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COP 26 Mobility Wrap-up

World leaders at the biggest international climate summit keep faint hopes of achieving a 1.5 degree target alive, barely... But what does it mean for mobility?  

Transport Day offered some big EV announcements and news items but disappointed on many other fronts. Here is our summary of what we found to be most relevant to the world of smart mobility:

  1. Cars and Vans: COP26 declaration on accelerating the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans

Under the declaration, which is not legally binding, the signatories said they will “work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission…globally by 2040 and by no later than 2035 in leading markets”. Signatories consisted of a coalition of national governments, cities, car manufacturers and other organisations. 33 national governments signed, which notably included India, each of the separate Nordic countries, the UK, Poland and Austria. Apart from India, a significant number of other emerging markets were also signatories, including Turkey, Ukraine, Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda. However, notable absences were of course the major auto manufacturing nations of the US, China, Germany, France and Spain.

From the OEM perspective, headline signatories included Ford, General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and BYD. Commentators were quick to notice that four of the biggest automakers were however absent: Volkswagen, Toyota, Renault-Nissan and Hyundai-Kia. Following these pledges, 31 per cent of the global passenger vehicle market will be covered by vehicle manufacturer commitments to end sales of fossil fuel vehicles.

A large number of local and regional governments, as well as fleet owners and investment institutions also signed the pledge.

It’s worth keeping in mind that this declaration only applies to cars and vans, and not to medium and heavy duty vehicles such as those used for freight and construction.

  1. Heavy road vehicles: 13 countries match existing UK pledge to phase out fossil fuel heavy vehicles

13 countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) committing to end the sale of fossil fuel-powered HGVs by 2040. The UK, which had previously indicated that it would aim for this phase-out date, affirmed it would phase out fossil fuel-powered HGVs weighing up to 26 tonnes by 2035 and all new fossil-fuel HGVs by 2040. Generally in international agreements, MOUs carry less weight than declarations, however. The MOU includes an interim target of having 30 per cent of sales of new medium and heavy-duty vehicles being zero-emissions by 2030, with 100 per cent a decade later. The signatory countries include: Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, Uruguay and the UK.

  1. Active travel and micromobility: Controversy over active travel being left off the agenda

In response to the declaration on zero emissions cars and vans, many delegates questioned why bikes, buses, trains and walking had not been given higher billing.  “At the political level, leaders must confirm that the solution to reducing emissions needs to be a package that includes the electrification of vehicles, public transport and cycling,” Swarttouw said. “It’s not either or.”

Some sustainable transportation advocates believe it is mathematically impossible for the world to replace enough petrol-powered cars with electric vehicles in time to avert the worst impacts of climate change. They believe walking and cycling as well as public transit are more important than electric vehicles.

Thanks to campaigning from cycling and active travel organisations present at COP26, and owing to a last-minute intervention from EU urban mobility co-ordinator Matthew Baldwin, a final paragraph was added to an electric vehicle declaration – which now reads: “We recognise that alongside the shift to zero emission vehicles, a sustainable future for road transport will require wider system transformation, including support for active travel, public and shared transport, as well as addressing the full value chain impacts from vehicle production, use and disposal.” 

  1. Public transport: Protestors call for free public transport

During the summit, activist groups gathered to ask the UK Government, and local councils, to improve plans for making low-carbon public transport more accessible. There was specific anger directed at the fact that COP26 delegates are given a travel pass that enables free access to buses and trains, while usual fares in Glasgow are typically higher than those in London.

The Scottish Government recently announced free bus travel for all aged 22 and under, with this set to be in place in early 2022. It is also undertaking a “fair fares review”, seeking options for lowering ticket prices and offering tickets that let people use multiple modes of transport. But amongst all the headline agreements and declarations being signed at COP26, public transport appeared to have been relegated a back seat.

  1. Aviation and Maritime Shipping: Nations representing 40% of aviation emissions pledge sector-specific 1.5C goals while shipping sector plans net-zero shipping routes backed by 19 nations (as 200+ businesses throw support behind zero-emission ocean vessels)

18 nations have signed a new declaration in support of the development on emissions targets for aviation that are aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature pathway. The targets will be pre-2050 and developed in line with global net-zero by 2050. Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Spain, Turkey, the US, the UK, and Korea are just some of the first signatories to the declaration. The signatories are collectively responsible for more than 40% of global annual emissions from aviation. Part of the U.S. action is a $200 million dollar sustainable Aviation Fuels Grand Challenge, a government-wide approach to reduce the cost, increase the sustainability, and achieve production of three billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel per year in the U.S. by 2030.

For maritime shipping, a new ‘Clydebank Declaration’ will unite at least 19 nations in developing zero-emission shipping routes between ports. These so-called ‘green shipping corridors’ will act as a test-bed for emerging technologies. Bodies such as the Global Maritime Forum and World Economic Forum are foreseeing that a mix of technologies will be needed for low-carbon shipping, including hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and electrification. The aim is to establish at least six corridors by the mid-2020s, which are likely to be shorter routes, and to add “many more routes”, including long-haul routes, by 2030. Amongst the signatories to the Clydebank Declaration are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, the US and the UK.

  1. Financing for emerging economies: The World Bank launched the Global Facility to Decarbonise Transport, GFDT, a new multi-donor trust fund that will mobilize US$200 million over the next 10 years to decarbonize road transport in emerging markets and developing economies in the Global South.

The fund is expected to help support regional and national governments, agencies, policy and research institutions, the private sector, civil society organizations, and individuals in World Bank client countries to decarbonize transport and build resilience, while meeting growing mobility needs.

Personal Comment (on the transition to zero emissions vehicles):

While I personally work in the (pro)electromobility space, the overwhelming focus on personal vehicles and notably weak after thoughts given to active transport, micromobility and public transportation was a glaring weakness at this summit. It is particularly surprising given the extent to which micromobility has taken over almost every metropolitan city in the OECD in just the last few years. Not to mention the focus of cities in expanding cycling infrastructure in the midst of the COVID pandemic, which continues into its fourth wave in Europe. However, it is perhaps a result of COP summits in general being largely dominated by national governments and the largest players of industry, rather than local governments and the smaller, less entrenched cycling or micromobility lobbies.

By focusing exclusively on EVs and personal vehicles, national governments may be shooting themselves in the foot. It is and will remain a lot cheaper to build bike lanes and subsidise purchases of bikes and scooters (human powered or electric) than to subsidise the transition of every existing passenger fossil vehicle into an electric one, especially when the cost of charging infrastructure and potential grid upgrades are factored in. Public transport and car sharing services are also hugely important parts of the picture that were left out.  

It may also be worth mentioning that at the same time many of the EU countries have signed onto this declaration to phase out fossil based passenger vehicles by 2035, a recent report by the think tank Transport and Environment highlights that weak EU vehicle emissions targets could allow Europe’s biggest carmakers to produce millions more petrol and diesel cars than necessary up to 2030. The report points out that carmakers get easier targets if they sell heavier vehicles. The surge in SUV sales has meant that average engine emissions from three carmakers are actually higher than they were five years ago – even as they simultaneously green their fleets by making new electric cars. These three car makers? Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler – all of which were amongst the signatories to the Cop 26 pledge to only sell zero-emissions cars by 2040.

And lastly, I want to end with a quick food for thought: autonomous vehicles have been pitched to us many times before as a possible solution for our environmental problems because they will be mostly electric and will bring an end to people needing to own their personal vehicles. However, they were also notably absent from any of the climate solutions being discussed at this COP. Is this a possible signal from the OEMs and AV industry that they don’t really expect AVs to be able to produce climate benefits?

Written by Bobby Chen,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Elektromobilitet)

Personal Comment (on the aviation and shipping agreements):

Aviation and shipping together only account for 3.5% of the global C02 output. This is relatively small compared to road transport at 12%, but both aviation and shipping are growing quickly and expected to continue rapid expansion. Their technology pathway to zero-emissions is also a much more daunting challenge that that for road freight. Therefore, setting the targets and groundwork in place now to address aviation and shipping emissions is an essential part of transitioning the world economy toward a sustainable 1.5 degree target. It’s therefore a good sign that the Clydebank Declaration and the aviation emissions agreement is broadly in line with a net-zero by 2050 target.

Of the two, the Clydebank Declaration appears more specific and ambitious. Establishing six corridors by the mid-2020s for active testbeds for green alternatives is just a few years away. It is also positive that 19 countries and many important businesses signed on. However, it is a worry that China has not done so, considering how essential they are in the shipping industry.

As I said this is a positive move, but it is limited. This conference sets out long-term goals. That is good, but it is only the start. The real work happens when individual companies, universities, states, research institutes, cities, and so on go about finding the technical and social solutions that will uncover the many hundreds and thousands of innovations that are needed for achieving the goals.  

Written by Joshua Bronson,
RISE Mobility & Systems