Using the Global Calculator to Analyze Ambitious Climate Initiatives for the Transport Sector

The recent transport initiatives presented at the 2014 NY climate summit were rated highly ambitious by the Global Calculator. To achieve these goals, decision makers should collaborate and track progress. Photo by Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

TheCityFix is covering cities at COP21. Urban areas account for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions but are also tremendous agents of innovation to address climate change. Read our full coverage of the Paris Climate Conference as it relates to citiesbuildings, and mobility.

Do we need disruptive change or is incremental change enough?

This question opened a discussion among a panel of experts at Transport Day during COP21. As panelists investigated this idea this throughout the day, they recognized that we have many technologies and solutions available that require greater political will to be implemented; more than that, however, we will also need to fundamentally change some of the ways we think about mobility. These approaches are captured in 14 ambitious initiatives presented at the 2014 NY climate summit convened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. These initiatives were proposed by different partnerships, organizations and industry associations reflecting the various areas of transport.

To analyze these commitments, WRI is using the Global Calculator for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to provide a multi-sectoral context and common platform for understanding the relative impact of each of these initiatives. The initial results show that—with respect to the assumptions in the Global Calculator—these initiatives range from very ambitious to extremely ambitious. Furthermore, if we are able to achieve the goals for each initiative, it would mean a large reduction in global emissions. At the same time, we need to carefully examine current trends to see if we have the right financing in place and understand the barriers well enough to turn these initiatives into reality.

Summary of Commitments

Since the transport sector accounts for around one-fifth of energy-related GHG emissions, and is growing at an increasing speed, these initiatives are key to help build an effective Paris Agreement to reduce emissions and prevent going over the 2˚C increase. In sum, the transport initiatives focus on reducing emissions through improvements to planning and operations, increased non-motorized and public transportation, vehicle improvements, and changes to freight and aviation. The initiatives on rail, public transport, and cycling aim to increase—up to doubling—the share of passengers using those modes. There is also a Vehicle Fuel E­fficiency Accelerator and a number of initiatives related to increasing the number of electric vehicles, including both cars and buses (UEMI,  ZEV Alliance,  C40 Clean Bus Declaration, Electric taxis). Aviation is focused on improving efficiency. There is also a variety of initiatives on freight which encourage improvements in air quality, adaption and emissions reduction: Green Freight, Waterborne Transport, Road Transport.

Review of Commitments

At first glance, it is clear that the commitments cover many areas of transport. In fact, this was one of the major accomplishments mentioned this year at Transport Day: bringing together areas within the transport sector to tackle climate change. In order to test the Transport Initiatives using the Global Calculator, we changed assumptions related to Levers, Modes, and Regional Variation, as well as adjustments to the energy sector. Translating these initiatives into numbers allowed us to compare them to the “Levels of Effort” in the Calculator. This showed that the initiatives fall within the range of very ambitious to extremely ambitious, meaning that while these changes may be possible, not all experts agree that these changes are feasible. There could be many barriers to reaching these targets, such as time frame, funding, or the difficulty in changing behaviors.

At the same time, our analysis (visualized below) shows that all of the commitments can make a contribution to reducing GHG emissions; the larger the circle, the larger the impact in terms of emissions reduction. While fuel efficiency and electric vehicles have long been recognized as ways to reduce emissions, our results show that public transport and rail can also make very big contributions to emissions reduction. Further, increasing public transport produces the most cost savings, while electric vehicle adoption is more expensive. The emissions reductions from electric vehicles also depends heavily on the cleanliness of the electricity grid; certain regions, however, may see major emission benefits from wide scale adoption of electric vehicles now.

Transport Initiatives Commitments and Impact Analyses. Graphic by Xiangyi Li and Erin Cooper.


Reviewing the individual commitments also shows that there is overlap in some areas, such as passenger rail in the rail commitments and public transport commitments. There are also many initiatives focusing on electrification of fleets, with few focusing on improving the land use-transport planning connection (avoid). If public transport and cycling efforts are to succeed, they will likely need to be accompanied by good land use planning. In moving forward with these initiatives, we need to consider connections between different areas of transport as well as local and national plans.

Why Scenarios Are Important

While trying to make these visions a reality, building scenarios and testing progress is an important part of measuring the success of specific measures. Scenario-building also shows us if it is possible to reach these goals. Throughout the sessions at COP21, experts say that we have solutions to many problems, but they haven’t been adopted yet. The transport sector is difficult, because while there is a large technological component, we are ultimately dealing with social and behavioral issues, as well as people’s aspirations. Tracking progress can help us to identify barriers and solutions while implementing new technologies and changes to transport systems. Using a common platform, such as the Global Calculator, also makes it easier to track the relative impact of individual actions, since it uses the same baseline assumptions.

Right Menu Icon