Finally the Transport sector brings a coherent voice to COP

Having just returned from COP21 it is staggering to reflect that this is the first COP at which Transport has found its collective voice. At Bali in 2007 transport was little discussed and at Copenhagen in 2009 no coherent transport sector voice was heard.

How could this be you might well ask when we know that an increasingly dominant source of carbon emissions around the world is transport being 1st or 2nd in most countries emission inventories and the fastest rising. Globally transport is responsible for around 23% of carbon emissions.

Well I think two things have happened which help to explain this shift. Firstly the transport sector has woken up to realise that there is much more potential for the development of the sector in being a part of a proactive climate change solution and secondly a growing recognition that transport needs to be considered as a system within which there are multiple players – it is not simply about the regulation of vehicle emissions.

In consequence, exciting progressive collaborations are forming between city authorities, transport planners, smart technology providers, infrastructure providers and operators, vehicle manufacturer’s – be they road vehicle, planes, trains etc, and of course users.  For COP21 one grouping of collaborators have come forward with 14 initiatives addressing road , rail and aviation as well as private and public transport, see www.ppmc-cop21.org These initiatives carry the commitment of 100 cities and 100 countries as well as multi national companies in a major push towards low carbon transport. If successfully implemented at the planned scale, these initiatives could reduce the carbon footprint of over half the worldwide passenger and freight trips made by 2025. I’m delighted to say that Ramboll are now engaged in this collaboration.

There is also a wider recognition that good transport or more specifically mobility is a service  or good which we need to require much more intelligently. Within cities and led by C40, it is now increasingly recognised that we need to plan out the need for travel beyond a short walk for every day accessibility. The concept of the 5 minute city as exemplified in Nordhaven Denmark et al has arrived, behaviour change is happening as the younger generation eschew car ownership in cities in favour of the flexibility of foot/pedal power and public transport. These are not worldwide trends yet but they are gathering pace.

From being a hesitant actor could the transport sector become a star performer? Well in my opinion the possibilities have never been so good!

Climate change is part of sustainability – not the other way around

How can we up our game with respect to climate and sustainability? My strong view is that we need to re learn that climate change is fundamentally an issue of sustainability- it’s not the other way around. It is in the adoption of more sustainable behaviours and expectations that success lies, albeit technology can be a massive enabler.

I have posted this blog just before departing my London office to travel to Paris to join in the discussions at COP21 and attend the PPMC’s Clean Mobility function. And just last month I had the pleasure of presenting in Seoul at the World Road Congress. As I think about these gatherings it begs the question of what progress has been made and with COP21 upon us, what in particular can we say about the position of transport in the realm of climate change considerations?

Fossil fuelled transport systems

As I attended many sessions and the exhibition in Seoul, my overwhelming impression was that the words climate and carbon reduction have certainly arrived as a constituent part of every technology brand and theme. Climate and carbon are almost an obligatory part of every technical conversation from solar panelled surface roads to lorries drawing energy through pantographs reminiscent of the trolley bus era. But, the discussion of sustainable behaviours and mobility expectations is much more muted and  sustainability itself – well it has become a word that many hesitate to use, many feel it devalued by inappropriate use.

So, for our climate are we nearer to the scale of emission reduction we need? Well not really, or at least, not universally. The strong reliance and growth in fossil fuelled transport systems, coupled with exaggerated expectations of rights to mobility remain key barriers to the reduction of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Is there hope?

As I led my technical committees reporting session in Seoul, strong papers sharing experience from across the world were presented, from Germany to Nepal, and the diversity of circumstance was impressive. It showed how with imagination and courage the twin challenges of climate adaptation and mitigation can be met through a reconnection with well implemented sustainable approaches, supported by society.

But not enough scale and pace

But for all the great experience and solutions, there is simply not enough scale and not enough pace in the implementation. The urgency of resolving the climate change question brings a positive energy, we must use this to reset our efforts to resolve the wider sustainability questions.

Can we do this and through sustainability learn to manage and live with climate change in a way which is equitable for all the world’s citizens?