Pathways Towards Decarbonising the Transportation Sector


Co-benefits and coalitions as enablers for the transition towards a low-carbon urban mobility

by Oliver Lah, Head of the Mobility and International Cooperation Research Unit at the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy

There is substantial potential to improve urban access, air quality, safety and the quality of life in cities along with reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions if an integrated policy approach is applied that combines all intervention areas for transport policy and involves all levels of government. A package that achieves low-carbon transport and fosters sustainable development includes avoided journeys through compact urban design and shifts to more efficient modes of transport, uptake of improved vehicle and engine performance technologies, low-carbon fuels, investments in related infrastructure, and changes in the built environment. From a governance perspective, all relevant political institutions at the local and national level need to be involved in the coalition building along with key societal actors, such as unions, industry and civil society organisations.

Bringing the policy objectives of these actors together with an integrated policy package is a vital step towards a low-carbon, sustainable mobility system.

Policy design and governance are critically interlinked as the ability of institutions to find a political consensus and to maintain policy stability heavily influences the success of measures to shape the transformation pathway towards sustainable mobility. Technology-oriented solutions tend to play an overemphasised role in global decarbonisation scenarios. One could argue that a greater focus on sustainability transitions at the local level yields a potential for co-benefits that can trigger the support of key stakeholders and with this help forming coalitions that can endure over the long-term.

Low-carbon urban mobility can deliver benefits well beyond the climate change mitigation aspect and instantly improve human health and wellbeing.

High shares of low-carbon modes, mixed-use and compact city design can also unlock a number of co-benefits that contribute to wider sustainable and liveable cities. The great potential for co-benefits and synergies of an integrated policy approach, but also the risk for trade-offs of isolated measures, makes the transport sector a particularly interesting case for transition research. The interplay between local and national policy actions and institutions is a key feature of governing the transition towards sustainable mobility which can aim to shed new light on the relationship between policy design and implementation process. The integrated policy design and governance approach is considered to be a vital enabler to move from incremental change to the transformational change that is needed to achieve decarbonisation targets and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Recent studies as part of the Urban Pathways ( and Urban Electric Mobility Initiative ( show that from three perspective policy and governance integration is necessary:

  • First: from the perspective of decarbonisation scenarios, where elements such as urban design and modal shift are equally important as vehicle technologies and fuels;
  • Second: local and national policies can only deliver on their full potential when they are mutually reinforcing;
  • Third: a concerted, multi-level policy approach can provide a basis for multi-actor coalitions that can enable long-term transitions to low-carbon mobility at the local and national level.
Figure 1: Linking policy and governance aspects in a transition cycle towards low-carbon urban mobility

The mapping of potential co-benefits and key political actors and their key policy objectives, helps showing that individual measures can only deliver limited efficiency gains and address individual objectives.

A coordinated local and national action, instead, can trigger a greater range of co-benefits among policy objectives, which contributes to consensus and continuity.

  • The topics presented in this article will be further discussed at #TUCTE18, don’t miss the chance to meet the authors: participate to the event, places are running out.



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