New Roadmap for Low Carbon Inclusive Urban Transportation

by Michael Replogle, Managing Director Policy and Founder, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)

More than $100 trillion in cumulative public and private spending and 1,700 megatons of annual carbon dioxide (CO2)-a 40 percent reduction of urban passenger transport emissions-could be eliminated by 2050 if the world expands public transportation, walking and cycling in cities, according to a new study, A Global High Shift Scenario, by Lew Fulton and myself, published by the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). This would give a major boost to the public transport mobility of the poorest half of the world’s population, expanding access to opportunities for work, education, and health services.

The report was released at the United Nations in New York. On September 23rd the United Nations Secretary-General is convening a Climate Summit where many nations, cities, and corporations will announce voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including new efforts focused on sustainable transportation, including a pledge by the world’s public transportation operators to double the share of trips by public transportation by 2025.

Transportation in urban areas accounted for 2,300 megatons of CO2 in 2010, one quarter of carbon emissions from all parts of the transportation sector. Absent changes in investments and policy, these emissions will nearly double by 2050. Combining a High Shift to public transport, walking, and cycling with a doubling of fuel economy for light duty vehicles by 2030, annual urban passenger transport CO2 emissions in 2050 could drop 55 percent from what they might otherwise be in 2050 and 10 percent below 2010 levels. This would cut construction, operating, vehicle and fuel-related costs over the next 35 years by more than one-fifth. 

According to a related analysis prepared by the International Council of Clean Transportation, future growth in vehicle activity could produce a four-fold increase in early deaths linked to air pollution from traffic by 2050 even with a global shift to mass transit.  But 1.4 million early deaths could be avoided annually if national leaders committed to a global policy roadmap that requires the strongest vehicle pollution controls and ultralow-sulfur fuels. Cleaner buses alone would account for 20 percent of these benefits. 

Effectively limiting global warming emissions will require effective policies to reduce transportation emissions. That will take a focus on both passenger and freight transportation, especially considering how transportation shapes the sustainability of cities. To support inclusive urban social and economic development, climate change policy and related development financing, capacity building, and technology transfer initiatives will need to ensure support for countries, cities, and the private sector to adopt, implement, and mainstream High Shift transport approaches, as well as improved fuel economy and vehicle emission controls.