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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.