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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Nov/Dec 2002 : The Road Ahead

The Road Ahead
How can the present mobility trajectory be fixed to best move people and products in a sustainable future?

Editor’s Note: The following information was provided by the Sustainable Mobility sectorial initiative of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, a project whose purpose is to envision mobility systems for people, goods and services that are sustainable on a worldwide basis.

The Sustainable Mobility Project, launched in April 2000 by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), is motivated by the dilemma facing future mobility: on the one hand, mobility is essential to modern civilization and human needs; mobility systems are facilitators of economic activities and human relations. Mobility literally makes modern economies possible. On the other hand, there is a growing understanding that the world’s continuing and growing demand for mobility cannot be met simply by expanding today’s means of transportation.

The project intends to point the way to mobility systems which are more efficient, more equitable and less environmentally and socially disruptive, while preserving the benefits that these mobility systems provide.

Improved mobility of persons and goods has been a fundamental precondition to the standard of living now enjoyed by the vast majority of individuals living in the developed world. Improving mobility opportunities is, likewise, a precondition to enabling those living in the developing world to attain a similar standard of living.

Past improvements in mobility have been purchased at a large cost to society. Projections of the social and environmental costs of achieving the mobility opportunities sought by those not now enjoying them indicate that they will dwarf those incurred to date. It is unlikely that present levels of mobility in the developed world and the desired levels sought by the developing world are possible under a “business as usual” mindset. In short, the world’s present mobility trajectory is unsustainable.

Under the auspices of the WBCSD, members of the Sustainable Mobility Project have joined together to identify how to address this dilemma. These members are all companies whose long-term survival depends on doing so. However, they also realize that they cannot make mobility sustainable by themselves. The task requires more talent and resources than any one of them—or, indeed, the entire group—can muster.

The objective of the project is to establish a vision of sustainable mobility in 2030 and various pathways for getting there. The project covers all aspects of sustainability (social, environmental and economic); all modes of mobility (air, sea and land transportation); and all regions of the world, developing and developed countries alike. It takes a global perspective, because the challenges are global, and solutions will depend on cooperation among governments, business, consumers and other elements of civil society.

The 12 core-group companies of the project are: BP, DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Honda, Nissan, Michelin, Norsk Hydro, Renault, Shell, Toyota and Volkswagen.

The WBCSD Sustainable Mobility Project is unique in a number of ways: First, the project is unique in its membership. Many of the toughest issues facing the world in making mobility sustainable require the actions of multiple industries—as well as actions by governments and the public. The combination of motor vehicle manufacturers, energy companies, and materials and component suppliers brings a unique breadth of experience and range of capabilities to the search for sustainable mobility.

Second, the project is unique in its scope. It aims at nothing less than producing a vision for achieving sustainable mobility that would incorporate all modes of transport, the transport of goods as well as persons, and transport in the developing as well as in the developed world. Such a scope is necessary if the range of issues required to make mobility sustainable are to be understood.

Third, the project is unique in its process. It is making an extraordinary effort to reach out to an extremely wide range of stakeholders, both to assure that the perspective of its sponsors is sufficiently broad and to communicate its message.

Three Phases
The project has been organized into three phases:

> Phase One: An analysis of current patterns of mobility and their sustainability. This phase culminated in the Mobility 2001 report—a snapshot of world mobility at the turn of the century, published in October 2001.

> Phase Two: A scoping study to determine the framework and processes for development of the project’s main report. This phase ended with the adoption of goals and establishment of action teams with specific assignments to respond to the “grand challenges” posed in Mobility 2001.

> Phase Three: The main phase of the project will culminate in a final report, Sustainable Mobility 2030, scheduled for completion by December 2003.

The WBCSD Sustainable Mobility Project is only about mid-way through its scheduled lifetime. However, it already has rung up a number of important accomplishments:

> First, it has assembled a group of firms that, though competitors, must cooperate in unique ways if mobility is to become sustainable. It has helped these competitors to move beyond their parochial concerns and develop a shared understanding of what sustainable mobility means and what it may require to achieve it.

> Second, its Mobility 2001 report, which is both comprehensive and understandable to the layperson, explores mobility-related challenges that go well beyond the business interests of the group of firms that sponsored it. Other reports are addressed primarily to members of the technical community. Mobility 2001 is addressed to the public at large. It explains in clear ways the challenges facing mobility.

> Third, it has developed a broad plan of work, based upon the findings of Mobility 2001, to produce a vision of how mobility can be made sustainable and describing various possible pathways for doing so. This will result in a road map to the future both for the sponsoring companies and for the other stakeholders that must be part of any to make mobility sustainable.

Worldwide Mobility: Key Findings
The ground-breaking Mobility 2001 study identifies major threats to mobility’s continued sustainability as well as pathways to the systems that will address societal, environmental and economic concerns. It was prepared by a group of researchers from MIT and Charles River Associates. The following information details key findings included in the Mobility 2001 Executive Summary Report.

Effective and efficient mobility systems are essential to modern civilization.
> Mobility is an essential human need. Human survival and societal interaction depend in profound ways on the ability to move people and goods. Efficient mobility systems are essential facilitators of economic development—cities could not exist and global trade could not occur without systems to transport people and goods cheaply and efficiently.

Mobility systems need to become more efficient, more equitable and less environmentally and socially disruptive.
> Mobility systems currently are significant contributors to congestion, deaths, injuries from accidents, climate change, resource exhaustion, public health problems created by air pollution and noise, and ecosystem collapse. Mobility systems may also perpetuate social inequities by offering a very limited range of choices to the vulnerable sections of society, such as the poor and the elderly.

Significant improvements have been achieved in transportation vehicles as a result of technological improvement.
> Automobiles, trucks, railroads and aircraft have become more efficient, cleaner, safer and more recyclable. Though technology has enabled reduction in transportation-related emissions of pollutants, as well as significant improvements in fuel-efficiency, these improvements have been largely offset by slow fleet turnover, lack of proper maintenance, changes in the mix of light-duty vehicles and increased driving.

> Increased adoption of fuel-efficient diesel engines in passenger cars and light trucks, and the development and deployment of hybrid electric vehicles, offer the promise of further improvements in light-duty vehicle energy efficiency. Transportation is a major user of energy and overwhelmingly dependent on petroleum-based energy. Trains powered by externally supplied electricity are the principal current exception. Though presently quite limited, the use of technologies based on electricity and hydrogen-powered fuel cells and hybrids would be other important exceptions.

Urban areas of the developed-world have become dependent on the automobile.
In virtually all developed-world urban areas, the automobile plays the dominant role in providing urban mobility. Auto ownership and use has grown substantially over the last 50 years. This, in turn, has facilitated suburbanization and lower density development, damaging public transport’s competitiveness. Though public transport remains important, especially in Europe and Japan, its share of total developed-world passenger miles has been decreasing almost everywhere.

> Emissions from motor vehicles account for much of the air pollution in urban areas and for the majority of global transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

> In the next two decades, aging populations in Japan, the United States and Europe will create a significant pool of older people with mobility needs that the current automobile-dependent system will be ill-equipped to serve.

> Congestion appears to be increasing. Though reliable cross-national data are hard to find, there are indications that levels of congestion are being perceived as increasingly disruptive by the general public.

> A range of strategies is being tried to offset the adverse impacts of motor vehicles. These include traffic management strategies, promoting the increased use of public transport, the use of Intelligent Transportation Systems to increase the capacity of existing highway infrastructure, and real-time pricing of transportation facilities.

> Development of new highway infrastructure to meet increases in consumer demand for mobility is extremely difficult, in large part because of concerns related to the environmental and social disruptions caused by transport. In many places, the existing infrastructure is also deteriorating because of inadequate maintenance.

There is a large and rapidly growing unmet demand for expanded mobility in the cities of the developing world.
The developing world is urbanizing and motorizing at a very rapid rate. Cities, such as the megalopolises of India and China that are already supporting a large fraction of the world’s population, are growing and motorizing so rapidly that they have not had the time or the money to build new infrastructure or to adapt to new technologies. Further, the geographic spread of urban areas in the developing world is undermining the ability of public transport systems to provide the services on which most developing-world urban dwellers rely for the bulk of their mobility needs. As a result:

> Mobility, already poor for most developing-world urban dwellers, is declining. Pollution, much of it transport-related, is at extremely high levels and is growing worse. Transport-related carbon dioxide emissions in the developing world are growing rapidly and will surpass developed-world carbon dioxide emissions in little more than a decade if present trends continue. Deaths and injuries from transport-related accidents occur at substantially higher rates than in the developed world.

> Despite growing demand, the development of new infrastructure and the maintenance of existing facilities are difficult, often due to a lack of finances and financing mechanisms.

> Some developing-world urban areas are achieving success in dealing with these problems. Curitiba, Brazil, is a prime example. Even more than in the developed world, however, replicating these successes is proving extremely difficult.

Intercity travel is growing rapidly, especially air travel, which has a disproportionately large influence on global climate change
Intercity passenger travel accounts for a relatively small share of total trips but for a much larger and growing share of total passenger-kilometers. Air transport accounts for a rapidly growing share of intercity travel in both the developed world (where it is already significant) and the developing world. In Japan and Europe, high-speed rail plays a significant and growing role in intercity travel (four percent of all passenger kilometers in Japan and about one percent in Europe). As a result:

> Although many airports are becoming overcrowded, citizen opposition prevents their expansion or the construction of new airports. Airport noise is a perennial significant concern. In addition, airport-related emissions of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, are attracting growing attention in many urban areas.

> Air transportation is currently responsible for between eight and 12 percent of transport-related carbon emissions. Since these emissions occur at high altitudes, they have a disproportionate influence on global climate compared to the same emissions on the earth’s surface. Since air travel is projected to increase rapidly, the importance of aircraft-related greenhouse gas emissions is expected to grow.

> High-speed rail shows the potential of providing an alternative to short air trips (less than 500 km). However, high-speed rail needs significant investments and can compete successfully with air and auto alternatives only in a set of particular favorable economic environments.

Efficient freight systems are essential to the functioning of modern society but are an unexpectedly large source of carbon emissions
The ability to transport large volumes of goods long distances at very low costs enables cities to exist, farmers to find markets for their crops, firms to reap the advantages of specialized production, and consumers to have access to a vast variety of goods at affordable prices. As a result:

> Although freight transportation is relatively energy efficient, it uses an estimated 43 percent of all transportation energy. Improvements in the emission characteristics of freight-hauling vehicles are being offset by the growth in freight movements, particularly growth in high-emission truck and air freight movements, often at the expense of lower-emission rail movements.

> Vehicles transporting freight also contribute significantly to emissions of conventional pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion, noise and accidents. Further, freight-handling facilities are major users of land, especially in and near cities.

Challenges Ahead
The Mobility 2001 report concludes with a set of “grand challenges” that, being successfully met, would go a very long way to assure that mobility is sustainable. The Sustainable Mobility Project has adopted these challenges as a baseline for its future work. The “grand challenges” come in three different groups:

1. Challenges that stakeholders expect industry to take a major role in addressing because of industry’s special expertise and/or the impacts of specific products:
> Adapt the personal use motor vehicle to the future accessibility needs/requirements of the developed and developing worlds (capacity, performance, emissions, fuel use, safety, materials requirements, waste, ownership structure, etc.).

> Drastically reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, which may require phasing carbon out of transitioning from petroleum-based fuels to a portfolio of other energy sources.

2. Challenges to sustainable mobility that cannot be credibly addressed without the significant involvement of other modes:
> Provide accessibility for those not having access to personal motor vehicles in both the developed and developing worlds; provide a reasonable alternative for those who do have access to personal motor vehicles – i.e. “reinvent” the relationship between public transport and the private car.

> Resolve the competition for resources and access to infrastructure between personal and freight transportation in the urbanized areas of the developed and developing worlds.

> Anticipate congestion in inter-city transportation and develop a portfolio of mobility options for people and freight.

3. Challenges that transcend any one mode or region:
> “Reinvent” the process of planning, developing, financing and managing mobility infrastructure.

> Improve institutional capability to identify, build consensus about how to solve, and implement approaches that promote sustainable mobility.

> Ensure that our transportation systems continue to play their essential role in economic development and, through the mobility they provide, serve essential human need and enhance the quality of life.

Though each of these “grand challenges” is formidable in its own right, there is another challenge, perhaps the most formidable of all, which must be overcome if any of them are to be overcome. This is the challenge of creating the institutional capacity to address complex, long-term issues like these; the ability to develop consensus about significant changes in the structure and deployment of mobility systems across the world; and successfully designing, implementing and monitoring such changes.

If they rely on current institutional capabilities, both the developed and developing worlds will find it nearly impossible to develop consensus around how such issues ought to be addressed, develop the plans to implement the consensus solutions and carry these plans through to fruition. Though technology almost certainly will play a major role in addressing each of the “grand challenges,” it is likely that limits on institutional capacity, not limits on technology, will determine the speed with which the challenges will be addressed—or whether they get addressed at all.

For more information about the Sustainable Mobility sector project of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development—or other sector initiatives—contact the WBCSD at: 4, chemin de Conches, CH-1231 Conches-Geneva, Switzerland; (41 22) 839 31 00; fax: 41 22) 839 31 31;

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