Supply Chains and Transportation

Why the future of sustainability starts with mobility

COVID-19 has changed our attitudes towards modes of transport with both positive and negative environmental effects

Sandra Caballero
Project Specialist, Autonomous and Urban Mobility, World Economic Forum
Matteo Tanzilli
Government and Public Affairs, Helbiz
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  • Transportation can play a crucial role in achieving the UN SDGs;
  • Our current transportation systems impede our aspirations for a sustainable future;
  • Innovative mobility trends, such as shared mobility, provide affordable and sustainable mobility options for people and can help achieve our global sustainability goals.

However, the way our society consumes resources, plans cities, manages waste and designs transportation systems suggests there are significant hurdles to globally achieving the social and environmental goals we set for ourselves. Transportation is currently the largest producer of energy-related CO₂ emissions accounting for 24%. (based on global transport emissions in 2018, which totalled 8 billion tonnes of CO₂); 74.5% of transport emissions come from road vehicles.

Global CO₂ emissions from transport
Global CO₂ emissions from transport Image: Our World in Data

As we emerge from the difficulties of a pandemic, we have to bring an elevated level of environmental awareness to our daily routines and our cities’ future transportation planning. Shared electric mobility with its potential advantages – such as the reduction of traffic congestion, the decrease in the use of private vehicles, the increase of urban space – can contribute to our societal and environmental success.

COVID-19: attitudes and practices

According to the forecasts of the International Energy Agency, the forced restriction of people’s daily travel and the consequent economic depression brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in a substantial decrease in world emissions of carbon dioxide in 2020 – as much as 8% compared to 2019. The pandemic brought about unexpectedly cleaner air and a reduction in air pollution; as a society, we will have to figure out how to retain those benefits while also ensuring an economic recovery for all.

While COVID-19 vaccines provide a glimmer of hope, we are also witnessing a return of vehicular traffic which we know contributes to air pollution and negative health effects. Many have changed their travel habits during the pandemic with positive effects: there has been a global rise in individual use of transport vehicles (non-public transport) – in the US walking as a mobility option increased 14%. If these new habits with positive benefits remain we can help ensure our environmental and social sustainability.

How the number of visitors to transit stations during the COVID-19 pandemic
How the number of visitors to transit stations during the COVID-19 pandemic Image: Our World in Data

There are negative effects too, however. We have seen a decrease in shared mobility services because of the pandemic, such as a decline in public transportation riders, the elimination of shared pooled Maas services and an increase in private vehicle ownership. A US study suggests the public now perceives private vehicles as safer than public transport. With a rise in vehicle ownership comes an increase in CO₂ emissions, an increase in demand for parking and an increase in road deaths. As lockdowns were lifted around the world in December 2020, the rebound of the economic and industrial recovery led to an increase in global carbon dioxide emissions of 2% (+60 million tonnes of CO₂) compared to the same month in 2019, reaching levels higher than those recorded before the crisis began, negating the ecological savings described above.

To avoid these negative scenarios, we must find innovative ways to re-draft the future, developing more humane and sustainable social practices from an energy and environmental standpoint. If there is anything we can learn from the pandemic, it is that we are a vulnerable society and that unexpected events will happen. We are also a smart, ambitious society that wants to thrive and ensure a long-lasting future for ourselves and future generations.

The integration of traditional public transport with alternative systems of electric micro-mobility is one such innovation; we must continue to expedite this model and realise its potential.

Sharing mobility: the mobility of tomorrow

Shared mobility, namely the use of different types of transport (cars, mopeds, bikes and scooters) through shared platforms, can contribute to a change in attitudes and practices all over the world. It offers a more ecological form of mobility that is safer from virus infections and has an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.1% by 2025.

Several companies have invested in this vision of mobility making the company life cycle 100% carbon neutral by certifying the exclusively renewable sources of energy, for example.

The EU Green Deal foresees the reduction of CO₂ emissions by 55% by 2030 and aims for a 100% reduction by 2050. Sharing mobility services will be on the front line in our battle to reduce carbon emissions. The EU financial support after COVID-19, its Recovery Fund, has foreseen the allocation of €18.5 billion for energy transition and local sustainable mobility for Italy, for example. The first association of sharing mobility companies, Assosharing, was founded in Italy to develop sustainability policies together with government institutions.

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According to research conducted by MIT on the benefits of shared mobility, this type of mobility could also reduce parking spaces in cities by 86%, freeing up precious public space and radically rethinking how space is used. This could allow other intermodal services to be introduced that could make the cities of tomorrow smarter and bring other benefits such as removing traffic congestion, reducing journey times and road accidents, and safeguarding the environment by reducing CO₂ emissions.

New trends are emerging, including “NOwnership” or the decision not to own material stuff, including transportation vehicles preferring pay-per-use services instead. We are only at the beginning of this revolution but it has already started to change our habits and help cities reduce their carbon footprint.

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Supply Chains and TransportationHealth and Healthcare Systems
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