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Where’s Low Carbon Transport in Post-Copenhagen Pledges?
The transport sector is the fastest growing sector in terms of  greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, but many of these  countries have no plans to address it in post-Copenhagen commitments.  Photo by destro100.

The transport sector is the fastest growing sector in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, but many of these countries have no plans to address it in post-Copenhagen commitments. Photo by destro100.

The first major piece of follow-up to the Copenhagen Accord took place Monday: the countries responsible for the bulk of climate-altering pollution formally submitted emission reduction plans, meeting the agreement’s Jan. 31 deadline. Fifty-five developed and developing countries submitted plans to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body overseeing global negotiations. (Check out the World Resources Institute’s updated interactive chart about the latest country pledges.)

So how many of those plans included the transportation sector?
The general answer is, some.  The plans varied widely in their level of detail; in some, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Developed countries were only asked to provide economy-wide emissions targets for 2020, so did not reference specific strategies. Developing countries were requested to provide a list of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), voluntary emissions reduction measures that are expected to be the main vehicle for mitigation action in the developing world under a future climate agreement. These NAMAs can be policies, programs and projects implemented at the national, regional, or local levels.

Out of the 23 developing countries whose plans are uploaded to the UNFCC website, 13 made at least some mention of transportation in their NAMAs. Several – such as Botswana, Costa Rica and Israel – simply mentioned transport as part of a preliminary list of sectors to focus on. Others identified general strategies, such as increasing the use of biofuels (Brazil) or shifting to less polluting modes (Indonesia). A few listed specific projects that would contribute to sustainable transportation goals.

Some of the most detailed strategies belonged to Ethiopia, which described individual transportation routes slated for upgrade and their expected completion dates; and Macedonia, which provided detailed actions with timeframes, involved parties and potential financing sources. In contrast, many of the most rapidly-developing countries, including China, India, Mexico, Korea and Singapore, made no mention at all of transportation (and made the most general plans).

Committing to reduce emissions from the transport sector is crucial, as it contributes to 23% of energy-related CO2 emissions and is the fastest growing sector in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries.

Bridging the Gap, a partnership created to encourage the inclusion of transport in an international climate agreement, encourages developing countries to pursue transport-related NAMAs as mechanisms for achieving equitable access, improved mobility and economic and social development, as well as emissions reductions. The organization suggests that efforts in this sector provide an opportunity for developing countries to take action to mitigate climate change while still managing their need for economic development. Additionally, by registering transport NAMAs under the Copenhagen Accord, developing countries can access new funding sources. Developed countries committed in the Copenhagen Accord to provide resources approaching $30 billion for 2010-2012.

Bridging the Gap suggests that developing countries focus transport-related NAMAs around three general strategies, known collectively as the “Avoid-Shift-Improve” approach:

  • Avoiding or reducing trips, e.g. through the integration of land use and transportation planning,
  • Shifting to and maintaining the use of “green” modes, such as public transport and non-motorized transport, and
  • Improving vehicle and fuel technology of all modes of transport to improve the environmental efficiency from each kilometer traveled.

(See a table of potential transport-related actions)

Though the NAMAs did not fulfill the expectations of many transport and climate advocates, there is a silver lining. This was the first time that major developing nations, whose emissions are growing more quickly than the rest of the world’s, laid out their plans for slowing production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. What’s more, the NAMAs are not the last word in emissions reduction. Additional strategies can be submitted every two years, and they will be subject to the standards laid out in a future climate agreement. And with the leadership of the United States and the rest of the developed world – which will hopefully strengthen – developing countries may improve their commitments.

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  • t is possible for rapidly growing countries to continue their economic development and work in solving their most pressing needs: education, health, housing, safety, equity, while keeping their carbon emissions much lower per person than the USA, Western Europe, Japan.

    National Transport

  • It is remarkable that developing countries are making committments to grow in a low carbon path. While most of the burden in required reductions is still the resposibility of developed nations, developing countries responsibility is not to follow in their footsteps: grow emissions and then try to come back. It is possible for rapidly growing countries to continue their economic development and work in solving their most pressing needs: education, health, housing, safety, equity, while keeping their carbon emissions much lower per person than the USA, Western Europe, Japan.
    In transport the strategy is to avoid the need for travel through adequate land use planning, keep the trips in the most efficient modes (walking, biking, transit), and improve the efficiency of the fuels and vehicles.
    Doing only the last, which is not only the most expensive but the less effective for other important local goals, such as reducing congestion and accidents is not enough.
    The discussion is just starting, and the nationally appropriate mitigation actions will continue to evolve. Contries have the potential to include avoid-shift-improve strategies in the plans, and use the climate instruments as a complement to other sources of funding to meet their goals.

  • While I agree with you that things should be done in some of the 3rd world countries about their emissions, from the experience of living down there, they have a lot of things to be concerned about. I agree it would be great if all countries followed the lead of innovative countries like Brazil by developing ethanol, however I think it is more realistic that top countries lead by example. That includes America who has the technology and wherewithal to make it a reality. From my experience in the car transport industry, I know that developments are being made for large trucks to be able to run on alternative fuels. Often our out of date buses and transport trucks are bought by foreign countries and used by the locals there. SO, if american upgrades and leads by example these other countries will be motivated to buy some of our “out of date” equipment which is much better for the environment than what some people are using now.