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Rockström: We have the technologies to decarbonize the entire transport sector

Emissions from the transport industry comprise 16 percent of the global total, making it one of the most important industries to transform to halve global emissions by 2030.
Can it be done? The answer is yes — and solutions already exist. But there are some blocks to implementing them.

Transport is a key sector to take climate action not only because of its high emissions rate, but because it is key to unlocking solutions in agriculture, urban development, education, health, and many other industries, because it connects all of them.

In the recent Exponential Climate Action Summit, we heard from industry experts about what is happening, what isn’t happening, and what barriers must be removed so the transport industry can transform in time.

“Transport — in particular heavy transport — is the artery that keeps our societies functioning,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in opening the discussion at the Summit on Sep. 24. “It is connected to every value chain in every sector along all the transformations toward the sustainable development goals.”

He framed the current picture as, “There are technologies in place that can take us toward a decarbonization of the entire, full transport sector, but this will require tremendous investments in technologies, research and development, infrastructure, and we need the policies in place.”

Henrik Henriksson, president and CEO of Scania, a global leader in heavy transport, described his company’s emission reduction targets that are in line with the 1.5°C goals — starting first with transitioning the rolling fleet from fossil fuel to sustainably produced biodiesel, which will reduce their carbon emissions by 90 to 95 percent.

Beyond that is a focus on electrification of their vehicles. “What we’re missing there,” said Henriksson, “is that we have charging infrastructure in big scale, and that we need both at the depots of our transport companies, but we also need it along the highway systems. And that infrastructure can of course be shared — at least the backbone infrastructure — together with passenger cars.”

More on this topic: ”Renewables are now the cheapest energy options in most places”

However, decisions like that, he pointed out, can take eight to twelve years in Europe, where Scania is based.

Bertrand Piccard, initiator and chairman of the Solar Impulse Foundation, spoke more of policy obstacles: “What is really blocking the system is the fact that all the regulations today are based on the technologies of yesterday and not the technologies of today, which means it is much too laid back. Today it is legal to pollute almost as much as you want, so you have so many companies who say, ‘What I do is legal. Why should I change? Why should I do better?’ So what we really need to obtain is a modernization of the regulations.”

As an example he explained, “The best way to make an electric car profitable for the user is to be able to allow him to sell the electricity of his battery on the grid when there is a peak of consumption. That would stabilize the grid in the perfect way and allow the owner of the car to make some money to pay for his battery. But it’s not legal. A lot of countries still have a monopoly that prevents the users to put back their energy on the grid — even if it is for their own house. So you see, there are so many obstacles in the legal system…”

Piccard and fellow panelist Robert Falck, CEO and founder of Einride — developer of the world’s first driverless, electric freight vehicle operating on public roads — disagreed on the role of hydrogen in the future of transport. Piccard spoke of hydrogen being the present, not the future, citing an example of the network of hydrogen fueling stations across Switzerland, which has been created without any government subsidies and that he believes can be reproduced everywhere.

Falck, however, expressed concerns that even in the safest applications of hydrogen, there would be serious accidents, giving his support to electric and battery technologies instead.

Asked how to ensure that the developing world is not excluded from such transport technologies as they have been in the past, Falck offered: “Solar cells, batteries, and electrics will be the cheapest alternatives in the very close future. And what we need to help them with is the industrial power to make this transition happen, rather than just sell old technology.”

Written by LISA BAILEY

Click here to watch the full transport industry discussion and debate.


The Exponential Roadmap highlights the 36 solutions that can scale exponentially to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 worldwide. Scaling of solutions comes from sharp policy, from climate leadership by companies and cities, and from a finance and technology shift toward green solutions with exponential potential.

The roadmap shows how we can build a stronger, more resilient, and future-proof global economy and increase human prosperity and health — within the planetary boundaries.

More info: https://exponentialroadmap.org/

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