It is envisaged that demand for passenger travel and movement of goods will more than double from 2015 to 2050, due to increases in global population and prosperity.

Zero-emission vehicles are a priority theme at COP26, with a dedicated Transport Day scheduled for 10 November.

The programme is clearly focused on reducing road-use volumes, as road transport accounts for 10% of global emissions, with emissions rising faster than those of any other sector. A shift to zero-emission vehicles is already underway but to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, this transition needs to happen much more quickly.  It must also include all modes of road transport in addition to cars - vans, buses, trucks, and lorries. 

Reducing road freight especially could make a serious difference but replacing reliance on road with electric rail provides a significant opportunity, linking railways to ports even more so for freight.  What must also not be forgotten about, is the other decarbonisation of "hard-to-abate" transport and freight areas such as shipping and aviation.  The International Transport Forum (ITF) took the opportunity on 3 November to showcase its Transport Climate Action Directory (TCAD), a catalogue of 80 CO2 mitigation measures. It is designed to gather and share evidence for best practice and provide targeted analytical assistance. 

In advance of COP26, the UN secretary-general António Guterres said current efforts in shipping and aviation were inadequate and were more consistent with global heating ‘way above 3C’ – not 1.5C. Aviation and shipping each account for roughly 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions but international transport has largely escaped scrutiny at previous COPs because they were left out of the central and long-running talks nearly three decades ago.  

The real challenge and opportunity is to look beyond national measures such as zero-emission vehicles by also considering international measures such as the sustainable transition to alternative fuels for the wider transport sector.  In doing so, COP26 could have created and facilitated a truly international platform for more meaningful central participation for global shipping and aviation together with rail. Only then we would see stronger ambition and goals in line with 1.5C for the Transport Sector as a whole.

Author - Thomasina Perera