Zero-emission zones can help cities slash transport emissions by 70%, WEF claims

More than 150 cities globally have launched or committed to launch such zones

Published as part of the Global New Mobility Coalition, which comprises more than 200 businesses, academics, NGOs and cities, the publication takes a look at some of the zero-emission areas (ZEAs) already operating across the world and assesses what could happen if all proposals for ZEAs go ahead.

On the former, it found that the world’s most successful ZEAs have reduced more than 70% of local road-transport-related emissions and more than 50% of key air pollutants. A significant case study is Paris; the French capital is banning through traffic from the city centre from next year, following the successful launch of its first bike and pedestrian-only streets, but more than 150 cities worldwide are flagged. They include London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Brussels,Berlin, Stockholm, Montreal and Seattle.

The publication outlines a three-step framework through which cities can implements ZEAS – ‘laying the foundation’, ‘defining a winning concept’ and ‘quantifying the model’.

‘Laying the foundation’ does consist of a top-down regulatory push – but the report cautions nations and cities against implementing interventions without consultations. Consultations, the report states, can ensure that ZEAs are accessible and that any charges are not unfairly burdening marginalized communities. They can also help to maximise benefits in terms of carbon, air pollution, resident engagement and wellbeing.

The ‘defining a winning concept’ portion of the framework outlines how cities could incrementally introduce a series of interventions over a selected timeframe, prioritising moves that would be cost-positive and broadly accepted by the general public. Interventions could include car sharing pool launches with electric vehicles (EVs) and grants to assist SMEs and homes with EV purchases, to be run alongside bans and fines.

Under ‘quantifying the model’, potential metrics against which progress could be tracked are outlined. These include real-time traffic volumes and flows; active mobility journey numbers; EV charging station additions and polls with local businesses and households. Emissions impact per dollar spent is raised as a potential climate metric, alongside absolute emissions reductions.

Also detailed in the report is practical advice on piloting ZEAs and ensuring that investments in related infrastructure, like EV chargers and walking and cycling routes, are scaled up sufficiently.

Why are ZEAs becoming more popular?

The report, produced in partnership with McKinsey, reveals that more than 150 cities across the world have either launched ZEAs or committed to doing so.

Changes to national climate legislation has clearly been a big driver. Since the UK enshrined its 2050 net-zero target in law, nations representing more than 70% of global GDP have followed suit, including the US, Canada, Japan and South Korea. China has also set a less ambitious target of carbon neutrality by 2060.

For developed nations including the UK, transport is often either the most emitting sector or is in the top three. ZEAs can address the issue by creating an incentive for businesses and households to switch to EVs or other modes of transport.

McKinsey’s report states that cities and nations are also considering challenges such as urbanization and related congestion. It reveals that congestion has increased by more than one-fifth globally over the past decade. Cities and nations are also keen to maximise positive outcomes in areas such as health and safety, efficient deliveries and connectivity.

Covid-19 has been a challenging time for ZEA progress. Here in the UK, Zone launches in cities including Oxford, Birmingham, Leeds and Bath were postponed in 2020.

Sarah George

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