1.8.2 - Acting on climate change

Version 3


    International climate negotiations


    Although the known causes of climate change are multiple, their acceleration over the last 150 years and especially since 1950 are undoubtedly linked to human activity. The stability of the climate is a public asset belonging to all of the planet’s inhabitants. Protecting it calls for multilateral action. This is the reason why action to do with climate change started in the multilateral framework of the United Nations.


    The task of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was established by the World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environment Programme, is to review and assess scientific work on climate change conducted by over a thousand experts from different countries. 


    1992 is the year the United Nations Framework convention on climate change was signed in Rio de Janeiro. On this occasion the principles to serve as a basis for international climate change negotiations were put in place, and again when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. These three principles are:

    • The precautionary principle: scientific uncertainty as to the exact impact of climate change does not justify deferring measures to limit it.
    • The principle of common but differentiated responsibility: each signatory country acknowledges the impact of its greenhouse gas emissions on global warming. The most industrialized countries (20 % of the world’s population and 57 % of global GDP in 2004) have a greater historical responsibility (75 % of CO2 emissions accrued since 1750) due to their early development.
    • The principle of the right to development: actions taken shall respect each country’s economic development. In other words, the means deployed to combat greenhouse gas emissions must not penalize economies to the point of preventing their development, with respect to both developing and developed countries.


    193 signatory countries, including the United States, agree to "stabilize greenhouse gases concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".

    The Kyoto Protocol came into effect in 2004 but was not ratified by the United States. It fixes emission reduction targets for six greenhouse gases: CO2, CH4, N2O, HFC, PFC and SF6.

    An Assessment Report was published by IPCC in 2007 and some of the conclusions are reported here: IPCC Assessment Report 2007

    The Copenhagen summit (2009) led to an agreement by 135 countries covering 80 % of worldwide emissions and confirmed the objective to limit the rise in the average temperature to +2°C. The Cancun Summit (2010) enabled commitments made at Copenhagen to be incorporated into the UNFCCC.


    Objective: to limit average global warming to + 2 °C for 2100 compared to 2005, is to limit atmospheric concentration of the six main GHG gases capped at 455 ppm of CO2-eq. It is necessary to halt growth in the world’s emissions by 2020 at the latest, and halve the world’s emissions by 2050. 


    What avenues of action to attain the objective?

    In its Summary for Policymakers the IPCC outlines the strategy to be adopted:


    "All stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are either currently available or expected to be commercialized in coming decades, assuming appropriate and effective incentives are in place for their development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion and addressing related barriers."


    Therefore, technological progress should accompany the implementation of economic instruments such as setting up a carbon tax. Since the Industrial Revolution, the development of the world’s economy has rested on free use of the atmosphere’s capacity to store greenhouse gases. Economic actors considered it an infinite reservoir. Setting a carbon price in the economy brings about two types of incentives:


    • Rationalize the use of products that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases within the framework of existing technologies: better adjusting heating, reducing fuel consumption, etc.
    • Accelerate investment in research and development into new low-carbon technologies: developing renewable energies, investing in biofuels, developing electric vehicles, etc.


    Transport and climate change


    The internal combustion engine revolutionized transport, both in terms of performance, resources and usages. The success of oil cannot be dissociated from the spectacular rise of the car. Modern means of transport are 95 % dependent on oil products overall. Irrespective of the fact that industrialized nations’ models of oil consumption are not sustainable on a global scale, transport very strong dependence on oil poses the industry several important challenges: supply security and its impact on climate change.

    On a global scale, CO2 emitted by road transport represents 10 % of total greenhouse gas emissions (in CO2 equivalent), with an even greater weight in developed countries.

    As well as CO2, transport emits almost a third of hydro fluorocarbon gas (HFC) emissions linked to the development in vehicle air conditioning, especially in passenger cars, but also trains and refrigerated vehicles.

    Transport is responsible for 22 to 24 % of global CO2 emissions from energy. Road transport is responsible for 75 % of these emissions that is 17 % of global emissions.


    Illustration: Challenge Bibendum Booklet: More air p.22


    The impact of transport-related emissions is even worse if all "transport system" emissions are taken into account, that is to say the emissions from the vehicle and infrastructure over their complete life cycle.

    A car usage phase only represents around 75 % to 80 % of the greenhouse gas emissions it emits during its whole life cycle.


    Illustration: Challenge Bibendum Booklet: More air p.23


    The global vehicle fleet has grown 50 % in 5 years. Driven by growth in the large emerging countries, it has gone from 560 million to 875 million vehicles between 2002 and 2007. (Source: World Bank.)


    Today, the Kyoto Protocol only covers transport domestic emissions, as those released by international transport are not included in the commitments made by signatory countries and did not give rise to measures aimed at massively cutting the industry emissions. Transport is not included in the emission trading systems. It has therefore remained apart, to a large degree, from the new carbon economy. Given the stakes, the industry as a whole needs to take more action. International passenger and goods transportation cannot be exempt from participating in the effort. Road transport, because of its volume, is a priority.

    Objective: Halving transport CO2 emissions by 2050 calls for an emission reduction effort factor of almost four compared to 2005 on average per vehicle, the global vehicle fleet should double by then: the objective is therefore

    50 gCO2/km on average per vehicle (Well-To-Wheel).


    Transport on the brink of a major change?


    Road transport, like the rest of the transport industry, seems to be on the brink of a major change in terms of energy, as well as vehicles and services. This threefold change constitutes an opportunity to be seized to promote the inclusion of climate issues in the industry choice of development. The paths towards better managing the industry emissions include a change in the modes of mobility offered, on both the technical and the service fronts, and turning to substitute energies (biofuels and hybrid or electric drives).

    Due to the diffuse nature of transport emissions, mobility behavior is at the crux of the battle to stop the industry emissions growing. Therefore it is necessary to promote a better understanding among individuals and organizations as to the impacts of their mobility choices. The some 6.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted by transport (23 % of global emissions produced by the burning of fossil energy) come from individual emissions in the region of 1 tonne of CO2 per inhabitant of the planet…


    Acting on transport CO2 emissions: numerous points of leverage

    Numerous points of leverage are at our disposal to reduce CO2 emissions from transport: act on the technologies, on behaviors, on the organization of mobility, use public policy leverage to accelerate the transition. The weight of the CO2 produced is equal to 3.2 times the weight of carbon burned (Fuels and emissions). Acting on CO2 emissions from transport starts therefore by reducing vehicle energy consumption.


    The evolution of technologies

    The reduction of vehicle consumption puts automakers at the forefront but motorists can also take action by using vehicles that are fuel efficient, well maintained, equipped with low energy tires, eco-driven and connected to avoid traffic jams .

    Then by using alternative fuels such as gas with a better hydrogen/carbon ratio or biofuels. The latter present the particularity of recycling CO2 in the atmosphere that the plant has extracted from the atmosphere by photosynthesis as it was growing. Production streams of non-food biomass are being promoted.


    Lastly the most promising to begin with, is without doubt, hybrid vehicles and then electric vehicles. The CO2 emissions are then concentrated at the points of electricity generation which favors the capture of CO2 to be sequestered (CCS for carbon capture and sequestration). The emissions will depend on the primary energy used to generate electricity.


    a) The use of biofuels meets the dual objectives of limiting the transport industry dependency on conventional fuels and enabling cuts to be made in its greenhouse gases. The carbon contained in biofuels, which is released when they are burned, has been extracted from the atmosphere by photosynthesis as the plant was growing. Unlike fossil fuels, which release carbon from the subsoil, biofuels are part of carbon normal cycle at the surface of the planet, as long as they come from plants that are renewable and do not provoke negative land-use changes. The main negative impact linked to the development of biofuels results from the deforestation to which they have contributed in certain regions.

    With first-generation biofuels significant gains can be achieved: up to 60 % for corn ethanol and 75 % for sugarcane ethanol. But taking into account emissions generated upstream can greatly affect these results and sometimes reverse them: intensive farming prior to the transformation units can generate significant greenhouse gas emissions, and the impact becomes negative when their expansion impinges on forests or carbon sinks, more generally (the case of Indonesia’s peat lands).

    The development of biofuels is also limited by economic considerations (production costs between $50 and $135 per barrel) and poses the acute problem of competition with food crops.

    New biofuels are currently being developed, and will be produced from lignocellulosic biomass (forest residues, short rotation coppice, stalks and leaves, etc.) or dedicated crops not in competition with food crops on agricultural land (photosynthetic algae, for example). In the mid-term (2030-2050), they constitute a complementary means of supply, offering possibilities to reduce well-to-wheel emissions by as much as 90 %.

    Production costs are still a huge obstacle to their development (standing, at present, at $100-$300 per barrel for lignocellulosic biomass, and over $800 per barrel for algae).

    A new way of making ethanol from carbon oxide CO by electro-catalysis is very promising. 


    b) Hybrid and electric vehicles

    The development of electric vehicles is one of the ways that could contribute to fulfilling the objectives of limiting the transport industry’s dependence on fossil energies and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

    The environmental performance of an electric car compared to an ICE car is assessed from well–to-wheel, i.e. integrating emissions from well-to-tank (upstream emissions from production of electricity or fossil fuel), and emissions from tank-to-wheel. A major advantage of the electric vehicle is the efficiency of its motor, which is above 90 %, compared with 35 % for gasoline engines and 40 % for diesel engines.


    Today, hybrid technologies are essentially a combination of an electric motor and a main internal combustion engine. Development is encouraging with 2.5 million hybrid cars sold by Toyota between 1997 and 2010. 

    The 100 % plug-in (rechargeable) electric vehicle is the most sophisticated type of electric vehicle and is the favored path towards new modes of vehicle usage, especially in urban areas.


    CO2 emissions of electric drive cars by country


    Illustration Challenge Bibendum booklet “more air” p.27


    The electric vehicle well-to-wheel carbon footprint is very sensitive to the electricity production mode in a given country. That being the case, the issues of well-to-tank emissions and environmental performance that are intrinsic to the electric vehicle must be treated separately. Indeed, the implementation of new electricity production processes (cogeneration) and the development of technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration are ways forward, towards low-carbon modes of electricity production. The well-to-wheel environmental gain also depends on managing the whole life cycle of batteries, including a second life in applications outside of the transport industry and recovery applications for precious or dangerous metals.


    c) Hydrogen and fuel cells

    Hydrogen, a good energy storage and recovery medium, is sometimes presented as the source of energy of the future. A fuel cell enables production of electricity from hydrogen and oxygen from air, with water as the only discharge. Nonetheless, as hydrogen does not exist naturally, producing it calls upon significant quantities of energy. Its use in the transport sector is once again subject to reserves, in particular, about the technical feasibility of storage and transport, economic profitability of the industry (which is sensitive to variations in platinum and hydrogen prices), as well as the environmental efficiency of the modes of production, storage and transport of the hydrogen.



    Steps to change behavior and mobility organization


    Technological changes are just one of the means of enabling mobility and greenhouse gas reductions to go hand in hand. They prove to be more effective when they are part of a more general context that sees modes of transport being reconfigured on three levels: 

    • Changes in individual or collective behaviors enabling a more efficient use of existing means and the elimination of inefficiencies or waste;
    • Choices of transport infrastructures that influence many of the possible choices to be made by decision-makers and investors in the mid-and-long-term; 
    • The incorporation of these infrastructures in more global policies on land-use planning, especially with respect to the localization of people and goods.

    These three points of leverage are relevant to both passenger and good transport, over short as well as long distances. We illustrate below how they play out in a particularly crucial area of the evolution of transport systems: urban mobility.


    a) Specific issues of urban mobility

    In 2005, the UN counted 20 cities of more than 10 million inhabitants, compared to only 2 million in 1950. 10 % of the world’s urban population (which, since 2007, is larger than its rural population) is concentrated in these megacities. The increasing scarcity of oil resources and the persistent discrepancy with objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions call for a radical change in the conception and practice of urban mobility. Nonetheless, the current number of cars and the fact that cars are very much in people’s habits of getting around mean that we can only hope for a gradual transition towards sustainable urban mobility.


    b) Users’ behavior

    Transport users’ behavior has a direct influence on the industry emissions, starting with their choice of mode of transport for each of their mobility needs. The quest for sustainable mobility must lead users to consider the whole spectrum of choices available: walking, cycling, public transport, vehicles on a time-sharing basis, and, where applicable, passenger cars, possibly with car-sharing. This rationalization of existing modes of transport can help reduce congestion phenomena by better regulating traffic, staggering daily journeys to work when possible, and insuring a better use of public transport. It constitutes a good source of emission cuts that can be obtained within the framework of existing techniques and infrastructures. Furthermore, within the population of passenger car owners, the promotion of criteria of environ- mental performance (noise, pollutants and green- house gases) and comfort (noise, smooth drive and parking facilities) could lead to changes in buyer behavior.


    c) Mobility offer: technology, infrastructure and service

    Behavioral changes are also dependent on an offer of solutions enabling real choices as regards modes of transport. This offer implies the existence of suitable infrastructures. Inter-modality is a key stake of these new developments. Availability and access to public transport lines which work efficiently and safely is an important issue. Similarly, the infrastructural component cannot be dissociated from the popularization of electric vehicles (implementation of a tightly meshed charging network, facilitated connectivity with the rest of the multimodal network). Lastly, the transition to low-carbon urban mobility can, in the mid-term, bring about changes in modes of vehicle ownership. Like automated bicycle rental schemes, which are springing up in more and more major cities (mainly in Europe, and more recently in North America), time-share car networks are now appearing. These work by enabling users to borrow a car at one terminal and return it at another when they have completed their journey, all for a subscription and a mileage fee. This type of service could be combined with the classic public transport pass or travel card, and possibly entitle subscription-holders to hire other types of vehicles occasionally (family cars, utility vehicles). No longer, a consumer of a product, the driver would become the user of a new service, offered by a new type of operator, an intermediary between the car manufacturer and the user. We would go from an economy of individual vehicle ownership to an economy of functionality.


    d) Urbanism and lifestyles

    In the longer term, urbanism planning choices have a major impact on mobility usages and, consequently, on transport emissions. The expansion of cities is more and more often in the guise of urban sprawl, which leads to an increase in the distances covered on a daily basis and correspondingly in emissions. These choices are partly related to the lifestyles to which populations aspire, but are also the product of economic constraints (the cost of housing in city centers), space (localization of businesses) and choices of urban planning policies. For example, in industrialized countries, policies supporting homeownership lead to the construction of new residential areas on the outskirts of towns and, in the absence of suitable public transport options, this pushes people towards passenger cars. Furthermore, in developing countries, the rural exodus is at the root of an unchecked urban sprawl, which also exacerbates congestion in major urban centers.


    Keeping emissions in check-in your car; daily behavior


    1. Choosing the right car to buy


    CO2 emissions are proportional to the consumption of the car. It is therefore a criterion to be vigilant about when buying a car. Consumption, expressed in liters per 100 km, is the subject of standardized measurement procedures. Discrepancies between actual consumption and announced consumption can be explained in particular by driving style, vehicle maintenance and traffic conditions.


    2. Car maintenance


    Keeping consumption in check requires regular car maintenance so the vehicle original qualities are preserved. Failing to properly maintain a car can lead not just to costly breakdowns but to significant fuel overconsumption (up to 25 %), as well as a distinct increase in hydrocarbon (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions and, in the case of diesel engines, particles. Under-inflated tires can lead to an overconsumption of around 3 % for a deficit of only 0.3 bar.

    3. The right conditions


    We can reduce our consumption, and therefore our emissions, with simple actions. Driving with a roof rack (or bar carrier) increases consumption by 10 % (empty) to 15 % (loaded). Traffic jams are highly detrimental in terms of energy consumption and pollution: they can double consumption. The volume of pollutants released in a traffic jam reaches levels that cause health and environmental concerns, especially in urban areas. As far as possible, it is better to opt for another mode of transport or postpone setting off.

    4. Adopting a reasonable driving style


    Changing your driving style and habits can result in substantial savings. “Aggressive” driving (accelerating more than necessary, then braking hard...) can increase consumption by 20 % on the motorway and 40 % in the city. Pushing the engine past its maximum speed in the acceleration phase (by delaying going up a gear) can increase the car consumption by 30 %. Reaching too high a speed before the engine warms up leads to 50 % higher fuel burn over the first kilometer and increases engine wear. Furthermore, it increases the quantity of pollutants released into the atmosphere. Finally, use of air conditioning can lead to an overconsumption by a diesel engine of around 16 % (to reduce the temperature in the passenger compartment by 8 %) on the motorway, and twice as much in the city. Furthermore, leakage of hydro fluorocarbon gas (HFC) during vehicle use, maintenance, and at the end of its life cycle can reach an annual level of 15 % of the initial charge, i.e. around 100 g for a charge of 750 g. For 13,000 km driven per year, these leakages are equivalent to a 10 g/km surplus of CO2 emission.

    Source: ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency)


    Emissions standards for new cars in Europe and the United States


    Illustration: Challenge Bibendum booklet p.30


    Public policy leverage to accelerate the transition


    a) Emission standards

    A regulatory-type approach, introducing emission standards, is an effective means of combating certain types of pollution. For example, the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which gradually banned the use of certain fluorinated gases from the CFC and HCFC families, halted the deterioration observed in the ozone layer.

    Emission standards are complex instruments to handle when it comes to diffuse emissions such as transport industry greenhouse gases. One of the first difficulties stems from the necessity to define normative levels for very varied sources (passenger cars, light utility vehicles, trucks, etc.). A second comes from the cost of implementing firm compliance and monitoring procedures to dissuade potential cheats.

    The European Union first put the responsibility of the negotiation of voluntary agreements with the car industry to promote reductions in road transport emissions. These agreements, signed in 1998 and 1999, initiated a downward trend in the emissions per kilometer of motorcars, although the targets set were not met. In 2009, the EU put in place an EC standard on the emissions of new passenger cars, which should enable CO2 emissions to be reduced by 200 million tonnes over the 2010-2020 period. An additional standard, relatively less restrictive, was brought in for light utility vehicles in 2011.

    In 2010 the United States implemented their first Federal standard to limit the CO2 emissions of light vehicles. This norm should enable a reduction of 960 million tons of CO2 emissions over the life span of passenger cars and light utility vehicles sold in the 2012-2016 period. In the case of European and American regulations on the CO2 emissions of new vehicles, bringing in standards proves to be appropriate because of the relatively limited scope and cost: only new vehicles are targeted by the EU and US CO2 standards, in such a way that CO2 emissions only need to be measured by vehicle model and not for each vehicle. Nonetheless, regulation by standard comes up against numerous limitations in terms of managing the greenhouse gas emissions from transport. CO2 emission norms do not guarantee that the environmental objective is met: the prospects of reducing the industry emissions can be compromised by a sharp increase in congestion or by an ageing fleet even if new vehicles comply with emission norms standard do not encourage improvements in vehicle usage via behavioral change. In the same way, standards do not create any incentive to make an effort to reduce emissions beyond the standard level.


    Economic instruments


    Contrary to norms, economic instruments have the twofold advantage of offering incentives and reducing the cost of hitting targets. Carbon tax, bonus-malus, and perhaps soon a new generation of project mechanisms suitably adapted to transport.


    In conclusion


    A wide array of actions is possible to drastically diminish CO2 emissions linked to transport. The recent reduction in vehicle consumption has provided considerable gains but taking into consideration the growth of the global fleet, 50 gCO2 still remains the target to be attained by 2050. The implementation of the various actions listed in this article means the objective is attainable. 
    The reduction of HFC emissions linked to refrigerated vehicles and air conditioning in vehicles is doubtful…