Air pollution caused nine million deaths in 2019, according to the latest report published by The Lancet Planetary Health. Moreover, the European Parliament now points to globalisation and the rise in trade as being responsible for the fact that land transport accounts for 19.35% of CO2 emissions, with the figures for aviation and shipping respectively standing at 3.42% and 3.15%.
The decarbonisation of transport around the world is therefore one of the main targets of the 2030 Agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), although transport was recognised by the United Nations as a fundamental aspect of the sustainable development of the planet in 1992. This has prompted many countries to start implementing measures to facilitate sustainable transport, as the transport sector was, as early as then, expected to be “the main cause of the world’s growing energy demand”.
What is sustainable transport?
At the moment society is highly dependent on transport; it’s necessary for economic growth and to connect people, it creates jobs and it promotes the exchange of goods, services, culture and knowledge. However, this massive activity is leading to a growing presence of polluting gases, especially in large cities.
The agglomerations of urban centres and the shift in consumption towards goods from increasingly distant origins have made it more urgent to adopt greener mobility. In response, sustainable transport seeks to rapidly reduce the environmental footprint and rely on clean and renewable energies so as to reduce the environmental impact resulting from the movement of goods and people.
The short-term goal of sustainable mobility is safe, accessible and environment-friendly mobility for the world’s population. This will help to reduce the levels of CO₂ emissions into the atmosphere.
Global benefits of sustainable mobility
Sustainable mobility can bring major environmental, economic, urban and health-related benefits. Most importantly of all, it reduces air pollution and noise. In addition, the replacement of combustion engine vehicles with more environment-friendly electric technology can have a major impact on people’s health, as they involve less environmental and noise pollution and in some cases promote physical exercise.
Besides, the use of electric transport can generate savings for the user, given that, although the initial investment is higher, it’s cheaper to maintain and it also entails tax benefits. Vehicles with green technology have fewer components and therefore have fewer replacement procedures and requirements.
Another economic benefit of green mobility is the development of a new industry, leading to an increase in the supply of new jobs. The electric vehicle industry is undergoing exponential growth worldwide, with sales expected to increase by 35% by 2023, according to the assessments made in the Electric Vehicle Outlook report.
The commitment to sustainable mobility and the promotion of other means of transport also contribute to the transformation of cities. The central areas have to cope with slightly fewer combustion vehicles, giving way to green and pedestrian areas, with a major emphasis on bicycles and sustainable public transport.
What kinds of sustainable transport are there in cities?
In order to overcome the challenges of current-day mobility, there are numerous examples of governmental and private sustainable transport that are seeking to develop alternatives.
Electric city buses
Electric city buses are an excellent measure for combating the pollution emitted by public transport. These vehicles use the energy previously stored in their batteries to drive the electric engines. The UN estimates that, thanks to these vehicles, approximately 1,400 million tonnes of CO₂ and almost 30 million tonnes of particulate pollutants can be prevented.
Electric car sharing
The most common way of using a car has been by purchasing one, but in recent years a more alternative method has become popular in large cities: electric car sharing. This format makes it possible to rent a sustainable car for journeys, thus reducing the use of private vehicles and improving the supply of public transport. Thanks to their connectivity, these platforms geolocate the cat nearest the user, indicate the battery level available and calculate the distance travelled.
The same system of rental platforms is used for the hiring out electric motorbikes, bicycles and scooters.
Sustainable freight transport
It’s also necessary to look for sustainable alternatives in the field of freight transport, such as prioritising rail. However, in many cases this isn’t possible due to the complexity of the logistics. Therefore, in order to reduce fuel costs, transport companies may choose to purchase existing vehicles. In addition, the driving mode is a decisive factor when it comes to fuel economy, as it can lead to more efficient fuel consumption and considerably lower CO₂ emissions.
In terms of urban delivery transport, also known as “last mile”, electric motor vehicles and bicycles are becoming more and more common.
Smart roads are another example of technology’s contribution to sustainable transport. These roads incorporate advanced technology in terms of safety, vehicle charging and connectivity. The technologies that make smart roads a reality include photovoltaic pavements with charging systems, elements interconnected via 5G such as traffic signals, smart zebra crossings with LEDs and projectors, and the use of Big Data to manage urban mobility flows, among many others.