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Despite COP26 progress, action pathways to decarbonise road transport remain unclear
Global | Geneva

Despite COP26 progress, action pathways to decarbonise road transport remain unclear

16 Nov 2021 · Environment
  • IRU supports acceleration of CO2 targets – if infrastructure, policy and incentives on the ground match ambitions 
  • A global approach on CO2 pricing is urgently needed to get taxation and incentives right and to avoid trade wars in the name of climate change
  • CO2 emissions must be measured and managed using the well-to-wheel approach, otherwise decarbonising commercial road transport will be jeopardised  
  • Governments must honour financial promises to developing countries – for transport operators and infrastructure everywhere to decarbonise as rapidly as possible

IRU has broadly welcomed the agreement reached at COP26 in Glasgow to reinforce global climate action and to look to speed up decarbonisation plans in the short term, but uncertainty remains on actual delivery pathways.

Reflecting on the deal reached over the weekend, differences in valuing CO2 around the world need to be reconciled and governments need to honour funding commitments to emerging markets. 

“It is good to see the progress made at COP26, but there are still key issues on the table as we look to COP27, especially on target clarity, carbon pricing and government financial commitments,” said IRU Secretary General Umberto de Pretto.

“The commercial road transport industry is already on the road to become carbon neutral and deliver on the Paris agreement with IRU’s Green Compact, which steers collective action on this enormous challenge and the support we need from governments and partners to deliver in all regions of the world. 

“Now, more than ever, we need to focus on action to drive real change on the ground. The commercial road transport industry will accelerate action; policy makers need to keep up,” he concluded.

Accelerating ambitions: yes, but make it realistic

Alongside the main agreement, governments, business, industry groups and NGOs followed suit with a wide range of initiatives announced, most aiming to accelerate progress, and many focused on vehicles. 

The Netherlands and 14 other countries pledged that 30% of heavy-duty truck and bus sales would be zero tailpipe emission by 2030, climbing to 100% by 2040. The UK will ban medium-duty diesel trucks by 2035 and all trucks will be zero tailpipe emission by 2040. A number of emerging markets will also accelerate their roll-out of electric and hydrogen vehicles, including India, Kenya and Rwanda.

IRU welcomes moves to accelerate the transition to greener heavy-duty trucks, buses and coaches, as it does for medium and light duty vehicles such as taxis and vans. With greater clarity on the action, regulatory and financial pathways ahead, 3.5 million road transport operators globally will be able to plan and invest. 

CO2: Don’t just move it, remove it

However, without implementing the more holistic well-to-wheel approach, CO2 emissions reduction targets at the vehicle will not be achieved with global electricity generation heavily dependent on coal and other fossil energy sources. Zero carbon liquid and gaseous fuels, such as bio-diesel and bio LNG from 100% renewable sources, are equally needed, in particular to rapidly decarbonise the 65 million trucks and buses already driving on our roads worldwide.  

Zero emissions should mean net zero CO2 emissions from cradle to grave, including the production and use of the vehicles. Decarbonisation of energy grids, fuel sources and battery production, for example, must keep pace with vehicle targets. 

The weakened language on coal in the Glasgow agreement will set back efforts to green electricity grids, so the more accurate well-to-wheel approach to measuring carbon is more important than ever to ensure that the huge public investments needed to support the roll-out of alternative fuels are spent wisely and transparently.

Amid a heavy focus on vehicles, Glasgow also missed much of the bigger picture on decarbonising road transport, including driver education, digitalisation of transport operations and eco-trucks, trade facilitation and investing in public transport to get more cars off the road. 

Taken together, these will deliver more CO2 reductions than so-called zero-tailpipe emission debates. Glasgow has shown short-sighted ambition by focusing mainly on vehicles.  

CO2 value: we need a global approach, not trade wars 

With around only 60 countries currently setting a CO2 price and increasing talk in Glasgow of “carbon tariffs” to protect domestic industries that have decarbonised from foreign competition that have not, the gap in a global approach to valuing CO2 is clear. 

Without a coordinated approach to CO2 pricing, energy and carbon taxation and incentive policy changes will not be effective in a global economy with global supply chains and mobility networks. 

Moreover, after many decades of global trade driving prosperity and development, a new era of carbon protectionism would be harmful, ultimately undermining political will on decarbonisation.

COP26 Transport

The Glasgow Pact mentions the phasing out of inefficient subsidies of fossil fuel, although without going into further detail. This presents a good opportunity to address CO2 value globally, for emissions trading and as an underlying principle for more effective taxation and incentives. 

At the very least, funds from reducing subsidies in fossil fuel production and use should be channelled, with transparency, into sectors such as commercial road transport that will need incentives to support decarbonisation. The same principle of transparency should also apply to jurisdictions that will use user-generated charges, such as road tolls, to finance the transition to alternative fuels. 

Although hugely challenging, a global approach to CO2 value must be high on the agenda of upcoming UN climate conferences. IRU’s Green Compact and wider advocacy efforts in the coming year will also investigate and push for a global CO2 value model for transport. 

Honour existing CO2 funding promises to emerging markets

Governments have not honoured the USD 100 billion annual commitment from richer to poorer countries to support action on emissions mitigation and adaptation up to 2020, agreed at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. 
Countries and regions have vastly different energy and transport landscapes and each require tailored strategies to reach carbon neutrality, for supply chains and for mobility networks. All have the challenge that transport must continue to run efficiently, while transition takes place, in order to maintain social and economic development.

Decarbonising transport will only be successful in one country or region if it succeeds in all countries and regions. 

Regional approach for global success

IRU’s Green Compact is built on a flexible regional framework to take account of this, in order to implement alternative fuels, operational changes, public transport improvements, new vehicles and driver education programmes as rapidly as possible in all countries. 

All of these things come with a price, and they will not happen, or not happen as rapidly as they could, in emerging markets without support funding, especially on alternative fuel infrastructure and operator incentives.  

There were some highlights announced in Glasgow, such as the World Bank’s new Global Facility to Decarbonise Transport, a fund of USD 200 million to help decarbonise passenger and goods transport in emerging markets over the next ten years. 

However the hole in existing funding commitments for emerging markets in the final COP26 agreement remains concerning and must be addressed at subsequent COPs.   

IRU will advocate on these issues in the year ahead to COP27 in Egypt, as it continues developing and implementing the Green Compact.