Transport, Energy and CO2: Moving toward Sustainability

Transport accounts for nearly one-quarter of global energy-related CO2 emissions. To achieve the necessary deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, transport must play a significant role.

However, car ownership worldwide is set to triple to over 2 billion by 2050. Trucking activity will double and air travel could increase four-fold. Without strong global action, these trends will lead to a doubling of transport energy use, with an even higher growth rate in CO2 emissions as the planet shifts toward high-CO2 synthetic fuels.

A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Transport, Energy and CO2: Moving towards sustainability, looks at ways to enable growth in mobility without accelerating climate change. It finds that by shifting more travel to the most efficient modes, improving vehicle fuel efficiency by up to 50% using cost-effective, incremental technologies and moving toward electricity, hydrogen, and advanced biofuels, we can reduce transport CO2 emissions far below current levels by 2050, at lower costs than many assume. If governments implement strong policies to achieve this scenario, dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions by 2050 can be achieved.

"The first priority should be to adopt technologies and practices that are cost-effective today. This will lead to substantial gains in vehicle fuel economy – we target a 50% improvement by 2030 for new light-duty vehicles," writes IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka in the book’s foreword. "We should also move strongly toward better urban development practices and encourage sensible changes in the way we travel, by investing in a new generation of urban and intercity transit systems."

Yet such savings will only be sufficient to slow the growth in vehicle travel and stabilise CO2 emission levels. A revolution in technology will be needed to halve CO2 emissions by 2050 and move towards a permanently lower greenhouse gas future. This revolution must be built on some combination of electricity, biofuels, and hydrogen. Important hurdles exist to reach substantial use of any of these fuels, including infrastructure requirements, costs, and – especially in the case of biofuels – the need to assure the use of truly sustainable feedstocks. “Yet through a combination of RD&D, careful and co-ordinated planning, deployment, and learning by doing, the ambitious long-term targets described in this report can be achieved,” says Mr. Tanaka.

Bringing about this technology transition will not be easy. It will require both a steep change in policy implementation by governments and unprecedented investment in new technologies, including the support for infrastructure such as electricity recharging systems. Countries will need to work together, and with a range of stakeholders, to ensure everyone moves in the same direction. And since the vast majority of growth in travel, energy use and CO2 will occur in non-OECD countries, these countries will need to be part of the solution. But they will also share in the very important benefits that a sustainable, low CO2 transport future can provide.

Transport, Energy and CO2 is one of three new IEA end-use studies, together with industry and buildings, which look at the role of technologies and policies in transforming the way energy is used in these sectors.