Transportation emissions cuts crucial to addressing climate change (Study)

A new study has good news and bad news for transportation policymakers. The bad news is that transportation currently accounts for 23 percent of global carbon emissions, and emissions from this sector are set to double between now and 2050. But policy changes could reverse that trend.

The study, Transport: A roadblock to climate change mitigation? was conducted by Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and published in the journal Science. Researchers claim transportation-related emissions can be cut enough to achieve a 2-degree centigrade decrease in the Earth’s temperature, a recognized benchmark among climate-change experts. But it could require bigger cuts in emissions than originally anticipated.

Yet researchers also believe that could be easier than was originally thought. A large-scale shift to electric cars in industrialized countries, and greater use of public transportation in cities, would be required. This approach, which also includes widespread use of car-sharing and bicycle commuting, would halve expected transportation carbon emissions by 2050, according to the study. It could end up being the only option, the authors claim.

“Efficiency gains will be very difficult to achieve with the conventional automobile fleet from 2025 on,” said lead author Felix Creutzig. “A fuel shift will be the only remaining option to advance decarbonization.” But electric cars would have to be charged using renewable sources, like wind, noted KIT’s Patrick Jochem.

The study specifically predicts a brighter outlook for battery-electric cars, rather than hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles or cars running on biofuels, assuming battery prices continue to drop. That’s also largely predicated on expected decreases in carbon emissions from electricity production. As utilities switch to renewable sources, the cars charged from the grid become cleaner.

Ultimately though, giving up cars entirely might be the most attractive option, from an environmental perspective. The study’s authors call for increased spending on infrastructure for public transit in cycling in cities. They believe this will not only reduce emissions by giving people alternatives to driving, but also discourage driving by allowing for cuts to parking spaces in city centers.