Inside Logistics

Worldwide transport activity to double by 2050

Study finds related emissions will rise by 16 percent compared to 2015

May 17, 2021

Global transport activity will more than double by 2050, and traffic emissions will rise by 16 percent compared to 2015 – even if existing commitments to decarbonize transport are fully implemented. Any currently expected emissions reductions will be more than offset by the increased demand for transport.

These are the key findings of the ITF Transport Outlook 2021, the biennial report of the International Transport Forum, a sister organization of the OECD.

“I am proud to present the 2021 edition of the ITF Transport Outlook,” said ITF secretary-general Young Tae Kim.

“It provides policy makers with insights from cutting-edge ITF research on the three major challenges of our time: the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and inequality. It shows how they are linked, but also identifies actions – actions that are critical to ensure an effective and equitable transition to sustainable mobility on an urban, regional and global level in the wake of the pandemic.”

The report also finds that transport CO2 emissions can be cut by almost 70 percent over the 2015-50 period with the right policies. A reduction of this magnitude would bring the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5˚C into reach.

Based on 2015 figures, today:

  • urban mobility generates 40 percent of all CO2 emissions from the movement of people,
  • non-urban transport is responsible for the remaining  60 percent;
  • 75 percent of all emissions from urban passenger transport come from private cars;
  • freight emits more than 40 percent of all transport CO2; its share is growing slightly.

If current policies remain in place between now and 2050:

  • passenger transport activity will increase 2.3-fold (measured in passenger-km);
  • freight transport activity will grow 2.6-fold (measured in tonne-km);
  • emissions from urban mobility will fall very slightly, by five percent;
  • freight CO2 emissions will grow by 22 percent.

Under ambitious policies that also lock in CO2 reduction windfalls from Covid-19:

  • cities could cut CO2 emissions from urban mobility by as much as 80 percent to 2050;
  • regional passenger transport (e.g. by air, rail, bus) could more than halve its CO2 emissions;
  • freight emissions could be 72 percent less.

Six recommendations

The report makes six recommendations for how governments can set the world on a path towards sustainable mobility, achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. Align Covid-19 recovery packages to revive the economy, combat climate change and strengthen equity. Recovery from the Covid-19 crisis offers a singular chance to combine economic development with shifting mobility behaviour and scaling up low-carbon technologies while increasing opportunities for citizens by improving access.
  2. Implement much more ambitious policies that will reverse the growth of transport CO2 emissions. Governments must set ambitious targets in the 2021 revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, underpin them with concrete policies, and reinforce them by leveraging Covid-19 recovery packages to accelerate and deepen transport decarbonization.
  3. Target different transport sectors with strategies that reflect their specific decarbonization potential and challenges. Not all strategies to “avoid, shift, and improve” are applicable across the sector in the same way.
  4. Support innovation to accelerate the technological breakthroughs needed to decarbonize transport. Technological advances are critical to effectively decarbonize transport, especially in otherwise hard‑to‑decarbonize areas such as aviation and long-haul road freight.
  5. Shift the priority to improving accessibility. Transport planning tends to conflate increased capacity with improved accessibility. Yet travelling more and further does not mean citizens have easy access to where they need to go. Transport planning that serves citizens considers their desired destinations and focuses on how well transport options connect them.
  6. Intensify collaboration with non-transport sectors and between public and private actors. Transport decarbonization is inseparable from developments in other sectors. Sustainable mobility is only possible with clean energy. In turn, low-carbon transport is central to sustainable trade and tourism.