Urban transportation systems an emerging priority ahead of UN climate and sustainable development meetings
NEW YORK - 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 report released by the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).
"Transportation, driven by rapid growth in car use, has been the fastest growing source of CO2 in the world, said Michael Replogle, ITDP's managing director for policy and co-author of the report. "
An affordable but largely overlooked way to cut that pollution is to give people clean options to use public transportation, walking and cycling, expanding mobility options especially for the poor and curbing air pollution from traffic."
"It is also critical to reduce the energy use and carbon emissions of all vehicles."
The report, A Global High Shift Scenario, is the first study to examine how major changes in transport investments worldwide would affect urban passenger transport emissions as well as the mobility of different income groups. The authors calculated CO2 emissions in 2050 under two scenarios, a business-as-usual scenario and a "High Shift" scenario where governments significantly increased rail and clean bus transport, especially Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and helped urban areas provide infrastructure to ensure safe walking, bicycling and other active forms of transportation. The projections also include moving investments away from road construction, parking garages and other ways that encourage car ownership.
"This timely study is a significant contribution to the evidence base showing that public transport should play central role in visions for the city of tomorrow" says Alain Flausch, Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport, and member of UN Secretary General's Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport.
Better Mobility Leads to Social Mobility
The new report also describes sustainable transportation as a key factor in economic development. Under the High Shift scenario, mass transit access is projected to more than triple for the lowest income groups and more than double for the second lowest groups. Notably, the overall mobility evens out between income groups, providing those more impoverished with better access to employment and services that can improve their family livelihoods.
"Today and out to 2050, lower income groups will have limited access to cars in most countries under almost any scenario; improving access to modern, clean, high-capacity public transport is crucial," said Fulton.
Emission Standards Save Lives
Air pollution is a leading cause of early death, responsible for more than 3.2 million early deaths annually. Exposure to vehicle tailpipe emissions is associated with increased risk of early death from cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer, as well as respiratory infections in children. Car and diesel exhaust also increases the risk of non-fatal health outcomes, including asthma and cardiovascular disease.
"Future growth in vehicle activity could produce a four-fold increase in associated early deaths by 2050, even with a global shift to mass transit," said ICCT's Joshua Miller, a contributor to the study.
"We could avoid about 1.4 million early deaths 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.
Fuel Economy Standards Save Fuel and Cut CO2 Emissions
While this study has not focused on further actions to boost motor vehicle fuel economy, it takes into account existing policies that, in the International Energy Agency's Baseline scenario, improve average new car fuel economy by 32 percent in countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of 34 of the world's most developed, democratic, market economies, and 23 percent in non-OECD countries.
Taken together, achieving this fuel economy goal with better public transport, walking and cycling could cut annual urban passenger transport CO2 emissions in 2050 by 55 percent from what they might otherwise be in 2050 and 10 percent below 2010 levels.
Cutting Emissions with Sustainable Transportation Across the World's Cities
Transportation in urban areas accounted for about 2,300 megatons of CO2 in 2010, almost one quarter of carbon emissions from all parts of the transportation sector. Rapid urbanization - especially in fast developing countries like China and India - will cause these emissions to double by 2050 in the baseline scenario.
- United States: Currently the world leader in urban passenger transportation CO2 emissions, with nearly 670 megatons annually, the US is projected to lower these emissions to 560 megatons by 2050 because of slower population growth, higher fuel efficiencies, and a decline in driving per person that has already started as people move back to cities. But this pace can be sharply accelerated with more sustainable transportation options, dropping to about 280 megatons, under the High Shift scenario.
- China: CO2 emissions from transportation are expected to mushroom from 190 megatons annually to more than 1,100 megatons, due in large part to the explosive growth of China's urban areas, the growing wealth of Chinese consumers, and their dependence on automobiles. But this increase can be slashed to 650 megatons under the High Shift scenario, in which cities develop extensive BRT and metro systems. The latest data show China is already sharply increasing investments in public transport.
India: CO2 emissions are projected to leap from about 70 megatons today to 540 megatons by 2050, also because of growing wealth and urban populations. But this increase can be moderated to only 350 megatons, under the High Shift scenario, by addressing crucial deficiencies in India's public transport.
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is a global nonprofit that helps cities design and implement high-quality transit systems to make communities more livable, competitive and sustainable. ITDP works with cities worldwide to bring about transport solutions that cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce poverty, and improve the quality of urban life. Please visit http://www.itdp.org for more information.