Transport electrification has to be accelerated and equitable

Some of the world’s leading experts have warned that governments and industry need to do far more to increase the momentum  for the transition to clean energy in the transportation sector.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has published a new report warning that addressing the climate crisis requires major changes in our cars, trucks and fuels.

However, ensuring that all people share equitably in the benefits and burdens of the transportation systems will require more profound change, that centres people rather than technology.

Jeremy Martin senior scientist a director of fuels policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists said: “Our approach to transforming transportation mirrors our approach to transforming the broader energy system.

Our fundamental guiding principle is that the transformation must not only drive down climate emissions but must provide equitable access and mobility. Through a modelling exercise using tools developed by Evolved Energy Research, we explored the magnitude and pace of technological change needed to drive down transportation carbon emissions.

“The modelling is informative, and it makes clear that to address the climate crisis, we must quickly replace the cars, trucks and fuels we use today with electric vehicles (EVs) and low carbon fuels. But energy models cannot capture the broader economic and societal implications critical to advancing people-centred, multidimensional solutions, and clean technology alone will not provide transportation justice.”

The report said the world needed a transportation system that improves people’s access to jobs, education, healthcare, food, and other destinations, which shouldn’t always need to involve a trip in a private car, but all too often does.

“With investments in transit, housing and neighbourhoods we can improve people’s lives, increase mobility options, and reduce the need (and associated costs and pollution) to own and maintain a car,” added Martin. “Reducing the need to drive or own a car offers many benefits even when what powers those cars is clean, including reducing the amount of renewable power, hydrogen and clean fuel we need to power them and the materials needed to build them. When developing plans for transportation investments, it is especially important to centre communities that have not only been poorly served, but have borne the brunt of the pollution, displacement, violence and disinvestment that have so often been built into our transportation system.

“As part of our analysis we explored the implications of a transition away from reliance on low occupancy passenger cars for most travel, and toward a more multi-modal future, where people drive less and walk, bike, and use transit more.

“Not surprisingly, less driving means less energy needed to power EVs, and less infrastructure required to generate and transmit all that additional power. Our ‘Low Energy Demand’ scenario. which explored a 40 percent reduction in driving, a 20 percent reduction in goods movement and flying, and a doubling of transit (all relative to business-as-usual projections). We found an 8 percent reduction in liquid transportation fuel use, and a 30 percent reduction in electricity and 34 percent reduction in hydrogen use for transportation in 2050 compared to our primary scenario.”

The report added that move to the electrification of the transport system could not come quick enough.

“We can do a lot to make our transportation work better for everyone and reduce pollution by increasing access to different mobility options and reducing the overall need for driving,” said Martin.

“But there’s no getting around it: the big pollution problems in transportation, both for climate and air quality, come from burning petroleum-based fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Reducing pollution means reducing petroleum use, by making all cars and trucks as efficient as possible and rapidly transitioning to zero-emission vehicles, powered by both batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

“Completing the transition of all new light duty passenger cars and trucks to zero emissions technology by 2035, and all new medium and heavy-duty vehicles by 2040 will cut liquid transportation fuel use by 50% before 2040 and by more than 80% by 2050.”

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