reduced pressure for R&D solutions that could be achieved within the aviation industry itself. The international shipping sector should consider a similar unified mitigation goal. However, in light of the large potential to reduce specific CO₂ emissions, the international shipping sector should adopt carbon taxes rather than offsets.


Published: 16 May 2017

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