Driving change: How “Avoid & Shift” targets can transform land transport

In addressing the urgent need for climate action, the focus in the land transport sector has predominantly centred on advancing the "Improve" dimension, primarily through the electrification of the vehicle fleet. A pivotal facet in achieving a comprehensive transformation lies in establishing targets that distinctly prioritize the "Avoid & Shift" dimension. These targets should underscore the imperative to diminish the necessity for travel and facilitate a transition towards more sustainable modes of transportation. This strategic approach is not only about enhancing vehicle technology but also about rethinking our transportation habits and infrastructure. By Mohamed Hegazy and Domenik Kohl, Climate Champions Team | December 1, 2023

In transport’s  global Race to Zero, the emphasis within land transport has gravitated towards the “Improve” dimension. Notably, different 2030 Breakthroughs for passenger vehicles & vans, buses, and HGVS (heavy goods vehicles) have propelled advancements in fleet electrification, aligning with climate change mitigation goals.

It’s important to note that while electrification is an important tool for decarbonizing transport, the emerging research indicates that we cannot stay aligned with a 1.5 degree C scenario without complementing electrification with strategies that will reduce vehicle kilometers traveled. The Avoid-Shift-Improve (A-S-I) framework points out that we need better land-use practices and urban design to avoid or reduce the amount of driving needed (avoid), shift trips to more efficient, alternative modes of transport such as walking, biking, and public transit (shift), and electrify everything remaining (improve). “Avoid & Shift” strategies will support  systemic transformations necessary to achieve deep decarbonization, but they have yet to receive significant attention and resources and have yet to receive dedicated breakthrough targets.

The “Avoid” dimension entails strategies aimed at minimizing environmental impact by reducing the overall demand for travel. This involves thoughtful exploration of alternative communication modes, remote work technologies (where possible), and sustainable land and urban planning to mitigate the imperative for extensive transportation. There is a clear need for breakthroughs specifically tailored to the “Avoid” dimension, complementing the progress achieved through “Improve” breakthroughs, to further enhance advancements within the land transport sector.

Simultaneously, the “Shift” dimension calls for a transition from high-impact modes (modes with high levels of CO2 emissions) of transportation to more efficient and sustainable alternatives. While incremental strides have been made, a comprehensive sector breakthrough remains pending, emphasizing the need for concerted efforts to substantiate a notable shift towards more sustainable and accessible transportation modes. (e.g., by expanding, improving and better connecting active and public transport to shift urban mobility from cars to walking, cycling and public transport; through dedicated number of bike-lanes in cities to shift urban mobility from cars to bikes; by improving the safety, accessibility and comfort of the walking experience to shift short urban trips from cars to walking).

In the spirit of fostering international collaboration and innovation, the global transport community is called on to unite in its commitment to addressing these  transformative and essential strategies for decarbonizing transport holistically. Notably, the community has collectively defined three qualitative land transport goals for “Avoid & Shift”.

  1. Standard for convenient access to “Green” mobility options per capita:

Ensuring convenient access to sustainable transportation modes, such as walking, cycling, and public transportation, is a pivotal goal in advancing global sustainability. By focusing on providing accessible and efficient green mobility options on a per capita basis, we aim to empower communities to make environmentally conscious choices in their daily transportation needs. This goal recognizes the importance of fostering a seamless integration and upscaling of eco-friendly modes, such as public transportation, into the fabric of urban and rural landscapes, ultimately contributing to reduced carbon emissions and enhanced overall wellbeing. It involves exploring the necessary policy environment with key stakeholders including city planners and transport unions and making the changes required to achieve the proposed objective, while aligning with broader goals such as just transition.

  1. Target on percentage share of active and public transportation spending per capita:

Establishing a target percentage share for active and public transportation spending, relative to the total transportation spending per capita, serves as a strategic approach to prioritize sustainable modes. By allocating resources proportionately, we aim to encourage investments in infrastructure and services that support active and public transportation. This goal acknowledges the integral role of financial incentives in steering individuals and communities towards environmentally responsible transportation choices, fostering a shift away from high-impact modes (modes with high levels of CO2 emissions). Particularly crucial for cities experiencing rapid population growth, this goal emphasizes the necessity of strategic investments in sustainable transportation infrastructure. Institutions and all levels of governments must collaborate to achieve this objective. There must also be alignment with just transition goals, including mechanisms for social dialogue and wider community engagement from the outset, with particular consideration given to groups such as informal, women, people with different abilities, and young transport workers. In addition to fostering a positive shift of mobility, this goal empowers Sustainable Development Goal 11.2 (SDG), initiated by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). This SDG aims to ensure convenient access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transportation systems for all by 2030, notably through the expansion of public transportation.

  1. Target on mobility-related energy consumption reduction per capita:

“Avoid & Shift” specific targets are key to reduce mobility-related energy consumption, in either avoiding trips and kilometers traveled, or in shifting mobility to more energy-efficient collective modes of transport. Such action is paramount for mitigating the environmental impact of transportation. This overarching goal seeks to establish clear targets for reducing mobility-related energy consumption, complementary to actions reducing the carbon emissions of vehicles used. By aligning these reduction targets with individual mobility patterns, we aim to create a more sustainable and efficient global transportation system, thereby contributing to broader climate change mitigation efforts.

These three qualitative goals serve as a foundational step towards the definition of quantitative “Avoid & Shift” specific, land transport sector breakthroughs for COP29, laying the groundwork for comprehensive advancements. It is envisaged that these goals will serve as a guiding framework, fostering dialogue and collaboration as the global community endeavors to define breakthroughs that will shape the future of sustainable land transport. This shared responsibility calls for an unwavering dedication to implementing transformative changes, ensuring that the transport sector emerges as a global exemplar in environmental and resilient stewardship.

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