International freight volumes will grow fourfold by 2050 while the average length of haul will increase by 12 percent over that time, trends that will cause a spike in global carbon emissions unless corrective action is taken, the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said today in releasing its 2015 transport outlook.
The report, issued at the OECD's Paris headquarters, said freight transport emissions are projected to rise by 290 percent over the next 35 years, barring any steps to reverse the trend. The ITF report said that changes in global trade patterns, with more commerce being transacted with regions farther away from traditional markets, would be the primary reason for the jump in greenhouse gas emissions. Freight will replace passenger traffic as the main source of emissions from surface transportation, the report forecast.
Not surprisingly given the longer distances for freight movements, air is expected to be the fastest-growing mode, with a projected 482-percent increase from 2010 to 2050. Air is also projected to be the biggest polluting mode with a 411-percent increase in carbon tons emitted over that 40-year period, ITF said.
Another factor in the expected increase in pollution is the role of the domestic component of an international shipment, which is documented this year for the first time in an ITF annual report. An example of such a move would be a Hong Kong-originating shipment flown to Los Angeles and then trucked to Denver. The domestic portion of such a movement today accounts for only 10 percent of international freight traffic, but 30 percent of global CO2 emissions, according to the report.
ITF Secretary-General Jose Viegas said in a statement that the projected increase in volumes presents an "unprecedented challenge" for the world's transport systems. Constraints on capacity growth might rein in greenhouse gases but could also act as a brake on economic growth, Viegas said. Yet the deployment of more ships, aircraft, trucks, and trains to handle the expected rise in demand could severely undermine climate-change efforts, he said.
Viegas urged stakeholders to optimize existing freight facilities, many of which are already underutilized. He also called on government and industry to develop more multi-modal connections, adapt port infrastructures to accommodate the mega-vessels that will dominate waterborne trade in the coming decades, and do a better job of reducing vehicle idle times, which waste fuel and spew carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
The ITF report added that it is up to individual governments to stem the environmental damage done by a domestic portion of an international move. That's because domestic transport policies are set more by governments and less through international agreements, the report said.
The report said the North Pacific trade lane would by 2050 surpass the North Atlantic as the world's busiest trade corridor. It also projected rapid growth in the Indian Ocean corridor, with volumes quadrupling during that span. Intra-African volumes will rise by 715 percent, while intra-Asian traffic will gain by 403 percent, the report said. Most of the increased volumes will move via road transport due to the absence of alternate modes, according to the report.
The ITF at the OECD is an intergovernmental group with 54 member countries. It serves as a "think tank" for global transport policy and organizes an annual summit of transport ministers. The 2015 summit is scheduled for June 27-29 in Leipzig, Germany.
Founded in 1961, OECD is an international economic organization of 34 countries tasked to stimulate economic progress and world trade.