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Tag Archives: transport

Electric vehicles – will they break the system?

By Dave Elliott

Much has been said recently about electric vehicles (EVs) – they are on the way in large numbers, we are told. The Carbon Tracker/Grantham Institute report (see my earlier post) says that, by 2050, EVs will account for over two-thirds of the road transport market globally. That could change the transport system dramatically, although that alone won’t stop congestion. Unless we also move to autonomous cars and taxis, which should use road capacity more efficiently, we will just have queues of EVs – and continued pressure for more road building. But it could change the energy system. Not just in terms of replacing fossil fuels, but also in terms of changing and challenging the emergent non-fossil energy supply system.


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Greening road transport

By Dave Elliott

Road transport is responsible for around 15% of global carbon emissions. Can this be cut? The first question to ask is – do we want to have private and commercial vehicles on roads as at present? Buses, trams, trains, bikes and walking may be better for many journeys. But assuming we still need private and commercial road vehicles for at least some purposes, the most direct and least disruptive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to switch to lower carbon fuels, biofuels and synfuels. That’s easier than switching to electric vehicles (EVs). However, there are limits to biofuels – EVs are likely to win out.


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Decarbonizing urban transport might bring considerable benefits

By Felix Creutzig

Citizens of Europe enjoy high accessibility to energy-efficient modes of transportation, such as public transit, and often can cycle safely in cities. Still, CO2 emissions in urban transport measure about two tonnes per capita each year even in well-designed cities such as Barcelona, Freiburg, Malmö, and Sofia. For ambitious mitigation these numbers need to be cut considerably. But automobile-centered structure of the periphery makes decarbonizing a daunting task. In a new study in Environmental Research Letters (ERL) I, along with colleagues, investigated possible options for reducing the CO2 emissions in urban transport of the four cities mentioned above.


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Construct climate-proof infrastructures

By Felix Creutzig

Last week’s hurricane, humanized as Sandy, crashed the East Coast, killed more than 100 people and injured many more. Lower Manhattan got flooded, and New Jersey still looks like a disaster zone that we were used to see from the distant places such as the Caribbean islands. Our infrastructures are neither resilient to climate change, nor helpful in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no doubt that human-made climate change systemically caused this extremely powerful and unusual hurricane. Atlantic water temperature considerably exceeded its long-term average and the melting of Arctic ice produced a high-pressure system pushing the Hurricane to the most densely populated area of North America. The scary news is that hurricane Sandy won’t be the exception. Climate change is happening and our action will determine whether such storms hit our coasts annually or only every other decade.


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Does urban form really matter? – a reply

By Felix Creutzig

In a recent blog, I discussed an article. The paper points out that urban form policies have a rather moderate impact as population growth and land consumption trends dominate the overall dynamics. In my blog I suggested that EU fuel efficiency regulation for new cars should demonstrate higher impacts on reducing GHG emissions. Anil Namdeo from the author team responds with the following reply:

“The Trend trajectories are largely driven by the high rate of growth in the region (London and South East): the number of dwellings increase by 30% over the Trend, a product of a 19.1% growth in population and a reduction in household size. Road traffic grows from 220 billion vehicle kms in 1997, to 338 billion vehicle kms in 2031, an increase of some 1.57% per annum. This growth eventually counteracts the gains in noxious emission (NOX, PM10, CO, VOC) reduction won via clean technology. Although newer vehicles will be more fuel efficient, CO2 emissions continue to rise because of the growth in vehicle travel and the increase in congestion and because we have not assumed carbon neutrality for new dwellings as these have yet to be achieved in mass market building. The lower speeds associated with congestion create additional emissions due to frequent stop-start operation of vehicles.”

From my point of view, this discussion demonstrates that urban form measures are insufficient on their own to achieve ambitious GHG abatement and other environmental targets. Instead, I argue that a combination of land use, push and pull policies can achieve synergies resulting into a relatively low-carbon urban transport world.

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Does urban form really matter?

By Felix Creutzig

“Does urban form really matter?” This is the subtitle of a paper by Echenique et al., just published in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

The paper scrutinizes the claim that compaction makes cities more sustainable. Starting point is the finding of the US Commission of Integrated Transport (2009) that compaction has a modest effect in reducing vehicle travel. Echenique et al. posit that the social and economic costs needs to be treated comprehensively. Using modifications of the advanced transport-land-use model software MEPLAN, the authors model the impact of three different land-use developments in three English regions/cities, identifying 26 sustainability indices. The three developments are labeled dispersal, planned expansion, and compaction. Compaction reduces CO2-emissions from buildings and transport only between 1–5% compared with the dispersal scenario running from
1997 to 2031. Moreover, the differences in land-use due to spatial configurations are small compared to the impact of socioeconomic change and population growth.


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Urban transport in the developing world

By Felix Creutzig

Walking and cycling dominate urban transport in Asia and Africa. This statement is worth repeating. Walking and cycling dominate urban transport in Asia and Africa. It is one of the key statements in the book “Urban Transport in the Developing World“, subtitled “A Handbook for Policy and Practice”, edited by Harry Dimitriou and Ralph Gakenheimer. But it is much more than a handbook. It is the most comprehensive overview on the topic. With more than 600 pages, take your time reading it. While there is some redundancy, reading this book carefully will provide you with a superb, encompassing understanding of urban transport in the developing world.

Here is the book’s story. 60% of the world’s population live in Asia, and Asia is the epicenter of the global urbanization wave. Asia is also the focal point of incredible motorization with China alone being projected to have in 2050 nearly as many cars, as the world has currently on its roads, in totol: 700 million cars. An Asian city also gives its name to one of the key concepts I extracted from the book: the Bangkok syndrome. Similar to their OECD counterparts, Asian and African cities start with dense, walkable city cores. At the beginning of the last century, OECD cities invested in the then upcoming rail-based transport infrastructure, shaping cities profoundly. With the relatively slow but profound rise of automobility, American cities developed into low-density automobile cities, while European cities kept their inner cities served with public transit. Asian and African cities seem to be mostly on a different trajectory: They skip the stage of public transport infrastructures and move directly into individualized motorized mobility. This is too some degree quite surprising: Relative to their GDP, cities of the developing world invest much more into highways, citizens proportionally much more into personal transport than their OECD counterparts do and have done (see e.g. Jeffrey Kenworthy’s contribution). Inversely, these developing cities have high population density and are unsuitable for car transport. As a result, especially Asian cities develop into ‘motorcycle’ cities (Barter, 2000): motorized two-wheelers are best adapt to navigate the traffic disasters, but are subject to high accident rates and still face congestion.

Distribution and accessibility is another, related theme that develops continously across chapters. As the introductary statement indicates, paraphrased from Setty Pendakur’s chapter, non-motorized transport is the starting point of analysis, for transport efficiency and transport equity matters alike. Urban transport planning is often technocratically framed as ‘apolitical intervention’ (Eduardo Vasconcellos), where in fact it is top income segment who by driving their cars consume 10 times more space than the urban poor, consume a largest part of transport energy, and are responsible for most of street-level air pollution. It is then quite clear that a suitable normative objective for urban transport is reasonable accessibility for all, possibly emphasizing the urban poor (the concept itself actually may need to be qualified, see Xavier Godard’s chapter). Accesssibility itself is a highly interesting concept: Some cities, such as Dakar, seem to have high accessibililty – walkability – for the poorest quantile. In contrast, in cities like Buenos Aires the lowest income quintile pays proportionally to income much more than the richest quantile. Poverty may also directly reduce social contact by rendering visits to family or friends infeasible.

In line of the this comprehensive analysis, it then follows naturally to require comprehensive assessments of urban transport projects and plans, relying on strategic environmental assessments (Michael Replogle), inclusive equity evaluation (Eduardo Vasconcellos), and context-specific economic appraisal (Walter Hook). The key conundrum, however, is then in the meta-level of institions (Elliott Sclar and Julie Touber). In the dense urban environment of Asian and many African cities, the traffic disaster of the Bangkok syndrome can only be tackled with efficient public transport. But public transport can be regarded as a quasi-public good, and will not emerge from demand-side focussed market outcomes. Hence institutional capacity, a governance framework of promoting public goods and better public transport and non-motorized transport system need to coevolve simultenously. Transport planning alone is not enough.

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Get Climate Policies Rollin’: Diesel in Asia

By Felix Creutzig

The mismatch between insight on the need for climate change mitigation and implemented policies is amazing. Seemingly, this is a particularly hard global common good problem. So why not push much harder for pure win strategies. Pure win strategies often lack the intelectual appeal of a global cap and trade and, for being so nitty-gritty, put less glory on policy makers. But they can be valuable entry points for global cooperations. Here is
one example.

Diesel fuel reserves tax benefits in most Asian countries, and is favored in vehicle regulation. At the same time, pollution control is weak at best. At a result, vehicles powered by diesel emit tons of black carbon in addition to CO2. Black carbon is the third most gaseous contributor of climate change and has most of its climate impact on short time scales (more like 20 years), whereas CO2 remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years in average. Black carbon and other diesel exhaust also pollutes the air breathed by billions of Asians, causing asthma and lung cancer.

Here is the strategy as developed by Minjares and Rutherford (both from ICCT, San Francisco) in the upcoming book “Low Carbon Transport in Asia” by Zusman, Srinivasan and Dhakal:

  •  Make particle filter in diesel vehicles
    mandatory. This can dramatically improve air condition for Asian city dwellers
    in the upcoming decades. Even more, this single measure can reduce GHG
    emissions by 14% on a GWP20 basis and by 4% on a GWP100 basis. Not the killer
    app, but considering the huge health benefits, this is a straight forward
  •  Switch to carbon-neutral fuel emission standards
    (i.e. corporate average, not weight-based, and I would insist, also not
    ). Asian countries can rely here, as well as for pollution control,
    on the well-established technological advance from OECD countries. No need for
    R&D investments here.
  •  Finally, tax benefits for diesel vehicles can be
    scrapped, and taxation can follow the GHG content of fuels only.

These measures require some institutional capacities, but not much financial resources from governments. That is probably where industrial countries or the Asian Development Bank can come in with support. But Asian countries profit most, besides climate mitigation, improving public health conditions drastically, especially for the poor, and raising tax
revenues simultaneously.

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Low Carbon Transport in Asia

By Felix Creutzig

Developing Asia is at a crossroads, transport-wise. And integrating co-benefits in transport decision-makes the difference. That in a nut-shell is the message of the book Low Carbon Transport in Asia – Strategies for optimizing co-benefits by Zusman, Srinivasan and Dhakal, just getting published at Earthscan.

The book builds on established approaches to quantify co-benefits of sustainable transport benefits. According to perspective, climate change mitigation is a co-benefit of air pollution combat or transport management or, the other way around: a better air quality is the co-benefit of ambitious climate protection. With close to half of the world population living
in mostly densely populated Asia, the exposure of transport impact is particularly relevant on this continent – a co-benefit approach will deliver most in Asia. The book, an organized collection of articles around this topic summarizes conceptualization efforts and developes case studies on realizing transport co-benefits. Crucially, the book manages to transcend pure quantification efforts and analyzes barriers to co-benefit strategies and corresponding
solution strategies. Zusman et al. identify two main avenues: A) clean and affordable technologies for motorized vehicles that can have huge impact on improving the health of billions of Asians while also substantially reducing non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions; and B) transport demand management strategies that are even more comprehensive, also addressing congestion, safety, and accessibility issues, but are also more ambitious.

While there is some overlap across chapters, all a well edited and are a very good read. The true value of this book, however, is its success in bringing the transport co-benefit literature together, providing an excellent overview for scientists and policymakers.

Disclosure: I contributed to this book project.

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Weight matters – on fuel efficiency and vehicle weight

Obama has promised to put climate change front and center in Washington politics. As one of the first direct measures, Obama has directed the EPA to reconsider permitting California to impose tougher fuel standards. What does this measure mean for fighting climate change?

Obviously, measures in the transportation sector are very relevant to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change. In the US, transportation, and specifically motor vehicle use, is the largest and fastest growing source of GHG emissions among all energy sectors. Transportation alone accounts for one-third of all US emissions [1].

Current federal fuel standards (CAFE) are around 25 mpg. The Californian standards would require a fleet-wide average standard of around 35 mpg by 2016. An increase of 40% in this short time sounds quite ambitious. So is it even feasible? A look across the Atlantic is useful: by 2002, Europe already had an average consumption of 37 mpg. Just comparing these numbers, it is obvious that no technological barrier hinders California from reaching its goal. But where does this difference come from? Popular wisdom suggests that the Big Three–GM, Ford and Chrysler–were unable to develop advanced technologies. But this is not really the heart of the issue. In fact, the Detroit manufacturers contributed significant technological advancements over the last 20 years. What then is going on here?

It helps to understand what exactly “fuel efficiency” means. It turns out that fuel efficiency in the US, measured in miles per gallon, did not improve in the last two decades. Yet in that same period, manufacturers pushed heavier, more powerful cars onto the market. In fact, the consumption of gasoline per vehicle weight improved dramatically. In terms of consumption per vehicle weight, the US fleet is as good as any other region in the world [2]. Instead, the bad overall mileage is related to the high number of heavy tank-like vehicles on the streets. By 2008, more than half of all vehicle purchased in the US were SUVs or light trucks (the trend is currently changing though). So in effect, additional weight consumed all the technological improvement.

That makes one curious about why car purchases went up for heavier cars. SUVs became more popular worldwide, but especially so in the US. Is it simply that Americans like big cars more than the rest of the planet? It is probably true that gas-guzzlers are chosen as status symbols. But the story is richer. Many car owners, in fact, cite safety concerns: they can’t ride a small car when others are riding big cars. It is an arms race. Where did it find its origin?

Let us go back to the fuel standards. As a leader, the US introduced fuel standards in the 1970s as a reaction to the oil crisis. The Big Three feared the incoming Japanese competition, which produced much more fuel-efficient and smaller cars. Doing what they do best, the Big Three lobbied Congress for loopholes for light trucks, exempting them from stringent regulation and taxes. At the same time, a 25% tax on imported pickup trucks was put into place. That didn’t seem like a big deal then as those big cars made up a small market share. However, the Detroit manufacturers invested heavily in this loophole rather creating a new market for big and, due to their size, fuel-inefficient vehicles, than competing with the Japanese. [3] Detroit manufacturers chose an intermediate successful but ultimately dead-end strategy.

From this perspective, it looks much more like supply first created the demand for big vehicles. Dysfunctional fuel standards are partially to blame, allowing for different categories.

Comparison of fuel economy standards [4].

What lessons can the Obama administration learn from this when re-regulating fuel efficiency?

The Californian standard is promising but still adheres to the current double standard: a lower standard for SUVs and light trucks and a higher one for everybody else.. The updated federal CAFE standards from 2007 are also a step in the right direction, especially when the changes in the standards are front-loaded, i.e. the highest steps in fuel efficiency requirements must be taken first. The new CAFE standards are differentiated in size, i.e. larger cars have lower fuel efficiency requirements. This means that there is an incentive to reduce the vehicle weight for any given car size. However there is no incentives to reduce weight by going to smaller cars and promote them.

The Obama administration has indicated it wants to implement progressive but harmonized standards. (Harmonization makes sense, as it helps car manufacturers without harming greenhouse gas emissions). The harmonized standards could set weight independent standards. Another option is to supplement CAFE standards with market-based incentives for consumers to buy the overall more fuel-efficient cars, e.g. by a fee-bate scheme, where buyers of fuel-efficient cars get a rebate whereas buyers of fuel-inefficient cars pay a fee. This is a revenue neutral scheme.

There is much promise in fuel-efficiency standards. If Obama follows the proposed California regulation or a similar approach and implement them on federal level, overall US GHG emissions will be around 5-6% lower by 2016, assuming all else being constant. That is very successful achievement for a single measure!


[1] Energy Information Administration (EIA), Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2004, Washington DC, 2005

[2] Lee Schipper, Automobile Fuel, Economy and CO2 Emissions in Industrialized Countries: Troubling Trends through 2005/6, EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport, 2007

[3] Daniel Sperling, 2 billion cars, 2009.

[4] Feng An and Amanda Sauer, Comparison of Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards around the World, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 2004

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