Transport and Covid-19: responses and resources

Transport demand set to triple, but sector faces potential disruptions

Global demand for transport will continue to grow dramatically over the next three decades. But potential disruptions from within and without could significantly change the transport sector.

Passenger transport will increase nearly three-fold to 2050, from 44 trillion to 122 trillion passenger-kilometres. Global freight demand will also triple, according to projections published today by the International Transport Forum, an intergovernmental think tank.  

The impacts of eleven developments that could significantly disrupt the transport sector were also modelled for the ITF Transport Outlook 2019:

  • A massive uptake of shared mobility could halve vehicle-kilometres travelled in cities and reduce urban transport CO2 by 30% by 2050.
  • Widespread use of autonomous vehicles would likely increase total passenger-kilometres slightly but could still lower urban CO2 emissions - if occupancy rates are high. Self-driving trucks would shift freight from rail and rivers to trucks, with negligible impact on CO2.
  • More teleworking could lower the number of urban passenger-kilometres travelled and related CO2 emissions by around 2% in 2050.
  • More low-cost flights on long-haul routes lead to a 1% increase in total non-urban travel and related CO2 emissions.
  • More ultra-high-speed rail systems would increase total rail ridership by 1% and reduce CO2 emissions from non-urban passenger transport by less than 1%.
  • Alternative aviation fuels could dramatically reduce CO2 emissions from passenger aviation. Electrification of short-haul flights would lead to a 55% drop in domestic aviation emissions.
  • A further rapid growth of e-commerce could increase global freight volumes between 2% and 11% by 2050, depending on the transport mode used. Freight-related CO2 emissions would increase by 4%.
  • The large-scale uptake of 3D printing in manufacturing and for home use could reduce global freight volumes by 28% and related CO2 emissions by 27%. A high level of uptake is not very likely, however.
  • New trade routes could affect global trade volumes and related CO2 emissions marginally, but can have big impacts for logistics chains and transport infrastructure.
  • A large-scale introduction of high capacity trucks could lower road freight’s CO2 emissions by 3% in 2050. If long-distance road freight can switch to low- or zero-carbon fuels, its emissions would fall 16%.

The ITF Transport Outlook 2019 also examines full disruption scenarios in which several disruptive developments coincide between today and 2050.

All combined disruptions significantly reduce transport CO2 emissions:

  • The combination of shared mobility services, autonomous vehicles, and restrictions on private cars could cut urban transport CO2 by 73%;
  • The combined introduction of new technologies and improvements in logistical efficiency would lower freight-related CO2 emissions by 60% in 2050 compared to current projections.

However, such CO2 reductions will only be achieved with policies in place to guide the disruptive developments. Left to themselves, disruptions would result in much smaller emissions reductions.

Transport CO2 emissions remain a major challenge. In a scenario where current and announced mitigation policies are implemented, transport CO2 emissions are projected to grow by 60% by 2050.

Assuming more ambitious decarbonisation policies, they are projected to fall by 30%. But even this reduction would not suffice to maintain average global temperature increases well below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era, as targeted by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

To master the challenges in the coming three decades, the report encourages transport policy makers to:

  • Anticipate disruptions from outside the transport sector.
  • Create policy frameworks that foster innovation.
  • Set more ambitious policies to stop the growth of transport CO2 emissions.

 A media copy of the ITF Transport Outlook 2019 can be downloaded here:

 German version: Mobilitätsbedarf verdreifacht sich bis 2050 - Disruptionen drohen

Media Contact:
Michael KLOTH
Head of Communications
M +33 (0)6 15 95 03 27

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