The vast majority of the world's road vehicles are still run on oil, readily available at refilling stations, at a cost affordable by many people.
Collectively, these vehicles produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG), particularly from private cars and goods vehicles, contributing in a major way to climate change:
- two thirds of global oil production is used by transport. Turning oil into petrol and diesel is in itself a polluting process.
- the transport sector contributes about a quarter of CO2 emissions from energy usage in high-income nations, and levels are rising rapidly in low and middle income nations.
- transport is the fastest growing sector for emissions globally.
The biggest problem: more vehicles
The world is being further paved with roads and vehicles are filling them, with the global car fleet predicted to triple by 2050 and goods vehicles also increasing rapidly (as populations and trade increases).
Factories are churning out vehicles to meet the demand. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of vehicles manufactured rose from about 60 million a year to about 90 million a year. Production of vehicles is in itself a hazard to our planet. Many vehicle factories are powered by energy obtained from coal power stations, which produce significant carbon dioxide.
While some new vehicles are more energy efficient than older vehicles, the gains are marginal. Between 2005 and 2013 new car fuel economy (rate of fuel consumption) improved little, and meanwhile most cars on the road are not new, and the global fleet continues to grow, cancelling out fuel economy gains.
It is estimated that fuel consumption and emissions of CO2 from the world’s cars will roughly double between 2000 and 20501.
Regulations controlling fuel economy and emission levels of vehicles is inadequate in many countries and non-existent in others.
What can be done?
Lots can be done. However, about 90% of submissions from nations to the Paris climate change talks in 2015 did not include targets for reducing emissions from road transport. Because of the predicted explosion of numbers of cars and goods vehicles, governments must urgently tackle carbon emissions from them by:
- designing our cities for cycling, walking and public transport, not cars
- investing in sustainable freight solutions, including rail and sea
Governments must also
- require all oil-fuelled road vehicles to have world-beating standards of fuel efficiency, and purge roads of old, inefficient vehicles
- rapidly enable use of alternate fuels that do not pollute (either through their production or use)
Strides are being made in the development and use of bio fuels (including use of human sewage) and sustainably-sourced electricity and hydrogen. Governments must take the lead in providing such fuels that are safe, affordable and accessible through refuelling stations.
People, particularly those in high-income nations, can also make personal choices to drive less, consume less and consume local, in order to reduce personal and freight journeys.
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1 The International Energy Agency (IEA), 2008