Addressing transport emissions from our cities

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Jane Burston, founder of the UK’s Centre for Carbon Measurement, which measures impacts on the environment and encourages the take-up of low carbon technologies, believes the UK can meet its climate targets agreed at COP21 and that new CO? emission lowering technologies the center has identified will play a big part in this.

Post-COP21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference), governments are getting to grips with the targets they have set themselves for emissions mitigation and reduction and what this means for their cities. With the world population set to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, up from 7.3 billion today, and the proportion of that population living in urban areas increasing from 54% today to 66% across the same timescale, solutions for reducing emissions from cities will be key to tackling climate change.

Transportation is the second biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) producer, accounting for 13% of urban emissions according to the United Nations (UN). The route to reducing such transport emissions is by working to bring innovative technology to cities that will make them cleaner environments. Development and promotion of new low carbon technologies will be crucial in achieving the target of limiting global temperature rise to below 20°C. Yet there are certain economic barriers to the large scale development and deployment of such technology:

• Existing GHG-heavy industries are mature and highly interlinked with modern day fuel supplies, a situation new market entrants rarely have the ability to compete with.

• Subsidies often create unfair market conditions, especially as industries that generate significant GHG levels still receive more subsidies than clean technologies. The International Energy Agency measured the total amount of subsidies to both fossil fuel and ‘clean’ industries in 2013 and it found that the former received four times more than the latter.

• Gaining funding for technologies that may not pay back in the near future makes it harder to secure capital to develop innovative technology. For example, there has lately been reluctance from venture capitalists (VC) to invest in clean technology, typically an audience that can help convert research into commercial reality. Current VC investment stands at US$4.8bn globally, far below the peak in 2008 of US$12.3bn.

To overcome this, support schemes are needed that help innovative ideas compete with existing, less environmentally friendly technology. The Decarbonathon challenge prize is one such scheme. Organized by the National Physical Laboratory’s Centre for Carbon Measurement and Engie – with support from the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and Climate-KIC – the project aims to develop innovations that mitigate CO? emissions arising from cities.

The winners of Decarbonathon were announced in January 2016 and are receiving incubation support and access to investment to help them overcome such obstacles and bring innovation to our cities. Two winners looking at reducing GHG emissions caused by cars are Mobiliteam and the Traffic Energy Bar System (TEBS).

Mobiliteam has designed a vehicle air conditioning (AC) system that performs as well as a typical car system but reduces air flow by 30%. This in turn lowers the energy used by the AC system, its fuel requirements and therefore the vehicle’s overall emissions.

TEBS, rather than directly reducing fossil fuel usage, is looking to make use of traffic to reduce energy usage elsewhere. TEBS is a system installed across high traffic areas, in which bars are pressed down by the wheels of the car as it moves over them, creating an up and down motion that generates electricity that can power other systems in the city.

While these innovations may appear very early-stage, or small scale, the potential is large. Studies have shown that there is public appetite for such technology, with research in Finland and the USA showing that the public care about use of renewable energy.

The issue of heavy pollution in cities, such as the health risks associated with diesel fumes, is also receiving widespread reporting in mainstream media, so it can be expected that demand for a reduction of transport emissions will follow. In some cities this is already happening, with plans in London in the UK to introduce an ultra low emissions zone in 2020.

We have the technology to help reduce transport emissions and there are schemes and funding through which these technologies can be developed and deployed. Social perceptions of such technology are also shifting positively, and the political will has now been found, with the timely agreements at COP21; everything is in place to deal with urban transport GHG emissions and with projects like Decarbonathon, that goal can be achieved.

February 25, 2016

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