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  • Writer's pictureThe Climate Coach

So what makes up emissions from transport?

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Cars, planes, trains, boats and whatever else you travel places on or in - the vast majority will have some kind of impact on climate to varying degrees. What is the impact of each?

Emissions from transport gets a disproportionate amount of coverage in the press vs other sectors which impact climate. Part of the reason is perhaps because of how noticeable these emissions are - e.g. you can hear, smell and even feel emissions from a petrol engine in a car. You also probably knew the first time you got a whiff of exhaust that it probably wasn't good stuff coming out of it.

As a result, people tend to be acutely aware of the fact that their petrol or diesel car, or taking a flight creates emissions. I think it's important to look at these emissions in context of the other emissions you create or contribute to - after all, transport only makes up around a fifth of the total globally. Given changing transport (e.g. buying an electric car) can be very expensive and not feasible for many in the short term, there may be other areas where you can make more of a difference more easily, for example by changing what you eat.

What is the best way for me to get around then?

Just walk everywhere right? Society has been built around our transport methods - whether that is the road and rail network or the heavy dependency we now have on flight or water transport, and as such it's just not possible to suggest stopping transport all together and/or just walking everywhere. So for the most part - you'll need to aim to pick the least bad option. The best place to start is looking at how much each method contributes on average globally:

Ok - wow so let's go electric then?

This chart does suggest so doesn't it and to be honest, I don't disagree. The ongoing shift to electric vehicles is clearly a good thing and over time will help significantly reduce that 74.5% of total transport emissions we have at the moment. That's reducing a total that is nearly 7 times bigger than the total from the whole of global aviation - so it's not to be sniffed at. It's also an area we have an existing solution for - so it just needs to be scaled. Countries like Norway have also clearly demonstrated it's absolutely possible with the right incentives and infrastructure in place.

That said, road freight (which accounts for another big chunk of transport emissions) will be harder to electrify, but short distance distribution (e.g. delivery to home or within a set route) should be relatively easily electrified. For everything else, hydrogen may become the best solution here.

So I'll book all those flights for holiday then?

One issue with looking at global averages is that it often masks regional variances - as demonstrated nicely by aviation in the above chart. The richest half of the worlds population make up 90% of the aviation emissions meaning if you are in a country like the UK - chances are your aviation emissions make up much much more than the global average. It's a similar story across the other areas of transport emissions too.

What about shipping and rail then?

Rail is generally a low carbon way to travel - and as such makes up a relatively small portion of global transport emissions - only around 1%. This also includes rail freight as well as passenger rail travel. Shipping forms a much larger portion and is primarily made up of transporting goods, from toys to oil to grain. Unfortunately, a lot of these emissions were created when moving manufacturing further away to drive cost saving. E.g. moving manufacture of goods for consumption in Europe from Europe to China. This may have resulted in cheaper goods for Europe but has also created increased emissions through transport.

So there we go - there is a whistle-stop tour of transport emissions which hopefully gives a good background as to where we have some opportunities. We'll talk more about specific topics within this sector in future posts...

If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

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