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Impact of Climate Change on the Future of Transportation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 3553 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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How will climate change affect the future of transportation?


Transportation accounts for 26% of the total amount of greenhouse emissions, and it is still one of the few sectors which still has a growth tendency (Olivier,2017). Car use, road freight, trains and airplanes are the principal contributors to, and efforts have been placed in order to reduce these noxious emissions.

If the industry continues as it is right now, the consequences in a long-term basis will be devastating. New initiatives such as the use of alternative fuels are brought up, but the current technology is unable to fulfill the necessities of the societies. In addition, there must exist a behavioral change, especially on the reliance of the private transport rather than using the public one.

There are many new technologies coming out to the market, but their availability to the society will not be until 15-20 years’ time, so mitigation actions shall be performed in order to protect our environment because a no return point may be reached, having negative consequences to our planet and future generations.

Statement of the Problem

Firstly, oil accounts for the 81% of the total energy used by the transport sector (EIA,2015). This almost complete dependence on fossil fuel makes transportation a major contributor to the still increase of greenhouse gases. Due to this previously mentioned fact, transport was one of the key sectors highlighted at the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997 by 192 countries. The overall aim was to reduce the amount of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 % of 1990 levels by 2012, which has not been accomplished. In fact, the United States and Canada do not belong to it anymore.

Focusing on figures, it can be stated that road transport is the biggest producer of greenhouse gases in transportation. Road transport accounts for cars, buses, taxis and inter-city coaches, but in fact, more than 50% of the generated emissions come from road freight.

After road transport, aviation is the second biggest contributor to climate change. It shall be mentioned that it is much more environmentally damaging than road transportation as other noxious gases are directly released into the upper atmosphere, where the localized effects can be more damaging than the effects of CO2 by itself.

The fuel use in transportation sector and transport modes in OECD[1] countries is as follow:

Figure 1 Fuel use in transportation sector and transport modes in OECD countries graph

Any action taken to reduce the harming effects of greenhouse effects will be welcomed by the society. The following section proposes certain actions that could be carried out as well as certain proposals to help out our environment. 


Many actions can be taken in order to mitigate the negative effects of greenhouse gases. The following actions will be discussed along this paper: Car Ownership and Use, Road Freight, Aviation, Public Transport incentives and New Regulations.

Car Ownership and Use

The developed world is extremely obsessed with the car ownership. It varies depending on what part of the World is analyzed. As a matter of fact, there are 910 cars per 1000 people in the United States, making it the largest country of vehicles per capita in the World. In contrast, there are 465 cars per 1000 people in Europe (Abraham,2012). This is mainly due to an outstanding public transportation system as well as more restrictive laws relating motor vehicles. Even though the number of cars per capita is lower in Europe, habitants still rely on the car. In fact, it is estimated that about 40% of the journeys could have been completed using an alternative transport method. Nevertheless, there is still a continuous increase on car ownership. Unless there exist a behavioral change as well as investment, the only viable option is improvements in technology tackling the environmental damage caused by the motor car.

There are many viable paths in which the reduction on car use could be approached. Some of them are as follow:

  1. Increase taxation when purchasing a “dirty” car as well as increasing parking rates in downtown areas.

These policies will force people to switch to hybrid or electric cars as well as encouraging the use of public transport for commuting. For instance, in many cities in Spain such as Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, street parking rates are based on how “dirty” your car is. The more unclean, the more expensive will be parking.

  1. Flat Public Transport Fares and efficiency improvement

Many people do not consider public transport either because driving is more efficient in terms of time or because schedules do not meet their necessities. In fact, many times, the time needed to park in downtown is not considered, which in cities with limited parking, it might almost be an impossible task.

Moreover, communities should work closely with town-halls and regional governments in order to improve schedules and adding extra services during rush hours if needed.

  1. Encouraging car manufacturers in developing new technologies

Many German manufacturers, like Volkswagen, Audi, BMW or Mercedes still rely on diesel as their main engine option for cars sold in Europe. In contrast, Asian Cars such as KIA, Hyundai or Toyota are stopping the manufacturing of diesel car in favor of hybrid vehicles.

As a matter of fact, German companies have realized that they should move forward if they still want to sell the same number of cars they used to. German manufacturers are starting to include a hybrid version in all models and getting rid of the diesel engines.

Many European Governments as well as the European Union are working closely on supporting new clean car technologies and giving incentives to customers if they purchase a “clean” car inside the Clean Vehicle Europe Program.

Figure 2 Clean Vehicle Europe Program Logo

Road Freight

The growth of road freight is continuous and is generating an environmental burden. In fact, the movement of freight accounts for 43% of all transportation energy and it has not stopped growing since the end of the economic crisis. CO2 emissions from freight relative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are dominated by trucks, since they are the most viable option.

Some mitigation actions that could be considered could be as follow:

  1. Improve truck fuel-efficiency

Since 1980, fuel efficiency has improved up to a 20% by improving engine performance as well as the truck’s aerodynamics. In addition, if certain initiatives were enforced, an increase of a 15-20% of the performance efficiency could be achieved. New technology will be essential when it comes to reduce the environmental cost of freight.

  1. New infrastructures

Since the start of the 21st century, the European Union has been dealing with the problem of moving goods inside its territory. There have been many studies regarding which way will be best in order to distribute products around it. The final solution was called the Trans-European Transport Network. European Union has one of the best and most underutilized track networks of the World. In fact, around 85% of the tracks are electrified, so the energy that is used to power the trains may (not always) be cleaner than moving trucks around. The idea is leaving out them just for bringing in and out the containers from Point A to Station A and from Station B to Point B. The European Union is working towards it and expected to be fully operational by the year 2030.

  1. Maximizing the amount of goods distributed per truck

Most of the trucks are not fully-loaded when it comes to performing certain routes.


Aviation is a major environmental concern, not only because the emission of vast quantities of pollutants, but also due to pollution at local and regional level. Even though its short history, aviation has had an increase of 9% a year until 1997, where it slowed to around 5%. The terrible attacks of 9/11 had a strong impact in the aviation growth, but eventually, it was able to recover. Currently, aviation is an essential part of the world economic system, but the increase of traffic will lead to delays in landing, increased greenhouse gas emissions and eventually, an institutional failure leading to an unsustainable airport expansion program.

Some mitigation actions that could be taken place may be as follow:

  1. Add a clean taxation to kerosene

Nowadays, kerosene has no tax. There have been multiple attempts to add it, but they all have been unsuccessful due to the difficulties of reaching international agreements. A good approach could be the addition of a clean tax to it and using it to reforest areas in order to mitigate its noxious effects.

Alternative policies shall be considered as well. They could be as follow: Optimizing the existing air capacity in order to counteract the current airport expansion trend or increasing the price of the slot, so airlines will make sure to maximize the income generated by each flight.

  1. Research for new fuel alternatives

This topic is current under research and there are many positives outcomes. Currently, it is under investigation the use of low concentration biodiesel, which could be introduced without significant changes to aircraft or airport infrastructure, but there is a concern of the biodiesel’s performance at low temperatures at high altitudes. Other options might present issues as well. For instance, liquid hydrogen will increase the emission of water vapor in the atmosphere.

Besides, there are no current alternative fuels that will fulfill the requirement of obtaining the thrust needed for take-off in such a short distance.

Five possible alternatives are presented into this graph:

Figure 3 Alternative Fuels for Aviation Graph

Even though there has been a lot of research, there are still many inconveniences to actually use alternative fuels, airframe improvements, fuel efficiency increase, and better aerodynamics are paramount topics in the development of new aircraft.

  1. Reduce airport taxiing times

In average, the airport taxiing times goes ranges 15-20 minutes in medium-size airports. In big hubs such as Atlanta, London-Heathrow or Paris-Charles de Gaulle, the waiting time for take-off can be up to one hour. If the number of operations per hour is considered, it can be stated that a lot of kerosene is just wasted for the matter of waiting for take-off.

Nowadays, research regarding improvement in the taxiing efficiency is undergone. There are a few approaches to the problem. They are as follow:

      Designing a new software which will tell each airplane the optimum taxiing time as well as what time they shall leave the gate to improve its efficiency.

      Towing the airplane, the longest distance possible. This is only possible in small airport because the risk of collision between the truck and another airplane increases if there are many jets around. A good approach to the problem could be designing and testing an automated towing system, which will tow the airplane short of the runway entrance, where engines will be started up.

  1. Incentives for fleet renewal

Many legacy carriers usually have older fleets than low-cost carriers. As a matter of fact, the latter have less operational expenses, allowing them to invest more in having younger fleets. On the other side, the lease for an old aircraft is usually cheaper than for a brand-new one. For example, I remember I went once to a conference from the production direction from a legacy carrier in Europe, and he said the airline did not mind using old aircraft for longer medium-haul routes because the extra-fuel burnt in the route would compensate for the more expensive lease of a brand-new aircraft. Besides, many times the availability of new aircraft overcomes the current market necessities. To sum up, any incentive will be welcome for fleet renewal, since modern jets usually burn up to 25% less kerosene than the old ones, eventually polluting less our environment.

  1. Air traffic management changes

Improvements in holding as well as addressing sub-optimal fuel efficiency can reduce the quantity of fuel burnt around 6-12%. Nonetheless, there is some debate regarding whether or not changing flight profiles. A good example could be the following: If an aircraft cruises at decreased levels, the higher ambient temperatures will reduce the contrail formation and the radiative impact from ozone but at the expense of burning more fuel and emitting extra CO2. Optimum altitudes shall be chosen for particular time periods that will provide the greatest reduction in contrail and ozone for the lowest increase in CO2 emissions. The project in which the FAA[2]is currently working to improve ATM[3] is as follows:

Figure 4 ATM Improvement from the FAA

Public Transport Incentives

Many European cities are encouraging habitants to rely on public transport rather than using personal cars to move around. Many cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin have special prices for students in order to encourage them from early stages to rely on public transport instead of owning a car. For instance, in Madrid, anyone under 28 can obtain the public transport card with unlimited trips for just 20 euros. Same applies to the other cities mentioned. These actions taken from many governments are just a way of encouraging young people to use the public transport and taking into consideration whether owning a car is feasible or not. 

New Regulations

New regulations are being implemented in order to favor the use of cleaner transportation methods as well as reducing the reliance in the personal car. For instance, Madrid is one of the few cities where these new policies are being implemented. The approach the city hall has taken into consideration is as follow:

      Air quality sensors have been placed all over Madrid area to measure the quantity of noxious chemicals. If two or more stations start reporting high levels of these chemicals, the action plan is started. There are 4 possible scenarios depending on the quantities of these chemicals on the air:

  1. Scenario 1:
    • Recommendation to use public transportation.
    • Maximum Velocity drops from 90 km/h to 70km/h in all roads which give access to downtown Madrid.
  2. Scenario 2:
    • Scenario 1 restrictions apply.
    • Street Parking in downtown areas is restricted for residents.
  3. Scenario 3:
    • Scenario 2 restrictions apply.
    • Only cars with environmental certification C, ECO[4] or Zero Emissions[5] are allowed to enter downtown area, but not allowed street parking.
  1. Scenario 4:
    • Scenario 3 restrictions apply.
    • Only cars with environmental certification ECO or Zero Emissions are allowed to enter downtown area, but not allowed street parking.

      New downtown area named “Madrid Central”. This initiative wants to concern habitants from Madrid to use more the public transport. Certain boundaries have been placed around downtown areas, and only buses, taxis, residents and ECO and Zero Emission cars will have access to it. It is a way to force moving to greener technologies as well as encouraging the use of public transport in order to live in a cleaner environment. 

Figure 5 Madrid Central Plan


In short, more restrictive policies seem the only viable path to mitigate the harmful effects of greenhouse gases. There are many expectations placed on technology in order to deliver any solution to this problem, but it is widely known that will be difficult, expensive and it is currently seen only as a long-term solution. Improvements in energy efficiency and research in new fuels will be key in order to meet the expectances set by the Kyoto Protocol in terms of CO2 target quantities.

As discussed along the paper, behavioral change is one of the main key factors in order to alleviate the negative consequences of greenhouse gases. By using a combination of taxes, regulations, new technologies, CO2 could eventually stabilize, but the effects of these into transportation and the global economy are unknown.

In addition, if there are not any improvement in energy efficiency or a growth in zero-carbon technologies, the goal of stabilizing CO2 will be an almost impossible task to accomplish because all policies placed have not had significantly reduce of greenhouse emissions in a short-term view.

Eventually, the overall issue of climate change as well as transport is part of a much larger challenge of sustainable development in which all parties shall work together in order to guarantee a livable planet for future generations. 


[1] Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

[2] Federal Aviation Administration

[3] Air Traffic Management

[4] Hybrid Vehicles

[5] Electric Vehicles


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