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Potential for Low Carbon Actions to Mitigate Emissions from High Volume Transport

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The rate of emissions from the transport sector is increasing at a faster than any other sectors.[1] With emissions projected to rise in most global BAU scenarios, transport is currently off-track to meet Paris Agreement targets and likely up to 13.6 Gt [2] and potentially up to 18 Gt by 2050 under an average scenario.[3] This increase would mainly stem from emissions growth in middle-income countries, although per capita emissions in high-income countries would still be three times as high. BAU transport projections would be roughly 3.5 times higher than a 2-degree scenario (2DS) goal and more than nine times higher than a 1.5-degree scenario (1.5 DS) goal (Figure 1):

Figure 1:Transport Emissions BAU Estimates and 2DS-1.5DS Targets

Transport plays a key role in helping to reverse the current emissions trends. Since transport infrastructure-related decisions ‘lock-in’ transport demand for decades to come, policy decisions in the next two to five years will determine whether we are set on a course for a low-carbon transport future.[4] Transport has the potential to decrease emissions to about 2.5 Gt by 2050 under an optimistic low carbon scenario (representing an ambitious, pro-active implementation of low carbon transport), according to a tiered analysis of country-level mitigation potential studies.[5] This is in the range of the estimated 2.0 Gt of transport emissions in 2050 required to achieve a 1.5DS, based on a proportional contribution, noting that the transport pathway will be highly dependent upon other sectors in each country.


Box: Avoid-Shift-Improve framework for low carbon high-volume transport systems

‘[H]igh-volume transport [(HVT)] covers road and rail networks from passenger and freight perspectives. It will expand and develop new technologies and solutions and will learn from and adapt existing transport technologies, materials, designs, planning and methods from high and middle-income countries’.[6]

To achieve low carbon transport HVT systems and reduce emissions from the transport sector, decision-makers need to set policy objectives and agree on a systematic approach to achieve them. The Avoid-Shift-Improve framework (Figure 2) was developed to help transport stakeholders Identify policies that achieve reduced dependency on motorised transport, increased mobility on public transport and significant GHG emissions reductions from the sector.[7] ‘Avoid’ refers to reducing the need for motorised travel through integrated land-use planning and transport demand management; ‘Shift’ refers to shifting trips to more sustainable modes; ‘Improve’ refers to measures that focusing on optimizing existing transport technologies and systems

Figure 2: Avoid-Shift-Improve Framework


Improving the probability of reaching a 1.5DS target will require higher ambition and more comprehensive measures in low carbon transport plans from DFID priority countries in Africa and the South Asia regions. Growth of absolute transport emissions between 2000 and 2016 was highest in the project's focus regions: Asia (92%) and Africa (84%).[8] This growth is attributed primarily to increased prosperity which in turn increases passenger and freight transport activities.

Africa's contribution to global transport demand has historically been low, though a steady growth rate in motorisation of 33% between 2005 and 2015. Low-carbon transport policy responses in Africa trail other regions; however, there are examples from DFID priority countries that showcase transport as a priority sector. South Africa cited two priority transport projects for investment in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles (20% by 2030).[9] In 2018, nine African cities - Accra, Addis Ababa, Cape Town, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Durban, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Tshwane - committed to cutting carbon emissions to zero by 2050 with transport as a priority sector.[10]

Most global transport demand between 2005 and 2015 has been added in Asia with an 88% increase in their motorisation rate. The region has acknowledged the need to address their rapidly growing emissions and registered strong transport mitigation policy responses. Bangladesh, for example, explicitly proposes a transport sector reduction target of 24% below 2030 BAU in their NDCs.[11] Additionally, India became the second country in Asia and the fifth in the world with heavy-duty vehicle fuel economy regulations that took effect in April of 2018.[12]

Meeting Paris Agreement targets will depend to a large extent on whether low carbon, sustainable transport is rapidly and broadly implemented, especially in the project’s priority focus areas as they have not only recorded rapid emissions growth in recent years, but also show rapid growth in population. Population growth rates from 2000 to 2017 were highest in Africa, whose urban population nearly doubled from 277 million to 504 million in the same period. Asia's population reached 4.48 billion in 2017, with high annual growth in urbanization (2%) and GDP (1.5%). Decision-makers will need to develop sustainable policies to meet this growing demand on their transport systems. There remains a need for research to show evidence that an context-appropriate shift to low carbon transport solutions has the potential to not only meet the demand on the transport systems and reduce emissions, but also to allow citizens to experience the benefits of increased access, cleaner air, improved economic development and reduced inequality.

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  1. Sims R., R. Schaeffer, F. Creutzig, X. Cruz-Núñez, M. D’Agosto, D. Dimitriu, M. J. Figueroa Meza, L. Fulton, S. Kobayashi, O. Lah, A. McKinnon, P. Newman, M. Ouyang, J. J. Schauer, D. Sperling, and G. Tiwari, (2014). Transport. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  2. ITF, (2017). ITF Transport Outlook 2017. OECD Publishing, Paris,
  3. Gota, S., Huizenga, C., Peet, K., Medimorec, N. and Bakker, S., (2018). Decarbonising transport to achieve Paris Agreement targets.Energy Efficiency, 1-24.
  4. Gota, S., Huizenga, C., Peet, K. and Kaar, G. (2015). Emission reduction potential in the transport sector by 2030. PPMC.
  5. Gota, S., Huizenga, C., Peet, K., Medimorec, N. and Bakker, S., (2018). Decarbonising transport to achieve Paris Agreement targets.Energy Efficiency, 1-24.
  6. IMC Worldwide. (n.d.) Brief: High-Volume Transport Applied Research. IMC Worldwide. Available at:
  7. GIZ (n.d.). Sustainable Urban Transport: Avoid-Shift-Improve (A-S-I). [online]. Available at:
  8. Based on SLoCaT calculations of EDGAR, (2017). EDGAR v4.3.2_FT2016. European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)/PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Available at:
  9. South Africa (2015). South Africa’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). Available at:
  10. @c40cities (C40 Cities) ‘African cities will work to reduce emissions from things such as transport, buildings, energy production and waste management – an effort some have already started. #Cities4Climate’. Twitter, 20 May. 2018, 2:00 a.m.
  11. Ministry of Environment and Forest. (2015) Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Available at:
  12. Garg, M. and Sharpe, B., (2017). Fuel consumption standards for heavy-duty vehicles in India. International Council on Clean Transportation. Available at:


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