Decarbonising the Transport Sector with Renewables Requires Urgent Action

The transport sector is far from being on track to meet global climate targets for 2030 and 2050. Despite gains in energy efficiency, particularly in road transport, global energy demand in the transport sector has increased steadily over the past decade, due mostly to the growing number and size of vehicles on the world’s roads. The result has been a global rise in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transport sector, even as transport emissions in some regions have fallen. The sector as a whole accounted for nearly one-quarter of global energy-related GHG emissions in 2019. Even if all announced policy measures are implemented, the transport sector is expected to increase GHG emissions by 60% up to 2050, largely driven by increasing freight and non-urban transport. Road transport alone is estimated to represent at least 70% of GHG emissions from the sector by 2050 if no further measures are taken.

Energy demand for transport is growing much faster than any other sector, while transport still relies heavily on fossil fuels and has by far the lowest share of renewables among end-use sectors. Transport represents nearly a third of total final energy consumption, but only 3.7% of this was met by renewable sources. Road transport currently accounts for around three-quarters of global transport energy use.

A rapid and fundamental shift is required in transport to enable the decarbonisation required
to meet the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement, with actors in both the energy and transport sectors working together. To that end, REN21 teamed up with the FIA Foundation to do an in-depth study, released today: Renewable Energy Pathways in Road Transport. As part of the process, the two organisations also brought together a diverse group of experts, thought leaders, and industry champions from both the energy and transport sectors with the primary goal of bridging the two communities in the context of decarbonisation pathways for transport.

Renewable energy will need to play a fundamental role in the transport systems of the future. The future transport system will be much more complex, with multiple players, technologies and direct linkages to the power system. It is clear that renewable energy solutions for the road transport sector need to be embedded in a wider framework of actions that also reduce the demand for transport services, shift the choice of transport modes and increase the efficiency of vehicles – the Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework.

Decarbonising the sector with renewables will only be possible with ambitious policies that address all of these areas and that take an integrated look at the implications for the wider energy system. This needs to go hand-in-hand with energy policies that enable the rapid expansion of renewable electricity generation and the development of business cases that illustrate the benefits of embarking on renewable energy and related powertrains.

Given the difference in starting points and challenges, policies and measures will necessarily vary between countries and for urban and non-urban settings. The new report, therefore, aims to provide high-level guidance on what needs to happen to achieve decarbonisation and what the wider community can do to support governments in this effort.

Overarching guidelines for action include:

  • Define a national long-term road map for energy and transport system decarbonisation.
  • Enhance collaboration between the energy and transport sectors and ensure multi-level governance for the implementation of renewable energy solutions.
  • Tailor policy instruments to effectively implement the energy-transport road map.
  • Improve cross-sectoral knowledge, dialogue, and awareness between renewable energy and transport communities.
  • Develop tools for assessing context-specific challenges and solutions.

The final report is available here at this link. 

What comes next:

  • REN21, the FIA Foundation, and SLOCAT will take this work forward with joint initiatives to bring together energy and transport experts. Sign up to stay informed about developments and learn how to contribute.

Article written by Hannah E. Murdock