Transportation, you, and the Race to Zero

By Heather Jones, Transportation Research Fellow, Project Drawdown | November 10, 2021

Transportation produces 24% of all direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, according to the International Energy Agency. Transportation can change from being a high-emitting sector to being a climate solution. And that all depends on you.

As the world came to a standstill from the lockdowns that began in March 2020, did you notice changes in your city and environment? If you lived in a major city, you certainly did—but even smaller, less densely populated areas saw less noise from traffic, less pollution, and less congestion. You probably saw more delivery vehicles too. As office workers begin to return onsite and people are starting to travel, our choices—your choices—are critical to how the recovery is shaped.

Let’s start with the most obvious, personal travel. For each trip you take, you decide whether to walk, bicycle, drive, carpool, or take public transit. If you don’t have good, safe options for some of the modes, join other individuals and groups in demanding that cities provide walkable cities, bicycle infrastructure and good public transport.

Governments and candidates are beginning to listen and make changes. Many cities recently added pop-up bicycle lanes and made streets closed to cars or made them slow or shared with pedestrians and bicyclists. Some cities even offered incentives to trade old cars for e-bikes or to purchase or repair traditional bicycles.

Companies also are understanding that many workers would rather work from home but when coming into the work space, bicycle lockers and showers are becoming a better draw for some workers over a parking space.

Let’s go a step further. What if you decided not to fly for your next vacation? Try seeing how far you can go across your country or continent and what great places you can visit by public transit such as bus, train, carpooling or even boat. France just banned all domestic flights between cities that can be reached by high-speed rail.

A less obvious transportation issue is freight. All nodes along the value chain are important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but urban freight delivery is often overlooked. Remember the rapid increase in delivery truck and vehicles that began in 2020? Do you really need same-day or two-day delivery? Does it have to be directly to your house?

Many companies, especially in Europe, are beginning to deploy electric cargo bikes for last-mile deliveries—an important step to decarbonizing transport. But individuals—you—can make a bigger difference. Try choosing larger windows for delivery times, picking up your packages from a depot or locker, making larger purchases of groceries or from restaurants for fewer deliveries, and pushing companies for the option to have your order delivered by lower or zero emission vehicles.

Let’s go a step further again. What if we all decided not to own things? Many teens are not getting drivers licenses, which means less renting and buying of cars. Seoul is striving for a true sharing economy by sharing cars, bikes, tools, books, toys, and even physical space. They are encouraging multiple generations of unrelated people in households. Fewer goods purchased means fewer goods manufactured and fewer goods transported.

Transportation is responsible for a big chunk of climate emissions. Reducing that will take systemic change – but systemic change starts with you. If you do your share, encourage others to do theirs, and encourage policymakers to formalize the shift, we’ll all be one big step closer to a zero carbon world.