By Shona Rawlings, Assistant Transport Planner
Earlier this month saw the closing of the 23rd UNFCC Conference of Parties (or COP23) in Bonn, Germany. The event this year was hosted by Fiji and participating states were tasked with negotiating much of the rule book for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement for when it comes in to effect in 2020.
I travelled to Bonn with the 2050 Climate Group – a charity supporting young professionals in Scotland to lead the change to a low carbon economy. The conference was considered to have made slow but steady progress in supporting the Paris Agreement and there are several take away messages and themes for the transport sector.
Nationally Determined Contribtions
Data released by the European Environment Agency shows that transport remains Europe’s largest source of emissions and that this trend has risen for the third consecutive year. Despite falls in emissions from the energy generation, buildings and agriculture sectors, it seems we do not yet have a handle on controlling emissions from passenger transport and freight.
The Paris Agreement calls for global action to limit global temperature increases to ‘well below 2°C’ above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit this to 1.5°C. For this to happen the transport sector must reduce its global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 7.7 Gigatons (Gt)/year down to 2-3Gt/year by 2050.
Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and long-term strategies are considered key to ensuring this transition. In August 2016, 160 NDCs representing 187 countries had been submitted to the UNFCC, representing 96% of economy wide GHG emissions. Among those investigated, 75% explicitly identify the transport sector as a GHG mitigation source and a further 17% include transport as a component of the energy sector. However, whilst 63% of the NDCs propose transport mitigation measures, only 9% have a transport sector emission reduction target. Furthermore, the transport modes covered by NDCs are heavily skewed towards passenger transport with little consideration of freight. It is critical that transport is considered a significant source of GHG mitigation and that long-term strategies and targets are devised to support this.
Whilst the ratification of the Paris Agreement is a hugely significant achievement for all stakeholders, achieving its goals will still mean a global temperature increase of at least 1.5°C. We must be ready to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate on our towns, cities and infrastructure. It is unsurprising, then, that climate adaptation was another significant theme of COP23. For transport in the UK this means ensuring our passenger and freight transport is resilient and can cope with disruption to services by more frequent extreme weather events. Our infrastructure, community facilities and heritage assets must also be appropriately managed to withstand increased erosion and propensity to flooding. Notably this includes ports, airports, and ferry services which are arguably the most susceptible to changing weather conditions.
Despite headlines in June this year that the USA Federal Government was hoping to ‘renegotiate’ the terms of the Paris Agreement it is clear there has never been greater engagement and participation of non-governmental stakeholders in climate change mitigation. COP23 recognised the importance of this and the opportunities for ‘cities and regions’ to show leadership and take action that goes above and beyond national policy. Here in the UK, we must be prepared to support devolved governments, local authorities, private sector and community groups manage this through new strategies, policies, and capacity for change. PBA has been proud to support the University of Glasgow in developing and implementing their Strategic Transport and Travel Plan. The Plan includes a number of measures to encourage sustainable transport on campus and achieve their ambitious targets of reducing emissions from fleet vehicles and international business air travel.