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Environmental, freight policy experts seek ‘bold commitments’ ahead of climate summit

Government pledges at COP26 could help light path to sustainability, Environmental Defense Fund official says

Transportation was responsible for about 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 and nearly 29% of U.S. emissions in 2019, according to International Energy Agency and Environmental Protection Agency data. 

Moving goods around the world has become the norm, and considering the demand for freight is expected to rise drastically by 2050, the path to net-zero emissions will not be easy.

Commitments made at an upcoming climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, could “drive change and demonstrate where the market is going and provide the foundation for continued investments” in sustainable solutions such as electric vehicles, charging infrastructure and R&D, Timothy O’Connor, senior director and senior attorney of energy transition strategy at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), told FreightWaves.

The 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) is scheduled for Sunday through Nov. 12, with Transport Day falling on Nov. 10.

O’Connor highlighted two key areas the environmental advocacy nonprofit is watching for commitments and progress: “One is commitments around deploying vehicles and moving toward zero emissions, and then two is greening the overall supply chain and increasing demand for the use of lower-emitting equipment.”

Read: Why is reducing emissions in freight so hard?

Government commitments for zero-emissions vehicle policies, deployment

Higher upfront costs for EVs, insufficient charging infrastructure and a gap in knowledge are major barriers to decarbonizing road transport, according to O’Connor. Infrastructure investments, new mechanisms for tax credits for manufacturing, additional mechanisms for purchase incentives and policies to drive these markets, he said, will be needed.

The U.S. has not been a leader on EV commitments, policy and deployment over the past few years, O’Connor noted.

“I think COP26 is a key opportunity for President Biden to demonstrate that the U.S. once again is a key player in environmental policy and driving emissions down in the U.S. [and] as an example for the rest of the world,” Larissa Koehler, senior attorney in energy at EDF, told FreightWaves. 

Koehler and O’Connor work on zero-emissions bus and truck deployment and government policy. Both said the U.S. has an opportunity to establish itself as a leader in environmental commitments and EV adoption, despite a lack of focus on the sector in previous years. 

Passing the reconciliation and infrastructure packages would show the country’s commitment to reducing emissions in transportation due to the focus on deploying EVs and charging stations, manufacturing equipment parts for EVs and reducing emissions across the supply chain, Koehler said.

States like California and countries around the world are prioritizing getting to net-zero emissions, especially in fossil fuel-reliant sectors like transportation through zero-emission vehicle sales requirements and nationwide zero-emissions targets.

“These international commitments are valuable, but of course they are no replacement for actual action on the ground in these individual jurisdictions that are driving the implementation and driving the actual deployment of vehicles where they’re needed in major markets,” O’Connor said.

Read: How does global supply chain emissions tracking level playing field?

Industry collaborations and commitments

Leadership in the private sector toward net-zero emissions goals and EV adoption gives the market indicators for the direction of the future, O’Connor said.

“We really want to see bold commitments from the participants at COP26 on transportation, and we also want that to be echoed by industry,” Koehler said. 

Several companies, such as Etsy and Ikea, are showing support for climate policies and shifts to zero-emissions fleets, sending a “critically important signal for policymakers,” Koehler said. She said policymakers can be comforted by the knowledge that companies want to make this transition.

As policies are put in place, they said, more companies are likely to follow suit in support of cleaner operations and more sustainable fuels. Government-level commitments can also increase companies’ ambitions about what is possible and promote action, they said.

“It’s important for those in the freight sector to pay attention to where low-carbon regulations and investment are being deployed across the global economy. You cannot insulate the movement of people and goods from the changes happening in the surrounding environment. That is why corporations are slow to champion new, expensive technologies. Nobody wants to back the wrong horse. In order for the innumerous climate pledges to come to fruition, demand signals must inform policy which supports a net-zero economy,” said Tyler Cole, director of carbon intelligence at FreightWaves.

UN report

A U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) climate report released Tuesday said that emissions will need to decrease by 55% by 2030 to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris Agreement goal. This is already taking into account all of the existing national emissions-reduction commitments, many of which have no legal backing.

“To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C, we have eight years to almost halve greenhouse gas emissions — eight years to make the plans, put in place the policies, implement them and ultimately deliver the cuts. The clock is ticking loudly,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the UNEP, said in a release.

The EDF experts emphasized how international, national, subnational and company-level commitments can all make a large impact on emissions globally and in the freight industry. These high-level commitments are what drive change, they said.

However, O’Connor also said: “It starts locally. That’s where we’ve seen the most action. That’s where we’ve seen these companies stand up and say, ‘We’re going to make commitments, and we’re going to deploy.’ … Where the U.S. goes, the world can really follow on many of these items.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.