Public Transport and the Climate Economy: The Key to Success

Newsletter 13, December 2021

The need for more green transport (image by iStock)

Dear ,

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The new climate-neutral economy and the role of public transport

Last month’s COP26 conference on climate change in Glasgow did not lead to a revolutionary agreement to limit the warming of the planet to 1.5°C. The UN climate summit has, however, been an important step on a long road to a new global economy based on climate neutrality.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, adopted at COP26 by all 190+ governments, has a number of accomplishments (e.g.,adaptation, finance, mitigation, and the phase-down of coal power), but it does not mention anything related to transport.

On Transport Day (Wednesday, November 10th at the COP), a sectoral deal on zero-emission cars and vans was achieved. Signed by over 30 countries and a number of cities, vehicle manufacturers, and investors, the deal includes a collaboration towards 100% zero-emission sales by 2035 at the latest in leading markets and by 2040 globally. A striking aspect is that, although the rise of electric buses has been prominent in the last decade, public transport is mentioned only in the last paragraph of the declaration.

COP26 will be the start of the big transition, also for Saudi Arabia?

Transport received modest attention during the COP26, but it is expected that it will gain more attention over the next few years. Decarbonizing the transport sector is a major challenge for governments (until now, there have been only limited results compared to other sectors), and a shift from car travel to public transport, cycling, and walking is a major solution to achieve this.

In a couple of years, we may look back at the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November 2021 as the kickoff for the major transition. This will hopefully also be the case for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the second-largest producer of oil, which is pictured in KPMG’s Net Zero Readiness Index 2021 as a country to watch. While the Kingdom currently beefs up its airline network, some experts believe the vast country should also build an extensive network of fast railway connections for passenger travel.

This is reflected in a recent news item titled “Gulf states will see passenger rail network in next decade”, in which Youssef Khalifeh, a rail expert in the region, says the biggest challenge to building a network in the Gulf region is largely cultural: "In a land where the car is king and fuel is cheap, it could take years to encourage more people to use public transportation."

It needs to be said that the COP26 has worked very well to build up pressure. It’s not a coincidence that three countries in the Gulf area announced net-zero goals in the weeks prior to the climate summit: the United Arab Emirates on October 7th, Saudi Arabia on October 23rd, and Bahrain a day later.

Public transport: the key to success in decarbonizing the transport sector

Rail and public transport are keys to the success of decarbonizing transport and increasing the share of climate-neutral travel. Mass deployment of electric cars is not enough; we need to invest more in public transport to achieve climate neutrality in a livable world that is free of road deaths, traffic jams, and travel stress.

The International Association of Public Transport UITP – one of the advocacy organizations present at COP26 – expressed this view perfectly in a recent news item on their website: “Let’s move people, not cars, for the benefit of people and the planet. If we really want to make transport faster, cheaper, and easier for all, let’s first provide people with more and better rail and public transport.”

Modasti, decarbonization of transport, and COPs

As of mid-2021, Modasti Consulting offers services in 'Decarbonization of Transport'. This includes consulting services in the following fields:

  • Extension of current (urban) rail networks
  • Electrification of railways (the phase-out of diesel trains)
  • Electrification of bus systems (scaling up grid capacity, installing charging stations and introducing electric buses)
  • Compact cities and the encouragement of active mobility (cycling and walking)

I have been active in the sustainable transport sector since 2006 (in an earlier life as owner of Balancia), and in 2013, I attended Transport Day at the COP19 in Warsaw. In this current, decisive decade for climate change, I intend to attend the annual COPs – the UN Climate Change Conferences – on a more regular basis. I will be in person at the next two: the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (November 2022), and the COP28 in the United Arab Emirates (November 2023).

If you’d like to learn more about my expertise and views on decarbonizing transport, I’d encourage you to read the following:

See you in Dubai!?

In February 2022, I will attend the MENA Transport Congress and Exhibition, organized by UITP and RTA, in Dubai. I hope to meet you there, and please drop me a message if you would like to give a reaction to this newsletter!

Arjen Jaarsma, Public Transport Expert at Modasti Consulting
Arjen Jaarsma Public Transport Expert
+31 6 235 88 096
Modasti Consulting

Modasti Consulting B.V.

Hofvijver 177, 5223 MC ’s-Hertogenbosch

the Netherlands