The United Nations Global Opportunity Report 2016 asks us to rethink transportation to create lower emissions and cleaner air worldwide.
We’ve all seen the images of smog-choked Beijing, but it’s not just China facing air quality issues. Seven out of eight urban citizens are breathing air that does not meet the World Health Organization’s safe levels. Cars, planes, trucks, trains and ships are pumping out emissions at an ever-increasing rate and are a large part of our air quality issues. Gasses emitted include sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, which can be hazardous to health, as well as carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. The simple solution would be to dramatically cut back on transportation, but in a society where the ability to move goods and people across the world is critical to the global economy, how do we balance the two? And how do we use this challenge to create opportunities? The Global Opportunity Report 2016 offers three opportunities when addressing the issue of transport emissions.
As resources become more strained and consumers become more sustainability conscious, trends are shifting away from owning transport assets to sharing them. Part of this shift is a demand for the least polluting and most efficient option, including vehicles powered by renewable energy. The good news is many of these options are currently available.
The first opportunity presented in the report is flexible mobility. Currently many transport systems do not make it easy to travel around, especially in areas that are experiencing rapid urbanisation. In some places the only option is a car, or there are long waiting and travel times due to traffic congestion or infrequent services. By increasing the options available to commuters, be it more routes, having different forms of transport available or a better selection of time-tables, a more flexible and appealing system can be created. To take advantage of this opportunity collaboration between public and private sectors will be required, and the investment will be beneficial for all parties.
Crowd transport is the second opportunity discussed. A lot of the time cars have only a single occupant and trucks are being driven when they are half empty. By utilising technology more peer-to-peer systems can be put in place, and spare space can be used more efficiently. Apps such as BlaBlaCar connect drivers with passengers who are travelling to the same location and allow them to share the cost. This reduces the number of cars on the road, eases congestion, and decreases each traveller’s emissions. Similar ride sharing can be done when transporting goods.
The final opportunity identified in addressing accelerating transport emissions is the concept of low transport cities, where all the activities of daily life are within walking, cycling or short public transport journeys. Some of the key features of a low transport city are having multiple city centres, and mixed land use. The biggest opportunities lie in emerging economies, where low transport principles can be included from the beginning of the land use planning. An example incorporating low transport cities into planning is Plan Melbourne, a document that will guide Melbourne to be a polycentric city with shops, services and employment within easy reach of homes. This will significantly decrease commuting times, give people a better work life balance, and most importantly reduce transport emissions.
By utilising these opportunities we can reduce our contribution to climate change, and create a win-win outcome. As Simon Birkett, director of Clean Air in London says:
“…if we do achieve clean air, we will achieve many other objectives at the same time, such as less noise, better quality of life, and better public health and so on.”
A participant in the UN Global Compact, Court Heath Consulting seeks to raise awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals and the principles of the UN Global Compact with business and government organisations in Victoria.
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Written by Rebecca Thompson
IMAGE: Used under licence from shutterstock.com.