As long as gasoline-powered vehicles ply the nation’s highways reducing transportation pollution is perhaps the most critical element in the effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from group of federal agencies and advocacy groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund.
Once that realization sinks fully in and actions are implemented it will still take a long time, like 40 years, before significantly measurable reductions actually occur.
Will it be too-little-too-late? Possibly but that’s not the theme of Moving Cooler: Transportation Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, a study released Tuesday by Cambridge Systematics, a transportation consulting firm.
The 97-page report outlines six “strategy bundles,” including various pricing strategies such as congestion pricing, pay-as-you drive insurance and vehicle miles traveled, that if implemented in their entirety would result in annual GHG reductions of up to 47 percent annually by 2050. Pricing strategies are always controversial and political hot spots; without those in place, the GHG reductions drop dramatically to 24 percent a year by 2050.
Transportation contributes about 28 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. Transportation emissions are growing faster than those of other sectors; between 1990 and 2006 growth in U.S. transportation GHG emissions represented almost one-half (47 percent) of the increase in total U.S. GHGs.
If the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), which the U.S. House of Representatives passed last month becomes law, U.S. GHGs would need to be reduced 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.
Successfully reducing transportation greenhouse gas emissions therefore is “critical to meeting national goals” to cut GHGs. Cambridge says its report is the first comprehensive analysis of transportation efficiency and its relationship to greenhouse gas reductions and consumer savings.
“Moving Cooler provides an expanded array of options for policymakers to begin considering to ensure America can adapt to a rapidly changing world, especially given the impacts of decisions on future generations, when the climate crisis and the stability of U.S. energy supplies may present far more acute societal challenges,” says Michael Replogle, a member of the Steering Committee for the report on behalf of Environmental Defense Fund and an advisor to the U.S. Department of Transportation. “If America is to retain a globally competitive economy, it will need to address these issues squarely.”
The report says transportation GHG emissions “are the result of the interaction of four factors: vehicle fuel efficiency, the carbon content of the fuel burned, the number of miles that vehicles travel, and the operational efficiency experienced during travel.”
The range of transportation strategies that can be used to reduce GHGs fall into four basic approaches, it continues:
- Vehicle technology: improving the energy efficiency of vehicles through the implementation of more advanced technologies
- Fuel technology: reducing the carbon content of fuels by using alternative fuels such as natural gas, biofuels and hydrogen
- Travel activity: reducing the number of vehicle miles or shifting those miles to more efficient modes of transportation
- Vehicle and system operations: improving efficiency of the transportation network so that a larger share of vehicle operations occur in favorable conditions, i.e., speed and smooth traffic flows that result in more fuel efficient vehicle operations
Moving Cooler’s focus is on the strategies that fall within the latter two approaches to cutting transportation GHGs. Those strategies include pricing and taxes to raise the cost of using the transportation system and thus cut usage; land use and smart growth to create more transportation-efficient land use patterns to reduce trip lengths; non-motorized transport alternatives to driving; public transportation improvements to increase usage; regulatory strategies that moderate vehicle travel; improvements to the intelligent transportation system and mutlimodal freight sector strategies.
Some Moving Cooler findings include:
- Innovations in vehicle and fuel technology will have a substantial impact on GHGs, but these gains will largely be offset by increases in travel along with growth in the U.S. population.
- Transportation agencies and other decision makers could create effective combinations of transportation strategies that provide high-quality transportation services, while achieving meaningful GHG reductions.
- Additional investment in highway capacity and bottleneck relief could result in GHG reductions through 2030 and a negligible increase in GHGs through 2050.
- Higher levels of investment in public transportation and highways have returns of two or three times to one in terms of benefits in relation to the costs of these strategies.
“We can’t get there from here without reducing emissions from transportation,” says Colin Peppard, EDF Climate and Infrastructure Policy Director. “Fortunately, many of the strategies analyzed in Moving Cooler – like congestion pricing and expanded transit services – could be implemented within a few years and could begin to generate reductions in greenhouse gases prior to 2020. These strategies would achieve reductions relatively quickly and reduce the cumulative greenhouse gas reduction challenge in later decades.”
Moving Cooler was commissioned by a diverse group of stakeholders representing environmental action groups, transportation experts, industry, federal agencies, trade associations, and leading foundations. They include the: American Public Transportation Association, EDF, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Intelligent Transportation Society of America, Kresge Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Foundation, Shell, Surdna Foundation, Funders Network for Smart Growth, and the Urban Land Institute.
It’s is a cool name for a report and a valuable roadmap outlining choices and strategy options. It would much cooler if we could somehow move cleaner and faster on GHG reductions.