IEA: Transport efficiency gains could save $70 trillion by 2050

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Improving the energy efficiency of urban transport systems could save as much as $70 trillion (€54.6 trillion) in spending on vehicles, fuel and transport infrastructure by mid-century, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

‘A Tale of Renewed Cities’ says that annual global urban transport emissions are projected to double to nearly one billion annual tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2025, and that 90% of this growth will come from private cars.

Launching the report, the IEA’s executive director, Maria van der Hoeven, said that the need for affordable, efficient and safe public transport would be acute by 2050, when 70% of the world’s population is projected to be living in cities.

“Urgent steps to improve the efficiency of urban transport systems are needed not only for energy security reasons, but also to mitigate the numerous negative climate, noise, air pollution, congestion and economic impacts of rising urban transport volumes,” she said.

Using studies of Belgrade, Seoul, New York and more than 30 other cities, the IEA groups urban transport energy efficiency into three categories – travel avoidance, encouraging more efficient travel modes, and improving vehicle and fuel technologies.  

Better city planning and travel demand management is recommended to deter unnecessary travel. Equally, encouraging public transit, walking, cycling, and freight rail are described as ‘shift’ policies that move travel away from cars.

The introduction of more energy-efficient fuels and vehicles – in the form of low-carbon cars and tightened fuel economy standards – is seen as crucial to reducing energy consumption.

Transport currently accounts for half of global oil consumption and nearly 20% of world energy use, of which around 40% is used in urban transport alone.

On current trends, the IEA expects the amount of energy consumption used by urban transport to double by 2050, despite ongoing vehicle technology and fuel economy improvements.

Europe’s transport system is 94 % dependent on oil, according to the European Commission and 84 % of it is imported, at a cost of up to €1 billion per day. The ‘externalities’ or costs to the environment have not been calculated.

While research and technological development have led to successful demonstrations of alternative fuel solutions for all transport modes, market take-up will require additional policy action.

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