Earlier this year, the world’s top authority on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), gave an update on our best chances to minimize further climate damage and keep humankind as safe as possible.1
Here are some of the conclusions about transportation from the 3000-page report, which deals with every main aspect of decarbonization:
#1. The path to decarbonizing transportation is mobility first, with support from technology. Most of what needs to happen to decarbonize transportation is about reducing demand with a focus on transportation on the ground. More specifically, to pursue an Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework, a sequence of advancing policies and investments that first help to avoid travel, next shift travel to more efficient modes, and finally, improve to vehicle equipment, which a category that includes electrification.
#2. Mobility-led transportation climate action is crucial for decarbonization and we’re not going to get the job done without it. There are no modeled solutions to a safe climate that do not involve a mobility-centered transformation of transportation. And unfortunately, we are not only off track, but without assertive action, unfolding technologies and status quo public management could lead climate pollution from transportation to significantly increase. The good news is there’s strong evidence from leadership around the world showing the way that gives local communities a lot of flexibility and chances to create co-benefits.
#3. Transportation is full of no-regrets investment opportunities that governments should be pursuing no matter what. Transportation is a treasure trove of low- and negative- cost decarbonization that shouldn’t require a lot of hemming and hawwing. And the agenda for serious transportation action–which is centered in designing public environments for more human-centered mobility that gives people more choices–can be a powerful agenda for well-being and equity.
#4. The upside of what transportation can do for climate action is enormous and transcends the models. In addition to analysis showing the minimum work needed around transportation, there is also evidence that transportation climate investments have the potential to create accelerated, outside-the-box change that exceed modeled expectations. Transportation, because it is so integral to our daily lives, is part of economic and cultural processes that can create extraordinary change quickly while making our lives better. We can cultivate the conditions to make this happen.
#5. Our best chances of success are in integrated solutions. We need mobility and electrification, and electrification could both hinder or help mobility. Advocates for particular solutions can be the most helpful by keeping the whole ASI framework in mind.
To wrap it up, any serious general climate action strategy needs to have a major focus on transportation that puts weight behind creating high-performing, technology-enabled multimodal system that gives people meaningful choices for safely and conveniently getting around.
And those responsible for transportation or decisions that affect transportation—including zoning, parking, other land use planning, economic development, schools, destination marking and management, and enforcement—need to play a coordinated role in making it happen.
1 IPCC (April 2022). Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel. Also, watch for original briefings and analysis on IPCC 2022 to come.