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Solving transport's CO2 problem

Any serious attempt to deal with climate change must involve transport. Transport accounts for 13% of all world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, though this figure takes into account CO2 sources other than fuel combustion, such as forestry, land-use and biomass burning. A look at CO2 emissions from fuel combustion only shows the transport sector accounts for about 23% worldwide and about 30% in the OECD area.

Road transport emissions account for about 75% of global transport emissions, domestic and international aviation for about 11.5% and inland and international maritime transport about 10.3%. Between 1990 and 2005, transport CO2 emissions rose by 22.3% in the EU-15 and by 44.7% in the new EU member states, by 28.7% in North America and by 32.3% in OECD nations in Asia.

Projections suggest continued strong growth in transport volumes in all modes, especially in non-OECD countries, with the motorisation rate likely to triple between 2000 and 2050. What can be done? What role is there for policy?

The OECD area is where most greenhouse gases come from, and governments are starting to act. Climate change is top of the agenda at both the OECD’s annual Ministerial Council Meeting and Forum in June, and on top of the G8 agenda for Japan in July.

It is also the subject of the first International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany, from 28-30 May 2008. For Jack Short, secretary-general of the International Transport Forum, the transport challenge could not be clearer: “We know how to reduce many traditional pollutants and get accident numbers down, but can we decouple growth in transport from rising CO2 emissions?”

Leipzig, according to Mr Short, will be a “high-level event geared towards action” aimed at setting out “an ambitious and responsible way forward.”

The challenges are daunting. For a start, despite promising technological innovations, transport is still almost entirely dependent on oil. Also, substantial worldwide growth in transport use will add to CO2 emissions over the next 30 years. Trade will continue to grow, so will consumption. Air passenger traffic will be two and a half times higher in 2025 than in 2005, and air cargo three times higher, as will maritime shipping volumes. A “business as usual” approach would be unsustainable.

Whether in new technology for aviation or simple eco-efficient car driving, the articles in this spotlight explore how technology, policy and behaviour can work together to improve prospects. They look at the biofuels debate, and consider technological breakthroughs alongside simple changes, such as better tyres and lubricants that can also help cut emissions.

As Mr Short noted in a recent OECD Observer article, “these are the kinds of affordable and proven measures that the Leipzig meeting must bring to the fore. They offer real and immediate returns, and that includes for the environment.”

References

The OECD Observer would like to thank the International Transport Forum, particularly Philippe Crist, Jari Kauppila, Stephen Perkins, Aline Plez and Michael Zirpel for their assistance as we prepared this spotlight on transport.

©OECD Observer No 267 May-June 2008