Sustainable mobility and environmental challenges for the transport sector
In this article I will describe the need to decarbonize our mobility, how to improve energy efficiency of vehicles, but also the role of city planning and changes in our mobility habits, to help us make mobility more sustainable.
The growth of commuting and travel along with the growth of consumption in general will increase the need for transportation of individuals and goods. The three main factors that explain this growth are demographic growth, urbanization & economic growth, especially in emerging economies.
What are the five main challenges hanging over the transport sector?
- Greenhouse gases
- Fuel availability and cost
- Local air pollution
- Traffic congestion
- Urban parking
These challenges can be summarized through a very simple equation, derived from the Kaya equation that shows all the factors influencing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
If we need to divide our emissions by 3 before 2050, as most scientists tell us, we’ll have to divide by 3 at least one of these four factors, that can be seen as the main levers we have to act on to bring our transport system onto a more sustainable pathway.
- Decarbonizing transport
As 97% of the transport sector, still rely on oil, this advocates for a profound fuel switch towards hybrid cars, biofuels or battery electric vehicles. But electric vehicles are as “clean” as the electricity mix used to power the cars.
The issue is that coal account for 41% of the global electricity mix, natural gas for 22% and oil for 5%; and the power sector represent one quarter of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Based on this type of electricity mix, electrifying all personal vehicles will have no major impact on global carbon dioxide emissions. Decarbonizing mobility needs at first a decarbonisation of energy mix.
- Improving energy efficiency of vehicles
We can improve energy efficiency of vehicles by improving the energy content of existing fuels and the efficiency of motors, by reducing the weight of cars, improving aerodynamics and using eco-driving. A significant reduction of exhaust pollutant emissions and of fuel consumption can be achieved through a combination of all these means.
- Smart city planning & sustainable lifestyles
Urban density has a great impact on energy consumption. As a city extends its surface, we observe an increase in demand for mobility, and based on our current mobility system, it will inevitably increase energy consumption. One of the solutions is to reduce the average distance of travel and using telecommuting. The development of telework can reduce the need for mobility, the kilometers traveled, hence transport CO2 emissions.
- Mobility sharing
The question is: what are we looking for in a car? In the middle of the 20th century, owning a car was a sign of wealth and social success. But today, more and more people would rather purchase a service of mobility than a car. We need keep in mind that, on average, a car is on the road only 5% of the time.
Carpooling and car-sharing services have boomed in recent years as an answer to this problem. It has made possible to use more efficiently an already existing network: the road!
The last but not least: efficient, available, affordable and clean public transport is crucial for reducing the energy per capita required for transport.
So, we must shift from privately owned and privately used cars, towards a more collective and sustainable mobility system and the good news is that all the solutions presented before have multiple benefits and contribute to meet well the main challenges of transport sector.
Fore more information: