Transport and Covid-19: responses and resources

Transport at the nexus: Reflecting on COP28 and looking ahead to COP29

COP28 saw a return to a strong presence from the transport sector at the COP Summit, with the convergence of ministers and representatives around the transport and urbanisation thematic day. This was welcome coming off the back of Sharm El Sheikh’s COP27,, where, in the absence of a transport thematic day and “forcing moment", there was limited transport sector representation.

For the first time, transport was referenced in the COP28 outcome. The decision on the global stocktake called on parties to "accelerate the reduction of emissions from road transport on a range of pathways, including through the development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero- and low-emission vehicles".  Ahead of COP30 in Belém, Brazil, in 2025, Parties are required to submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These should include ambitious, economy-wide emission reduction targets aligned with 1.5 C covering all sectors, including transport. You can see how transport decarbonisation targets are reflected in existing NDCs at ITF’s tracker here.

Outside of the formal negotiations, COP28 saw several announcements on transport that support the delivery of this commitment on road transport. The Road Transport Breakthrough under the Breakthrough Agenda launched its 2024 priority international actions for initiatives and countries to collaborate to make zero-emission vehicles the new normal by 2030. Alongside this, the ZEVTC launched their 2024-25 Action Plan, which included a Global ZEV transition roadmap to accelerate ZEV deployment in emerging and developing economies. Six more countries joined the Global MOU on M-HDVs, calling for 100% new zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle (ZE-MHDV) sales by 2040 at the latest. Global MOU countries now represent roughly 21% of the MHDV sales market globally. On finance, Collective for Clean Transport Finance partners agreed to spearhead lighthouse projects on global deployment of zero-emission buses, medium and heavy-duty freight, and two- and three-wheeler electrification. ITF launched a report on how electrification in major markets may impact the trade in second-hand vehicles and, therefore, electrification of the vehicle fleet.

On shipping, several announcements were made under the green shipping challenge, including new Green Shipping Corridors, and regulatory and finance commitments. Additionally, 30 leaders signed a Joint Commitment to enable renewable hydrogen-derived shipping fuel to meet maritime industry decarbonisation targets this decade.

This was all set within the context of an array of events on transport, bringing together policy makers, industry leaders, and civil society to discuss opportunities and solutions for the sector. A key theme emerging through these discussions is nexus – how the transport decarbonisation challenges and opportunities interact with other sectors and policy goals.

This bulletin explores how some of the key nexus areas that arose at COP28 and how ITF is continuing work on them towards COP29.

Transport – Energy nexus

The most pertinent of these is the nexus between the transport and energy sectors. Transport accounts for 30% of global energy use. The ITF worked with the IEA and UAE COP28 Presidency to organise the inaugural Transport-Energy Nexus Ministerial Roundtable at the COP Summit to bring together transport and energy ministers to discuss how to work together to achieve and leverage the benefits of an aligned energy and transport transition.

The COP28 decision on the global stocktake also saw a historic commitment under which Parties are called upon to:

  • Transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems.
  • Triple renewable energy capacity globally and double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.

Delivering on these goals to transition away from fossil fuels requires ambitious and immediate action from the transport sector. 22% of fossil fuels, or 55% of oil products, went to the transport sector in 2021The transport sector has the highest reliance on fossil fuels of any other end-use sector.

Decarbonising the transport sector implies a rapid shift to electricity, low-emission fuels, low-carbon modes, and effective transport demand management.

Electrification of the vehicle fleet is already having a tangible effect on oil demand, with EVs displacing roughly 700 000 barrels of oil per day in 2022. Additionally, EV uptake is the leading cause of energy efficiency improvements in the transport sector, as EVs consume 3 to 6 times less energy to cover the same distance (PDF).

The transport sector needs renewables. Although EVs are more efficient than ICE, running them on a clean grid will ensure we achieve the emissions reductions needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Integrating transport and energy systems can provide great benefits: the electric vehicles fleet and smart chargers can represent an energy storage opportunity to support balancing, rather than burdening, power grids reliant on renewable energy.

Renewable energy is essential to deliver the low-carbon fuels required to decarbonise the shipping and aviation sectors. Sourcing sustainable carbon feedstock (e.g., from direct air capture) and producing low-carbon hydrogen (e.g., from water electrolysis) to make electro fuels (e.g., ammonia, hydrogen, and e-kerosene) are highly energy-intensive processes, that require renewable energy inputs to make them truly sustainable. ITF analysis estimates that producing enough hydrogen to displace the global shipping fuel demand in 2021 with synthetic methanol would require installing an additional 1.1 TW renewable electricity assets –167 times the total renewable capacity additions in Germany in 2021 of renewable energy in Germany.

This year ITF will explore the allocation of renewables across the transport sector, the growing gap between demand and supply of renewable energy for the transport sector and what that means for decarbonising the sector. The Clean Energy Ministerial in Foz de Iguazu represents a vital moment to engage the energy sector on the needs of the transport sector, building towards COP29 in Baku.

Additionally, the ITF Summit this year will provide a critical moment to convene the transport community around this challenge. The theme of the Summit this year is keeping focus on greening transport through times of crisis. Given the recent energy crisis, the challenges and opportunities for energy security as the transport sector decarbonises will be a key and important focus of the discussions.

To deliver the energy transition ambitions set out in the global stocktake decision, it’s essential the transport and energy sector continue in dialogue and collaborative action this year. ITF looks forward to supporting this through our Summit, the Clean Energy Ministerial and COP29.

Transport – Health nexus

The nexus between transport, climate and health objectives was also prominent at the COP28 Summit. COP28 saw the first ever health thematic day which placed a spotlight on the health arguments for climate action.

Road transport accounts for the largest part of emissions from transport, but also results in 1.3 million deaths a year in crashes, more than half pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, predominantly in urban areas. ITF’s 2023 Outlook (new indicator) found that crash risks in some regions would be up to 30% lower for pedestrians in 2050 under our high-ambition decarbonisation scenario, compared to the business-as-usual policy approach. However, it also showed that without dedicated road safety policies, crash risk for pedestrians and cyclists overall will still increase over time. Decarbonising urban mobility thus depends on policies to make streets safer and accessibility more equitable.

To discuss this further, ITF organised an event with ICLEI, IDB, ADB, UITP and WHO at the WHO pavilion to explore enabling policies to improve road safety and create the right environment for the modal shift, including:

  • Allocation of space to pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Control of motorised traffic at safe speeds and with safe vehicles.
  • Urban road and street layouts and traffic management designed to facilitate accessibility on foot, prioritising active mobility over motorised traffic.
  • Policy and regulations that grant the right of way to vulnerable road users.

Additionally, the decarbonisation of the transport sector holds the opportunity to support other health outcomes. A shift to active mobility can improve population health outcomes from physical activity. Transport tailpipe emissions were responsible for c. 385 000 premature deaths in 2015. Shifting away from technologies that emit pollutants with harmful health impacts will help avoid excess deaths from air pollution, alongside putting us on track to decarbonise the transport sector.

Last November, ITF signed an MOU with the WHO with the aim of deepening our existing co-operation on road safety and expanding to joint activities on the co-benefits of sustainable transport policies for reducing emissions and supporting health outcomes, including for active mobility, the health impacts of transport-related air, noise, soil, and water pollution, and the trade of second-hand vehicles. To embed these activities, ITF and WHO are working to establish a new Health and Safety Hub to provide a home for these activities.

This year, ITF is leading a project to “Assess Health Impacts of Low Carbon Transport Scenarios in Urban Areas”. The project will consider the impact of low-carbon mobility on indicators such as air quality, life expectancy, work absences due to illness, health expenditure alongside crash risk and road space consumption and the effects of increased physical activity on specific diseases. We look forward to presenting the report and continuing to draw links between the transport and health sectors. Successful transport decarbonisation efforts must reduce carbon emissions and prioritise urban residents' health and overall quality of life.

Transport – Urbanisation nexus

The need to clean up air becomes even more pressing as our populations become more urbanised. 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050. Planning for low-carbon transport systems offers the opportunity to plan for more liveable cities as the urban population grows.

At COP28, transport and urbanisation were synergised on the same thematic day, which gathered a large number of city representatives to discuss multilevel action to achieve objectives and the unique role of cities. A key moment was the Ministerial meeting on Urbanization and Climate Change organised by the COP28 Presidency and UN-HABITAT which convened a diverse set of ministers, local and regional leaders, financial institutions, and non-government stakeholders to discuss joint policy and finance for sustainable urbanisation across sectors including buildings, waste, transport, water, energy, and nature.   

ITF has undertaken a wealth of work on the interactions between transport decarbonisation and urbanisation. Set against the context of a growing trend towards SUVification, with now over half of new vehicles sold globally last year being SUVs, a recent ITF report found that transport that relies on smaller and shared EVs could deliver the same transport needs but require, 15% less electricity from the grid, a third less battery materials, a third less charging points, and take up a third less street space, than a transport system that relies on car-like EVs. This year ITF will explore the impacts and effectiveness of different travel demand management policies from an economic, social, and environmental perspective to draw out best practice design principles for policy makers to facilitate an efficient transition to sustainable urban transport.

Transport – Digitalisation nexus

A likely focus for COP29 is the nexus between transport and digitalisation. The role of digitalisation in enhancing connectivity and sustainability of freight corridors is an area of importance to Azerbaijan given its ambitions to become a major regional transport hub for East-West trade.

ITF analysis has found that digitally driven operational improvements is a “low-hanging fruit” that companies and policy makers can quickly deploy to reduce global freight emissions. High-impact options include implementing smart steaming by optimising port call operations in the maritime sector and using digital technology to improve truck utilisation in the road transport sector through higher asset sharing.

ITF has recently completed several projects on decarbonising transport in Azerbaijan, including the provision of modelling tools to assess trajectories of emissions for the passenger transport sector alongside a freight scenario exploration tool to assess the impact of different scenarios of freight measures, including digitalisation.

Azerbaijan is currently in the second Vice Presidency role at the ITF pending its Presidency of the ITF in 2026. Azerbaijan’s presidency of COP29 presents an opportunity to highlight and build consensus around the role of digitalisation in reducing transport emissions. ITF looks forward to continuing our close collaboration with Azerbaijan on these important issues through both the COP29 and ITF Presidencies.

COP29, the Finance COP

Far from being a nexus issue, without investment or financing, achieving global decarbonisation of the transport sector will not be possible. It is estimated that governments globally face an annual transport infrastructure financing gap of USD 244 to USD 944 billion through 2030. This is particularly pertinent to delivering a decarbonised transport system across all countries. For example, as of 2021, only 6.5% of the level of funding necessary to adequately support the early phase of the zero-emission vehicles transition in emerging economies had been delivered.

Finance will be the focus of COP29, with parties set to establish the New Collective Quantified Goal on Finance (NCQG). The extent to which this will apply to different elements of financial support necessary (mitigation/adaption/loss and damage) is still to be determined. However as specific financing and technical assistance projects are being developed across transport and linked sectors, the nexus between these different objectives should be mobilised and leveraged. For example, how can a project to support the development of renewable grids best be mobilised to support the adjacent transition to zero-emission vehicles? Or how can road safety projects best be articulated in terms of how they will support the modal shift necessary to deliver on our climate goals.

Other nexuses and taking a systemic approach

Beyond the nexuses highlighted in this note, there are many more. Labour: the workforce implications of decarbonising transport sector. Industry: decarbonising the production of vehicles. Trade: GHG emissions associated with international freight transport represent about 30% of all transport emissions and more than 7% of global GHG emissions. Tourism: three-quarters of emissions from tourism are transport related.

ITF is currently developing a new initiative to take a systems approach to sustainable transport. This will take specific challenges and use our state-of-the-art models to map systemic relationships between transport and nexus sectors, supporting dialogue between policy makers to develop implementable solutions.