What will the COP26 climate summit mean for public transport?

Newsletter 12, October 2021

A 2.9oC temperature increase by 2100, not an ideal situation for coastal cities (image by Climate Action Tracker)

Dear ,

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What can we expect from the COP26?

On October 31st, the COP26 climate summit will commence in Glasgow. This annual version of the UN climate change conference is an important one, and expectations are high. However, it remains to be seen if on November 12th, the last day of the summit, negotiations can be closed with a result that complies with the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the temperature rise to 1.5-2°C by the year 2100.

The planet is now 1.2°C warmer than the pre-industrial average. Current policies will lead to a 2.9°C rise but, considering the various pledges and targets, this could be limited to 2.4°C (these temperature increases have a wide uncertainty range, as shown by this article’s opening image).

Last July, The Economist published an article titled "A 3°C world has no safe place". It bluntly states: “If temperatures rise by 3°C above pre-industrial levels in the coming decades as they might even if everyone manages to honour today's firm pledges large parts of the tropics risk becoming too hot for outdoor work. (…) Ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland will shrink past the point of no return, promising sea rises measured not in millimetres, as today’s are, but in metres.

Cities where outdoor work for a few hours is lethal, or cities that are simply flushed away — that is not a bright future. If the negotiations at the COP26 do not prevent these drastic changes, then we have to wait for the COP31 in 2026, the next COP in a five-year recurring cycle when governments update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the national strategies for cutting emissions. The system of NDCs reflects the bottom-up approach of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

What does this mean for public transport?

It is clear that climate ambitions need to be bolder to keep our cities livable in the long run. Although climate adaptation might work to a certain extent, cities should decarbonize transport systems (e.g., by following the Transport Climate Action Directory). Many of the actions, as described in the directory (which is an International Transport Forum initiative), are quite low-tech, and examples of solutions include the following:

  • Enhanced bus networks: improving bus network layouts and timetables.
  • Enhanced signalling: improving signalling (mainly traffic lights) for public transport and active modes instead of primarily for cars.
  • Zero-emission vehicle mandates through which governments require that a minimum percentage of public transport vehicles have no (tailpipe) emissions.

Decarbonization of transport in Europe and the Gulf region

A more holistic approach to decarbonize is the EU’s initiative to reach 100 climate-neutral cities in 2030. This is aligned with their Fit for 55 package and more in general with the foreseen energy transition of the 2020s.

Even more ambitious than the European plans is THE LINE, which is the primary human settlement within NEOM, one of Saudi Arabia’s giga projects. THE LINE is a new city with zero cars, zero streets and zero carbon emissions, and it could become a blueprint for the way we will build the cities of the future. This 170 km long city will consist of walkable urban nodes that are connected via an ultra high-speed train.

Although not as holistic as in Europe, the Gulf region also has some other promising plans to reduce carbon emissions:

  • Even before the opening of Riyadh’s new metro network, authorities plan to extend the network to Qiddiya, one of Saudi Arabia’s giga projects.
  • The United Arab Emirates recently announced that the country aims to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • Bahrain, the smallest Gulf country, finds itself in the process of designing an appropriate PPP model for its new metro network.

New BRT project for Modasti

Modasti Consulting has secured a new project this month. As a sub-consultant to Movares – a leading Dutch consulting firm – I am part of a multidisciplinary team working for Knowledge Platform CROW, the Dutch technology platform for transport, infrastructure and public space. The primary goal of the project is to come up with a plan for a 50 km long Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) corridor in the Netherlands.

Feel free to drop me a message if you have any questions!

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