Energy Transition

How to accelerate the net-zero transition in transport

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The transport and mobility industry is exploring new ways to transition to net zero transport.

The transport and mobility industry is exploring new ways to transition to net zero transport. Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Mary Loane
Lead, Global New Mobility Coalition, World Economic Forum LLC
Maya Ben Dror
Industry Manager, Automotive and New Mobility & Advanced Manufacturing, World Economic Forum Geneva
Sandra Roling
Head of Transport, Climate Group
This article is part of: The Davos Agenda

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  • The role of transport in the carbon emissions conversation emerged front and center at 26th United Nations Climate Change conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.
  • Stakeholders collectively pledged to reach 100% zero emissions in transport by 2040.
  • The biggest hurdle remains the transition from talk to action.

The role of transport was front and center at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Leaders from nations, cities, international organizations, NGOs – and notably the private sector – zeroed in on the role of transport as one of three critical sources of carbon emissions as well as the only sector still increasing in its greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. In 2020, the global transport industry was responsible for approximately 7.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Countries, businesses, auto manufacturers and other stakeholders signed a declaration of commitments (aligned with the Paris Agreement) to reach 100% of all vehicle sales being zero emission by 2040 or earlier.

The declaration, which was led by the UK COP Presidency and RouteZero partners, marks both a hopeful inflection point for the automotive and mobility industries with its distinguished signatories; and it also speaks of the urgency in drastically reducing the carbon (CO2) emissions produced by this sector. Passenger cars cause 41% of global CO2 transport emissions with medium and heavy trucks as the secondary source (22%).

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While the declaration is certainly a move in the right direction, the world will have to wait and see whether the necessary change will actually transpire and if those who noticeably did not pledge will take action. There is, so often, a formidable gap between talk and action, and stakeholders at COP26 were undoubtedly aware of the challenges in this global goal of net-zero emissions in transport.

What will it take to speed the transition?

The responses to this question at COP26 were resounding.

Here are some clear-cut ways.

1. Advance solutions for cities facing the worst transport pollution.

Naveen Munjal, Managing Director, Hero Electric

IIndia has a very critical role to play in a net-zero future. Twenty two of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India, and one way to improve the situation is through the transportation sector. … Electric two-wheel transportation will lay – is laying – the groundwork for converting to net zero transportation in India.

2. Start at the most critical energy source.

Kristen Siemen, Vice-President of Sustainable Workplaces and Chief Sustainability Officer, GM

Our new battery technology enables us to increase vehicle range and reduce the amount of precious materials needed for production, moving us toward an all-electric, carbon-neutral future.

Cynthia Williams, Global Director, Sustainability, Homologation & Compliance, Ford Motor Company

We’re partnering with specific folks to make sure that we can understand how to recycle new materials coming out of batteries and actually put that back into the manufacturing process so we can have an entire circular economy.

Anders Karrberg, Head of Global Sustainability & Strategy, Volvo Cars

Industry and government need to work together to find renewable energy sources and set an end date for conventional fuel engines so the industry knows that period is over.

3. Build our cities around a carbon-free design.

Liane Randolph, Chair, California Air Resources Board

The future of transportation is zero. That means not just zero emission vehicles, it also means zero emission transit, and it also means getting around in new ways. It means taking bikes. It means walking. It means building community infrastructure that allows people to move carbon free.

4. Maximize efficiency with thoughtful partnerships.

Sarwant Singh, CEO of OHM Global Mobility

It’s not just about zero carbon vehicles, to me it’s about net zero companies, and to achieve net zero companies, we need to bring all the ecosystem players together. So the mobility [sector] needs to work together with digital solutions, it needs to work together with energy companies, and we need to bring the finance [sector] together to enable absolutely zero carbon mobility in the future.

Avinash Rugoobur, President, ARRIVAL

We are investing in technologies and platforms to create truly equitable and sustainable mobility ecosystems like our electric bus, van, and car that are built in local micro-factories that can be placed all over the world, built by the community for the community.

5. Prioritize the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Clive Selly, CEO of Openreach

The single biggest obstacle to accelerating our journey to net zero transportation is the availability of public charging infrastructure. My plea -- industry, government, together -- can we collaborate please to get a ubiquitous public charging infrastructure rolled out across the UK so I can accelerate my journey to net zero transportation and others can do the same.

Basil Seggos, Commissioner, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

In our goal to be net zero by 2050, we have a $700 million commitment, called EV Make Ready, to prepare the state’s charging infrastructure for the electric vehicle economy. … making it easier for people to buy electric vehicles, and then translating those benefits to the public.

6. Focus on scale, like fleets of buses, which are some of the worst CO2-emission offenders.

Isbrand Ho, General Manager of Commercial Vehicle Business Centre at BYD Europe

We are not just making statements, we are taking action. For example, in Shenzhen, we converted all 17,000 buses to electric. Cities in Chile and Colombia are doing the same.

Sarwant Singh, CEO, OHM Global Mobility

Working together with digital solutions, mobility companies, and the financial sector, we could reach our goal of having 100% of buses electric by 2030.

Related topics:
Energy TransitionUrban TransformationClimate ActionForum Institutional
1. Advance solutions for cities facing the worst transport pollution.2. Start at the most critical energy source.3. Build our cities around a carbon-free design.4. Maximize efficiency with thoughtful partnerships.5. Prioritize the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.6. Focus on scale, like fleets of buses, which are some of the worst CO2-emission offenders.

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