COP 26 – A missed opportunity for transport?

8th Nov 2021

COP 26, the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow is now in its second and final week. In Paris in 2016, world leaders agreed to seek to hold global warming to 2 degrees and ideally 1.5 to reduce the risk of the world suffering the worst effects of climate change. This week governments will try to agree a raft of new rules to strengthen the governance around that commitment as well as making good on commitments to deliver billions of dollars of support to developing nations.

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The centre-piece agreement is not however the only game in town. The conference is an opportunity for governments, business and NGOs to firm up new agreements around specific issues. The first week of COP saw announcements around green finance, deforestation and coal.

10 November is Transport Day at COP, and the centre piece looks likely to be new commitments around the transition to Electric Vehicles. The headline event of the day is Accelerating the Zero Electric Vehicle Transition: A One Way Street that is billed as bringing together “leaders representing a substantial proportion of the global new car market” to commit to 100% zero emission sales by 2040 or earlier. Supported by political and business leaders, this initiative is intended to kick start the mass market for ZEVs.

It is hard not to have mixed feelings about this move. It is undoubtedly progress and we need to be positive but is it really action at the scale and pace we need?. 2040 is 10 years later than the UK’s date for banning sales of new petrol cars and vans – and of course it takes around 10-15 years for the vehicle fleet to be replaced. I think we have to hope that the agreement sends a strong signal to markets around the world, such that by the time we reach the 2030s, the reality is that petrol and diesel vehicles only account for a tiny and shrinking proportion of new sales. If that doesn’t happen, everyone in the transport world will need to put pressure on political leaders to revisit and do it quickly.

More broadly, the overwhelming focus on technology solutions seems to ignore the evidence that there is no route to Net Zero that doesn’t run through reducing the demand for travel as well as decarbonising the fleet. ZEVs are only genuinely zero emission at the point of use and the time-lag in their roll-out means we are in danger of spending a big chunk of our transport carbon budget before their impact kicks in. If the mantra we need to follow is avoid (unnecessary journeys), shift (to more sustainable modes) and then improve (the performance of less sustainable modes), it would have been fantastic to see much more focus on avoid and shift in the main conference.

That doesn’t mean that CIHT is not pursuing this broader agenda. Our CEO Sue Percy is taking part at a COP 26 fringe event, “Planning for Transport and Connectivity: How do we build the holistic Net Zero and resilient places of the future”. This session will promote place based approaches to delivering those, including those captured in CIHT’s Better Planning, Better Transport, Better Places.

We’ve also been examining the role of data and digital technology in delivering these place based solutions. The Infrastructure and Project Authority’s recent Transforming Infrastructure Performance – Roadmap to 2030 makes it very clear that government expects the sector to move firmly in that direction. A new CIHT White Paper, Growing up Quickly produced in conjunction with Bentley, suggests we have a long way to go to be able to meet those expectations. The White Paper ends with a call to action for people and organisations across the sector to work with CIHT to create data literate transport professionals – and transport literate data specialists. I’ll end this blog with the same call. If you’d like to contribute to that initiative, please get in touch.

 

 

   

Andrew Crudgington, CIHT Climate Change Associate

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