In the previous year and a half, the globe has seen significant changes and continues to face an unprecedented reality. The shift to a "new normal" raises questions about how to achieve a better balance for both the environment and people. Climate change should be at the forefront of those decisions and transportation must, to some extent, take centre stage.

Discussions on transportation at COP26:

In light of COP26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties), a day was set aside on Wednesday, November 10th, 2021 for discussions on decarbonising transportation in order to combat climate change. Governments, cities, states, regions and corporations made a slew of fresh worldwide announcements.

Before the start of COP26 in Glasgow, the UK government stated that it hoped to build worldwide support for its own plans to phase out new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030 and new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicle (HGV) sales by 2040. As expected, a new declaration signed by more than 30 countries and dozens of businesses, both those who produce vehicles and those that operate fleets, has formalised this commitment.

The following declarations were made:

  • In order to achieve a net-zero world by 2050, all new vehicle sales in leading markets should be zero-emission by 2035. For all other markets, a deadline of 2040 has been set. A supplementary 'Count Us In Citizens' Declaration was also released, urging world leaders to ensure that by 2030, only new zero-emission buses are sold, followed by light-duty cars in 2035, and heavy-duty vehicles in 2035.

  • A new declaration has been signed by 18 countries in support of the development of aviation emissions objectives that are linked with the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C temperature path. The goals will be set before 2050 and will be established in accordance with the global net-zero goal of 2050.

  • For the first time, the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA) is accepting new members. RMI and the Environmental Defence Fund founded the Alliance in April with the goal of bringing together the purchasing power of fuel buyers to accelerate the scaling of alternative fuel supply chains and advocate regulatory support.

Governments and the private sector have made new announcements towards decarbonising the maritime sector. A new 'Clydebank Declaration,' backed by national governments, will bring at least 19 countries together to build zero-emission shipping routes between ports. These 'green shipping corridors' will serve as a testing ground for new technology. Low-carbon shipping would require a mix of technologies, including hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and electrification, according to organisations like the Global Maritime Forum and the World Economic Forum.

There is still a lot of work to be done to bring the world on track for a resilient, net-zero future as countries, communities and businesses transition their strategy from short-term stabilisation to longer-term recovery. Below, we outline important transportation investment possibilities that can help to address climate change while also creating jobs, promoting economic development, improving health and enhancing equal access to opportunities.

1. Rethink public transportation: Investing in public transportation increases fair access to employment and services, improves road safety, promotes sensible urban development and reduces carbon emissions. Many cities have a long-standing need to reinvent public transportation as the backbone of urban mobility, based on stable finance, improved governance and an emphasis on employment, education and service access. Cities can enhance national and provincial funding for rapid transit lines and public transportation operating costs instead of developing additional urban freeways.

2. Active transportation: During lockdowns, bike lanes and walkways have been a lifeline, providing fresh air and paths to crucial services and jobs. They also contribute to the creation of jobs, the revitalisation of local shopping and the promotion of cleaner, safer, emissions-free transportation. During the pandemic, cities that expanded sidewalks and added bike lanes should make them permanent.

3. Electric vehicles: (EVs) are critical for decarbonising transportation. Private passenger vehicles, on the other hand, should not be the sole focus. Electric buses can provide more individuals with equal access to opportunities while also lowering long-term operational costs.

4. Rail investment: Rail investment is the elephant in the room in many ways. Recovery investments in rail, whether public or private, should be green and focused on mode transition and efficiency. High-speed rail uses 12 times less energy per passenger kilometer than planes and automobiles.

5. Clean R&D: Clean research and development (R&D) can help zero-emission fuels get to market faster and decrease future costs. Converting conventional aviation fuel to biorenewable fuel could cut international flight emissions by 63%. Meanwhile, new fuels such as hydrogen have the potential to fully eliminate aviation emissions.

Implementing all of these proposals will result in a slew of advantages, including increased job development, enhanced road safety, improved air quality, revived economies and much more. Putting fair, zero-emission mobility at the forefront increases the likelihood of leaving a better world to today's youth and future generations.

If there's one thing the COVID-19 pandemic taught us about transportation infrastructure, it's the value of adaptability. Transport infrastructure must be able to support both expected and unpredictable rapid and severe variations in demand and hence must become more adaptable.

We can only hope that the investments and changes made produce a green world for us all to live in.