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How road freight transport can help achieve climate goals
Global | Geneva

How road freight transport can help achieve climate goals

10 Feb 2020 · Environment

The global population is growing by approximately 81 million people per year*, which is directly reflected on consumption and mobility needs. Indeed, road freight volume is set to grow by 300% in the next 30 years according to the International Transport Forum (ITF) and the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). How is this predicted growth compatible with achieving the ambitious zero emission goal set by the EU’s new Green Deal? 

The first step is to debunk emission stereotypes associated with road freight.

During his recent intervention at the Vienna Chamber of Commerce on the panel “Avoid - Reduce - Improve: How road freight transport can help reduce CO2 and fight climate change”, IRU’s Matthias Maedge said: “Contrary to common belief, commercial road transport is not the biggest CO2 producer compared with other modes of transport. The German example shows that the climate impact of a 40-tonne diesel truck is 30% lower than - and the CO2 footprint of a diesel coach half that of - an electric train, when looking at the total environmental costs.”

Climate impact of different transport modes - Comparison of total environmental costs

How to achieve net zero emissions?

Three solutions already exist with the potential to meet the challenge of achieving net zero emissions while responding to the predicted growth in road freight volumes:

Alternative and renewable fuels

While the limelight is on battery electric vehicles, IRU has a more comprehensive vision of the energy and technology mix of the future. One litre of diesel can store 120 times more energy than a li-on battery. Only CNG, LNG and hydrogen offer competitive energy contents and represent more flexible and suitable fuel options for heavier vehicles over longer distances.

Battery cells also have a large CO2 footprint – it takes 50 tonnes of CO2 to produce the battery of a distribution truck with a 300km autonomy. For this CO2 equivalent, a diesel truck would be able to cover 100,000 km.
Making the switch to alternative energy sources however entails fostering an enabling environment and building the right refueling and charging infrastructure.

High capacity vehicles

The use of high capacity vehicles (25,25m long and 44 tonnes or above) represents the quickest way to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 40%. These vehicles can also be deployed safely on our roads and would make road transport more efficient. Replacing three standard trucks by two high capacity vehicles would reduce the European truck fleet by over 2 million units, which equals 30% less traffic on the roads.

Trade facilitation

Optimising road transport through the roll-out of digital tools and processes will reduce time, costs and emissions drastically, with trucks no longer stuck at borders for long periods of time.
By taking advantage of the intermodal possibilities offered by the TIR system, goods can reach their destination in a quicker and greener manner, cheaper than aviation and faster than rail. Stronger cooperation between all stakeholders is however needed to better promote the use of such intermodal transport options.

* Source: Worldbank