Present global transport infrastructure must change fundamentally to become sustainable

Commuters in cities in the developing world will push greenhouse gas emissions from their traffic beyond the level in the industrial world by 2015, unless there is a fundamental change to make transport sustainable, according to a new report from a group of oil companies and vehicle and vehicle products manufacturers.

The report, Mobility 2001, carried out under the auspices of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), with analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is the result of the Sustainable Mobility Project, which aims to develop a global vision covering the movement of people, goods and services. The report states that an over-arching challenge is the current inability of political institutions to tackle mobility issues effectively.

The question is whether governments and the private sector can build and manage the transportation infrastructure required to meet surging worldwide demand for mobility, says the report. And whether policy makers and citizens can effectively debate and resolve the trade-offs between demand for mobility and demand for environmental protection, energy conservation and safety.

Growth in incomes in developing countries is driving the expansion of the vehicle fleet, with car ownership in China increasing by 25% per year, and the average annual growth rate between 1991 and 1996 was above 20% in countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia. This increase has meant that the seven million of barrels of oil that were used per day in developing countries rose in ten years to 11 million barrels per day, and is expected to double by 2015. Pollution in these countries is likely to be exacerbated by the use of older vehicles, says the report.

“It is fascinating to read this document,” said Co-Chair of the Sustainable Mobility project, and Chairman of Royal/Dutch Shell’s Committee of Managing Directors Philip Watts. “It is research that confirms what I think many people suspected – that if we are to avoid a continuing descent towards unsustainable gridlock and environmental degradation then the way we move ourselves about is going to have to change.”

“Given that the members of the project are drawn from the energy and motor manufacturing sectors it may seem surprising that we are publishing such a frank analysis, but we are well placed to be part of the solution to these issues,” said Watts.

Further findings of the report include the fact that more than 96% of the world’s transportation depends on petroleum. On top of this, air transport is responsible for 8-12% of transport related carbon emissions, but the potential impact on global warming is twice as great because the carbon is emitted at high altitude.

The research team has identified seven ‘grand challenges’ to sustainable mobility:

  • ensuring transport systems serve essential human needs;
  • adapting vehicles to evolving requirements on emissions, fuel use, capacity, and ownership structure;
  • reinventing public transport to provide a reasonable alternative to those who do have access to cars;
  • reinventing the process of planning, developing and managing mobility infrastructure;
  • reducing carbon emissions;
  • resolving the competition for use of infrastructure between personal and freight transport; and
  • tackling congestion.

The member companies of the project are BP, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Michelin, Norsk Hydro, Renault, Shell, Toyota and Volkswagen.

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