Sustainable mobility and transport

Do you know the 2030 and 2050 targets for sustainable mobility? No? Then you are in the right place. Today’s topic is sustainable mobility and in particular public transport, a topic we have rarely heard about in Italy and many other countries in the last couple of years, except in connection with COVID restrictions. I am fed up with it and so I propose this update.

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The topics 

  • Why did I want to cover this topic?
  • How is sustainable mobility defined?
  • How are different places in the world improving their mobility?
  • Non-motorised transport solutions
  • Can we talk about sustainable aviation? Solutions, times and modes.
  • Why did I want to talk about sustainable mobility and transport? 

I am sensitive to the topic because public transport is my main means of transport and I firmly believe that having an efficient transport system is in 2021 a sign of civilisation, an essential tool for economic and social development. I firmly believe that a private car should NOT be necessary to live in Europe, but reality often seems to show me the opposite. Even if we love to complain about traffic, smog pollution, cities are not made for pedestrians. The important thing is that we are not asked to change our habits. 

Controversy aside, every now and then there is some good news on the subject, which is why I wanted to talk about it, to underline information that perhaps passes too quickly in our daily lives.

Our neighbours in Switzerland have recently inaugurated their green boat, and on 4 November 2021, they were already talking about the first tonne of CO2 and the first 500 litres of diesel saved. The article doesn’t actually explain much more. For example, the first tonne of CO2 compared to when? There are few useful references for real comparisons. It would be interesting to check the savings per day, week, month and year! Source tio.ch Electric boat: saving the first tonne of CO2.

I wanted to talk about this subject, not least because it is so closely linked to tourism, hospitality and all kinds of travel. Practically 85% of my hotel guests arrive by their own motorised means of transport, but once they have reached their destination, their greatest wish is to find a parking space and leave their car behind. How can I not understand them? I do the same when I travel by car out of necessity, I can’t wait to get out, walk around and discover the place. In tourism, there are basically two types of transport needed: movement to the place (how I get there) and discovery of the destination (how I get around once I get there). The role of the travel operator is crucial in both cases as a representative of the destination.

How do you define sustainable mobility? 

Transport is a crucial driver of economic and social development, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) says. Transport infrastructure connects people to work, to education, to health care and to each other. Transport enables global trade and I would add tourism.

At the same time, transport contributes to air pollution and climate change. Its infrastructure has serious impacts on ecosystems. Transport accounts for about 64% of global oil consumption, 27% of all energy consumption and 23% of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Each year, nearly 185,000 deaths can be directly attributed to vehicle pollution. More than 1.25 million people are killed and up to 50 million injured on the world’s roads each year (World Bank, 2019).
The definition of sustainable mobility shared by ISPRA (Italian Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale)  is the one elaborated in 2000 by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) scholars – on behalf of the WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development) – who established that sustainable mobility consists of “the ability to meet society’s needs for free movement, access, communication, trade and relationships without sacrificing other essential human and ecological values now and in the future”.

The city and its internal and external relations are the settings for sustainable mobility. In a narrower sense, it indicates the mode of travel, particularly in urban areas, characterised by the use of vehicles (electric and hybrid cars, bicycles, motorbikes and electric scooters) and intermodal transport (use of public transport) and flexible collective transport (bike-sharing, car-sharing, car-pooling, taxis) useful for reducing air pollution, noise pollution and road traffic congestion. 

In Italy, sustainable mobility policies were officially introduced with the Interministerial Decree on sustainable mobility in urban areas.  (Ministerial Decree 27/03/1998, also known as the Ronchi Decree) . 

In urban areas, most journeys take place over short to medium distances. According to ISFORT, Italian Istituto Superiore di formazione e ricerca per i trasporti, about 75% of journeys in Italy take place within a 10 km radius, where the impact of an unsustainable transport system is greatest. 

Sustainable mobility aims to reconcile the right to mobility with the need to reduce the negative impacts associated with it. In general, the transport system can be defined as sustainable when it: 

  • allows easy access to places, goods and services;
  • satisfies the needs of different categories of users and does not compromise the use of land for future generations;
  • it is compatible with the health and safety of the population; 
  • promotes community education and participation in transport decisions – involves experts in an integrated planning process;
  • respects environmental integrity and promotes economic well-being.

Source ISPRA glossary http://Source ISPRA glossary https://www.isprambiente.gov.it/files/mobility-manager/glossario

But the question that arises is… Where will we generate the electricity that, according to the latest Italian (e-Mob festival in Milan) and international ( United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Beijing) updates, will be the protagonist from now until at least 2050?

This is an open question, one that I ask myself when I hear talk of renewables, nuclear power and, of course, oil. In fact, cities often pass off solutions without specifying all the details. If we really knew where and how to create the electricity needed to make the most advanced vehicles run on electricity, we would probably finally be forced to find better solutions.

In spite of a thousand doubts (I am not the only one, of course!), there are various realities and places in the world that are at least trying.

And they are trying, taking into account not only decarbonisation but also the necessary reduction in traffic, the essential speed of movement to get to work and the essential possibility for everyone to use public transport.

How are different places in the world improving their mobility?

The IISD 2021 paper provides some interesting examples.

This is the part where we understand how to live or visit a destination. 

Jakarta, Indonesia, population 30 million, won the Sustainable Transport Award in 2020 for its integrated public transport system. 

Transjakarta, the city’s rapid transit bus (BRT) system, reached the milestone of serving one million passengers a day in February 2020.

Opened in 2004, Transjakarta is the longest BRT system in the world, spanning more than 250km, with dedicated bus lanes taking passengers around the city (ICCT, 2020).

It also connects to smaller vehicles, including local buses and informal microbuses, allowing the system to serve a wider region and more residential areas that are inaccessible with BRT alone.

BRT systems provide metropolitan-level services through dedicated lanes, with bus routes and stations typically aligned to the centre of the road, off-board fare collection and fast and frequent operations (ITDP, 2020). 

They are more reliable, convenient and faster than normal bus services, and avoid traffic congestion and long queues to pay fares.

In Berlin, investment is once again being made in the electric tram lines that were discontinued 30 years ago with the fall of the Wall. There are 1.2 million cars on the streets of the German capital every day and the measures taken in recent years to limit them have not had the desired effect. Today, the city is aiming to electrify all buses by 2030, expand the metro and suburban trains, add bike lanes and build 80 kilometres of tram lines by 2035.

Bergen, Norway, is converting its public ferries from diesel to batteries – a remarkable step-change in a country that for decades fuelled its public finances by selling oil and gas, and now wants to become a leader in low-emission shipping. In the city, even the buses are electric,

Bogotá is focusing on cable cars that connect the hilly districts inhabited by the working class to the city centre. The inhabitants of the Ciudad Bolivar neighbourhood in the south of the metropolis can now use a cable car to reach the main bus station in just a few minutes, saving up to two hours a day on their way to work. 

Non-motorised transport solutions

It is not only correct to consider just electrification for sustainable mobility development: sustainable transport also includes the quality of life of inhabitants. 

Share the Road, an initiative led by the United Nations Environment Programme launched in 2008, supports investments in walking and cycling infrastructure, including public transport system connections.

The initiative has promoted non-motorised transport in Mexico, Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Indonesia.

In Buenos Aires, a street that once had 20 lanes of traffic now dedicates the centre of the road to buses. When the city made the change a few years ago, travel times were dramatically reduced. Buses no longer needed to use crowded side streets, which freed up about 100 blocks for pedestrian priority areas where cars are restricted (Peters, 2019). 

Similarly, in Cuenca, Ecuador, the historic city centre was transformed with specific pedestrian priority access for public transport.

In Coimbatore, India, and Lisbon, Portugal, pedestrians and cyclists have priority access, demonstrating a mental shift from a car-oriented society towards a greater focus on pedestrians. 

Guangzhou, China, has a new 500 km (311 mi) greenway for pedestrians and cyclists (ITDP, 2020).

Cycling has been a major focus in many cities, from the implementation of bike-sharing programmes to the increase of cycle lanes and bicycle parking. Niterói in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Frankfurt, Germany, and Guatemala City, Guatemala, is investing in cycling infrastructure.           

Pandemic-related travel restrictions have temporarily led to emission reductions and improved air quality in some areas prone to high smog and air pollution. For example, New Delhi, India, one of the most polluted cities in the world, has seen some of the cleanest air in decades. 

Several European cities have used the closures as an opportunity to adopt more sustainable transport strategies for their residents. They closed roads to cars, created pedestrian centres and expanded bicycle lanes to help people maintain physical distance while commuting during the crisis and to improve post-pandemic economic activity and quality of life.

In Milan and the surrounding region, car traffic congestion fell by 30 to 75 per cent during the Italian blockade. The city responded by transforming 35 km of streets with widened bicycle lanes and pavements so that residents could navigate the streets with the required social spacing (Laker, 2020). 

Since the start of the COVID recovery phase, European cities and national governments have allocated at least €823 million to active mobility and announced more than 1,200 km of cycling infrastructure, including in Brussels and Paris (Chini, 2020). 

Can we talk about sustainable aviation? Solutions, times and ways

In order to move from one place to another, there is often only one means of doing so in the shortest possible time: the plane. I am convinced that if changing our daily habits is difficult, the sporadic ones linked to tourism, but also the commercial ones of air freight transport will be even more challenging to change. This is why I want to conclude this article with the topic of aviation and aviation.  

Personally I no longer consider offsetting a valid and useful practice in all sectors to decarbonise an activity, in fact, I believe that this practice (valid for small numbers) allows us to be more comfortable and lazy in achieving important goals. I looked for more impactful solutions.

There are currently two main realities in the field of sustainable aviation: The Clean skies for tomorrow coalition and sustainable aviation. 

The Clean Skies for Tomorrow coalition works with executives and public leaders to align on a transition to sustainable aviation fuels as part of a meaningful and proactive pathway to zero carbon flight.

The Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition is led by the World Economic Forum in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Energy Transitions Commission. It is advanced through close consultation with its advisory partner, the Air Transport Action Group.

Founding members include Airbus Group, Heathrow Airport, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Royal Schiphol Group, Shell, SkyNRG, SpiceJet and The Boeing Company.

Stakeholders are working together to address the situation where producers and consumers are unwilling or unable to bear the upfront cost of investing in new technologies to achieve competitiveness with existing fossil fuel options.

Coalition members are advancing jointly developed initiatives to break this impasse, to advance the production of sustainable, low-carbon aviation fuels (bio and synthetic) for wide industry adoption by 2030. 

Sustainable Aviation (a UK strategy since 2005) has published a new short film showing the various ways in which zero aviation is being taken forward today. They can be summarised as follows:

  • Improving operational efficiency;
  • Switching to sustainable aviation fuels;
  • Building the next generation of aircraft;
  • Managing residual emissions through carbon removal.

The video in English during COP26 https://youtu.be/bWdKLA6gRsU 

The second point on how to achieve zero aviation by 2050 is to switch to sustainable aviation fuels.  Other solutions exist, but require more development time to be ready and operational. An interesting article by Euronews.com/green explains what is meant by sustainable fuels and the website Compare private Planes specifies some topics. 

Sustainable aviation fuel, commonly referred to as SAF, is a sustainable version of Jet A and Jet A-1 fuel.

What I understand to be the benefits of this approach are: 

  • The reduction of CO2 emissions. Of course, this is in comparison to conventional aviation fuel. This is achieved through the carbon source. Fossil fuels release additional carbon previously stored in deposits. In comparison, SAF recycles CO2 emissions that were previously emitted. These emissions were then reintroduced into the atmosphere during biomass production.
  • SAF is a completely drop-in solution. That is, aircraft can be powered by SAF without having to be modified in any way.
  • SAF consists of a mixture of conventional jet fuel with unconventional and more sustainable blending agents. 
  • SAF avoid direct and indirect land-use change. For example, tropical deforestation does not occur for the production of SAF. Furthermore, SAF production does not replace or compete with food crops. This, therefore, results in a positive socio-economic impact.
  • Another benefit of SAF is an improvement in local air quality. Sustainable aviation fuel can see a reduction of up to 90% in particulate matter (PM) and a reduction of up to 100% in sulphur (SOX).
  • SAF can also provide a marginal increase in fuel efficiency, a 1.5% to 3% increase in fuel efficiency can occur. It will also decrease its hourly fuel consumption figure. This, in turn, will reduce the emissions produced by an aircraft during its mission.

Sustainable aviation fuels are produced from biomass or recycled carbon. In terms of SAF production, there are a variety of sources. From cooking oil to vegetable oil. Municipal solid waste to wood waste. In addition, waste gas, sugars and specially grown biomass can be used.

Of course, other, more effective solutions are being developed. For example, introducing hydrogen or electrically powered aircraft. However, there is still a long way to go before these propulsion systems enter the mainstream.

The disadvantages are clearer and more concise.

Sustainable aviation fuel should be supported by all in an effort to reduce emissions. The disadvantages of SAF are price and availability.

As would be expected, SAF is more expensive to produce than conventional jet fuel. Because SAF is relatively new and produced in smaller quantities than conventional jet fuel there are not the economies of scale to reduce the price to that of jet fuel.

Therefore, when it comes to refuelling an aircraft, SAF will cost more than conventional jet fuel. And, as is common, this expense will be passed on to the consumer. 

The second drawback of SAF is availability. SAF cannot be stored in the same tanks as jet fuel. Therefore, airports need alternative facilities to support this alternative. This requires additional investment by the airport. The issue here is what advantage does the airport get for providing SAF?

There are currently 38 airports around the world offering sustainable aviation fuel. Most of these airports are based in North America and Europe. However, this can only be considered the beginning.

How does it reduce emissions?

When analysing the benefits of SAF and its positive impact, the crucial term that emerges is ‘life cycle’.

There are a number of factors that influence the exact percentage reduction in carbon emissions. For example, factors such as the raw material used, the method of production and the supply chain to the airport will all affect its effectiveness.

This, therefore, leads to its method of reducing emissions. In essence, emissions are reduced moderately at each stage.

The SAF starts with the growth of raw materials. This is then transported, processed, refined and blended, distributed to airports and then flown.

However, the production of SAF is more cyclical than normal fuel. That is, the feedstock used for SAF absorbs some of the carbon produced by burning the fuel.

The future of SAF

SAF is key to achieving the industry’s 2050 targets.

“Even by 2050, jet fuel is still likely to be the main source of energy for aviation, as hydrogen is unlikely to be able to cope with the propulsion of long-range wide-body aircraft in this timeframe,” says Moyes.

“So SAF is critical to achieving the industry’s (sustainability) goals for 2050.” 

As aviation remains a “hard to beat” sector in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, strong climate action by the industry is particularly important as travel begins to return to pre-pandemic levels. Accelerating the supply and use of SAF technologies to reach 10% of the global jet fuel supply by 2030 is a significant move to put the aviation industry on the path to net-zero emissions.

This will only be possible through the concerted effort of industry leaders. Sixty organisations have signed the 2030 Ambition Statement.

Signatory companies include airlines, airports, fuel suppliers and other aviation innovators from around the world. They also include non-aviation companies that rely on corporate air travel for their business operations, demonstrating that the responsibility to decarbonise the industry lies with all those who depend on aviation.

SAF currently costs two to eight times more than its fossil fuel-based alternative.

In 2019, less than 200,000 metric tonnes were produced globally – less than 0.1% of the approximately 300 million tonnes of jet fuel used by commercial airlines, according to a November 2020 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and McKinsey, which also signed off on the effort as a business that relies on air travel.

The report found that if all publicly announced SAF projects are completed, volumes will reach just over 1% of the projected global demand for jet fuel in 2030 – a fraction of the target.

By far the cleanest means of producing SAF is by combining green hydrogen with carbon dioxide captured directly from the atmosphere to produce synthetic fuel. This is sometimes called e-kerosene or power-to-liquid.

But the technology to develop this fuel is immature and it could take a decade before it is widely available, according to Sami Jauhiainen, vice president of business development at Finland’s Neste, currently the world’s largest producer of SAF.

I hope you enjoyed this article! Are you interested in this topic?
Please share your opinion, email me or write to me on social media. I always enjoy reading your comments!

Sara – tourism sector consultant

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