International Sustainable Transport

Transport and Renewables: A Transformative Synergy

Some calendar coincidences are particularly fortunate. Last week, on 26 November, we celebrated the first International Sustainable Transport Day; four days before the opening of COP28, the largest climate Conference in the world. Such a convergence is an opportunity to emphasise the interconnectedness of the transport and energy sectors and how progress in one will catalyse progress in the other, ultimately (and simultaneously) addressing the climate crisis and broader sustainability objectives.

On this occasion, SLOCAT (sustainable low carbon transport) and REN21 (renewable energy) have joined forces to call for doubling the share of energy efficient and fossil free forms of land transport by 2030. This call dovetails with the COP28 Presidency’s call for governments to set legally binding targets and define national strategies that raise ambition and accelerate the uptake of renewables to meet the global target of tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030.

With such ambitious targets, the world will need to take meaningful steps to ensure significant progress. From an energy perspective, the recent growth in renewables tends to overshadow the fact that the energy transition is not happening fast enough. We remain stubbornly addicted to fossil fuels and our critically high CO2 emissions undermine all efforts to combat climate change. While there is a growing acknowledgment that renewable energy is central to keeping us below the 1.5oC threshold outlined in the Paris Agreement, the highest energy consuming sectors keep relying almost exclusively on fossil fuels. Several initiatives are currently on the table of the COP28 negotiations, including a pledge to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. While such an initiative is essential, it is not enough. The pledge needs to be transformed into legally binding commitments and bolstered by robust monitoring mechanisms. Such a commitment will also have to look beyond renewable energy production and supply and address the painful question of the sectors that rely heavily on fossil fuels. Such as transport.

Transport enables prosperity and livelihoods. In 2021, the sector contributed 7% (USD 6.8 trillion) of the global gross domestic product and employed 5.6% of the world’s workforce (193 million people). Current paradigms of how people and goods are moved and how transport systems are powered bring growing emissions, air pollution and energy demand. Today, transport is the fastest growing energy-consuming sector, with an average increase of 2% per year. In 2021 it consumed around a third of the world’s total energy demand with fossil fuels covering 94% of the sector’s needs. As a catastrophic result, transport accounts for nearly a fifth of global fossil fuel CO2 emissions. The effects of transport’s heavy fossil fuel dependency extend beyond its carbon emissions. Indirect costs including respiratory diseases and pressure on land, air and water, are estimated to be ten times greater than the direct financial costs of fossil fuel subsidies. The demand for transporting people and goods is projected to increase substantially, in some scenarios to more than double by 2050. This means that emissions, air pollution and energy demand from the land transport sector will continue rising.

Solutions for more sustainable and decarbonized transport exist, particularly for land transport. Shifting away from a car-centric approach in passenger transport and from a road-centric approach in freight transport are solutions that come with positive multiplier effects. Replacing fossil fuels use with renewable electricity and renewable fuels is another necessary step to fully decarbonise transport. Let’s not forget that repurposing the whooping USD 1 trillion currently going towards fossil fuels subsidies in transport or other polluting activities can also lead to more sustainable, low emission passenger and freight transport models as well as the deployment of renewables and infrastructure.

As global leaders gather in Dubai, they must fully grasp the indispensable role of transport in achieving climate and sustainability objectives. It is urgent and critical to send a clear and ambitious message about the powerful synergies between the transport and energy sectors and the transformative role they play in the fight against climate change.  Energy demand and energy supply are the two sides of the sustainability coin and a cornerstone of the climate and sustainability agendas. Fossil fuel-free land transport is not only a chance for decarbonizing the sector and improving access to transport but also for shifting our energy system from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

We need governments, climate, development and private funders, philanthropies, businesses, academia and civil society to commit to transforming the way people and goods are moved and how transport systems are powered. This is a cornerstone of the fight against climate change, and we need COP28 to commit to bold, transformative action.

Author Profile
Rana Adib
Executive Director -  | Website

Rana Adib is the executive director of REN21, the only global renewable energy community of actors from science, governments, NGOs and industry, headquartered at the UNEP in Paris, France. She is also the chair of SLOCAT, an international multi-stakeholder partnership enabling knowledge and action for sustainable, low carbon transport.

Adib has worked in private industry and applied research in the areas of renewable energy, energy access, and waste management. She was also responsible for coordinating the biogas-to-energy research programme of Veolia Environment.

Adib has over 20 years of experience in the energy sector, and holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Wedel in Germany.

Author Profile
Secretary General of SLOCAT -  | Website

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