Governments and businesses will make no headway in meeting long-term international carbon-reduction goals unless drastic changes are made in the way goods move globally, according to a study released today by the International Transport Forum (ITF).
The report forecast that, barring any shift in the status quo, global cargo emissions generated by transport services by the year 2050 will remain stuck at 2015 levels, meaning no improvement over the next three-plus decades. That is a best-case scenario, according to projections in the "ITF Transport Outlook 2017." In a worst-case scenario, a doubling of global transport demand will lead to a 60-percent increase of transport carbon emissions between 2015 and 2050, the report predicted.
Besides a rising demand for mobility in the movement of cargo and people, the report cited inadequate rail and waterway infrastructures in developing countries, which will force most goods to be shipped by truck, the mode that generates the most carbon dioxide. The anticipated overreliance on road transport will lead to a near doubling of the mode's global greenhouse gas emissions, the report said. Another problem is the growing need to serve far-flung emerging markets with long-range shipping services that will increase the number of miles traveled, and with that the amount of carbon spewed into the atmosphere.
The ITF report's most optimistic scenario assumes new technologies and behavioral changes will be in place by 2050 to significantly reduce carbon emissions relative to the total distance travelled, the report said. "Technology will provide about 70 percent of the possible CO2 reductions to 2050. The rest will come from doing things differently, and this is where there is still a lot of potential," said ITF Secretary-General José Viegas in a statement. "We need to think much harder about things like shared mobility, changes in supply chains, and even new transport modes."
Carbon emissions generated on intra-Asian routes are a particular concern, as trade activity among Asian countries is expected to increase by 250 percent by 2050, according to the report. The region's government and business leaders should consider measures such as truck sharing, route optimization, and more flexible delivery windows to optimize use of transport capacity, the report said.
In the U.S., all forms of transportation accounted for 26 percent of carbon emissions in 2014, the last year of firm data from the Environmental Protection Agency. That is second only to electricity as a source of domestic carbon generation.
ITF, an administrative part of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is a Paris-based intergovernmental organization with 57 member countries. It is a politically autonomous think tank for transport policy, and is the only global body that covers all transport modes.