COP26 Briefing | Post-summit analysis: How successful has COP26 been in stepping up the fight against climate change?
When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said COP26 would focus on “coal, cash, cars and trees,” it was a reminder of how critical decarbonising transport is in the race to net zero. The summit’s declaration to work towards all new cars being zero emission by 2040 globally, and by 2035 in leading markets, sounded impressive. It’s undoubtedly a step forward, but questions remain around how successfully this will be implemented in practice.
At issue is not the content of the declaration itself, but the fact that many countries and automotive manufacturers are missing from the list of signatories, including Germany, China, the US and Russia, and VW, Toyota, Honda and BMW. Those that didn’t sign up may argue that the commitment to move to electric vehicles (EVs) is there, but that they need more flexibility around targets, and BMW cited concerns around the availability of charging infrastructure as a barrier.
Infrastructure is indeed a challenge, with rapid scale-up of national charging point networks required to service all the EVs coming onto the roads in the next few years. That huge task will require high-level strategic planning, involving public and private sector cooperation, and leveraging public and private finance. It also needs to focus as much on rural areas as urban centres to avoid a two-speed roll-out.
There are other hurdles. If EVs are to become a mass market option, they need to become more affordable, finance options must become more flexible, and an effective second-hand market needs to be developed. Negative consumer perceptions around battery life, reliability and range must also be overcome. The environmental challenges of EV production, such as the sustainability of raw materials used in batteries and the length of supply chains, will need to be addressed, as will developing suitable end-of-life disposal/recycling strategies.
Alongside all this, it’s important to plan how the whole transport sector can meet the decarbonisation challenge. Significant opportunities exist to improve public transport to encourage people out of their cars.
Electrifying more of the rail network would be an easy win given that this is proven reliable technology. Creating cheaper, simpler bus and train fare structures is a must. Thinking differently about planning policy to identify outcomes that communities want (such as less commuting or more cycle paths), and then developing strategy accordingly, rather than just giving them ‘more of the same’, could make a big difference. And innovation is needed to merge new and old ideas, such as developing ride-hailing apps for mini electric or hydrogen-powered buses to target poorly served local areas.
What’s needed now is to think bigger and more laterally – not just about cars, but about transport in the round.
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