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Setting off on a journey to decarbonise transportation 

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The transportation sector has a critical role to play in meeting the world’s climate goals, accounting as it does for 25% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. So the launch of the Transport Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA) in Leipzig at the end of May represents a clear signal that the champions from the sector are stepping up to the challenge.

The TDA brings together six countries, five cities and six leading companies involved in the sector, including engineering giant Alstom and tyre company Michelin. Their goal is to accelerate the global transformation of the transport system towards net-zero emissions by 2050.

It will do so by facilitating discussion on decarbonisation in the context of global, regional, national, local and corporate policy processes, and by leading by example in demonstrating that decarbonisation is technically feasible, economically attractive, and brings broad social and environmental benefits. TDA members also commit to advocate for accelerated decarbonisation and to engage a growing number of actors in the effort.

Going beyond governments

The goals of the alliance are, of course, highly laudable. But it is also noteworthy in what it represents within the context of the Paris Agreement and in terms of the connections and collaboration that will be necessary to address the global challenge presented by climate change.

The TDA is exactly the sort of initiative envisaged by the Lima Paris Action Agenda, introduced in 2014 to broaden climate action beyond governments to include non-state actors such as cities, regions, business and civil society groups.

It is also an example of how the global climate agenda, as set out in Paris, can be translated to the domestic level. Global climate objectives can only be met by action domestically, and the TDA will encourage and facilitate action at the domestic level.

The TDA will help to put in place the enabling conditions – government regulations, carbon pricing, reduced fossil fuel subsidies and low-carbon transport incentives – to help the transport system decarbonise. These conditions can only be introduced at the national and sub-national levels.

Connecting climate and wellbeing

The alliance also explicitly recognises the connections between climate change and other aspects of human wellbeing. Sustainable transportation has the potential to make a substantial impact on improved health outcomes, particularly in cities. Fossil fuel vehicles are major contributors to local air pollution, public transportation helps improve road safety, while encouraging walking and cycling has clear health benefits. The objectives of the alliance are clearly aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including those relating to sustainable cities, health and resilient infrastructure.

It also provides an example of the Talanoa Dialogue in action. This process was introduced by the Fijian presidency of COP21 as a means for parties to the Paris Agreement to take stock of progress towards their long-term climate goals. The TDA offers a case study in answering the second and third of the Talanoa questions: where do we want to go, and how do we get there?  WWF is also looking forward to the global Zero Emission Vehicle Summit in the UK in September, another opportunity to accelerate the transition to zero carbon transport in the spirit of the Talanoa Dialogue.

The TDA also represents, in my opinion, an example of the science-based ambition we need to see from transportation and other parts of the global economy. It is worth noting that the alliance is not the only initiative underway by transportation actors – but it is the most ambitious.

Industry is showing ambition

Earlier this year, the International Maritime Organization pledged to at least halve its carbon footprint by 2050, while pursuing efforts to phase out its emissions entirely at some point in the future. It follows the agreement reached in 2016 by the aviation sector to offset its emissions.

While both of those initiatives are to be welcomed, they are not as ambitious as they need to be to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. We are seeing a growing number of companies, across a wide range of sectors, adopting science-based targets. A new tool for the transport sector from the initiative was just released. The TDA will follow that model, in ensuring the transportation sector delivers the reductions that climate science tell us are required.

But the launch of the TDA is, of course, only the beginning. There is much work to be done to meet its objectives, and I would hope to see many more countries, cities and companies join the 17 pioneers to help realise the vision of a zero-carbon transportation system.

Find out more about the Transport Decarbonization Alliance here.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal is leader of WWF’s global climate and energy programme. He is based in Berlin.

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