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How will COP26 affect sustainability movement in freight moving forward?

Every mode under pressure to reduce carbon emissions following major climate conference

(Photo: Shutterstock)

In the wake of the long-awaited climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, FreightWaves asked industry experts how they predict COP26 will impact the freight industry going forward.

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Prioritizing sustainability and net-zero emissions

“Climate impact is no longer a fringe issue. It is a global priority. Companies must take sustainability commitments further, and faster, to reach the goal outlined in the Paris Agreement. 

“Since transportation is a significant source of emissions, the freight industry will feel more pressure to find new solutions to meet the carbon commitments discussed at COP26. This creates a powerful opportunity for supply chain leaders to lead cross team efforts that help their companies follow through on commitments made in line with COP26 agreements.”

— Jennifer Wong, head of sustainability at Convoy, a digital freight network company

“With 90% of world GDP now covered by net-zero commitments and 153 countries creating new 2030 emission-reduction targets, the freight industry, through regulations and market incentives, will feel increasing pressure to decarbonize.”

— Kelly Poole, energy fellow at As You Sow, a corporate social responsibility non-profit

“COP26 has again shed light on the carbon-heavy nature of the freight industry and the need for collaboration to tackle decarbonization in this crucial, exponentially growing sector. We have seen companies showing clear commitments and acting today, as well as governments setting out clear targets for decarbonizing the transport sector.”

— Moritz Tölke, technical manager at the Smart Freight Centre, a global freight non-profit

An Amazon spokesperson told FreightWaves that COP26 was a critical moment for companies and governments across sectors and around the world to accelerate their climate goals and plans. This included the First Movers Coalition, which was launched to scale up emerging decarbonization technologies in aviation, ocean shipping, steel production and trucking.

Read: The good, the bad, the promising sustainability developments in 2021

Shipping and other modes of transport

Every mode of transportation was mentioned at COP26, and the maritime industry came out with a plan to establish six green shipping corridors by 2025.

“The Clydebank Declaration for green shipping corridors was a major shipping industry highlight of COP26. By signing the declaration, 22 nations agreed to establish zero-emission maritime routes between two or more ports.

“This multiport corridors approach should give full confidence to all stakeholders along major trade lanes that the time is now to fully transition ships and their refueling infrastructure to zero emission.”

— Madeline Rose, climate campaign director at Pacific Environment, an environmental non-profit

“COP26 served as a platform for maritime actors to showcase good practices and global commitments to mitigate climate change.

“The message at COP26 was clear — the maritime industry needs to act urgently to find short-, medium- and long-term commitments that will mitigate the effects of climate change.

— Alexis Rodriguez, the Panama Canal’s environmental protection specialist

“The Clydebank Declaration should accelerate the adoption of science-based emission targets by the industry’s largest emitters.

“As other sectors and companies look to decarbonize their supply chain, the freight industry will come under much increased scrutiny to demonstrate viable transition strategies. Those companies that take leadership positions, such as Maersk, will be set to thrive in the clean energy transition and avoid disruption by creating new close partnerships with key global players looking to clean up their supply chains.” 

— Poole

“Agreements like the Global Memorandum of Understanding for Zero-Emission Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, abandoning the sales of fossil-fuel based road freight vehicles by 2040 or the Sustainable Freight Buyers Alliance, uniting corporate freight buyers and freight decarbonization initiatives to shift to net-zero freight across all modes of transport, are a clear message to the industry.”

— Tölke

Read: Net-Zero Carbon: International Alphabet Soup

Governments were called to COP26, companies followed

Along with government support, many experts say that private business involvement in R&D and adoption for sustainable solutions is vital.

“The presence of the private sector was more visible than it has been in previous years. The commitments that many companies announced ahead of or during COP26 for carbon neutrality — and the constructive dialog it stimulated around what those commitments should involve — have given renewed impetus to environmental sustainability efforts within the freight industry.”

— Greg Hewitt, CEO at DHL Express USA, a logistics company

Hewitt said that companies are evaluating what emissions targets should involve, including:

  • How they can be implemented across the entire supply chain.
  • How they can be aligned with science-based targets.
  • How measurements and reporting standards can be improved.

Clean fuels and moving forward

Sustainable technologies and low- and zero-carbon fuels are likely to ramp up following COP26.

“Increased attention and demand signals will result in additional investment and engineering talent. With that said, we need three to five more years of increasing incentives to arrive at commercial deployment of low-carbon transportation.”

— Tyler Cole, director of carbon intelligence at FreightWaves

“The importance of addressing methane was center stage at COP26, with the Global Methane Pledge as a significant outcome. Biogas digesters have been identified as an effective solution to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which will bring more awareness to renewable natural gas (RNG) as a key opportunity to achieve methane-reduction targets. 

“The freight industry can take advantage of RNG as a technology which is readily available, proven and an effective way to reduce the life cycle emissions of their fleets.” 

— Nicholas Yeh, director of sustainability at Clean Energy Fuels, a renewable natural gas supplier

“While there are significant barriers to decarbonizing the freight industry, COP26 signatories are allocating significant funds to the development of alternative fuels and clean energy technologies for an industry currently reliant on cheap fossil fuels. 

“This support should catalyze more confidence and buy-in from smaller and more conservative freight companies that have been slow to take action.”

— Poole

“The outcomes of COP26 have highlighted again the necessity for companies to account for their freight emissions, set ambitious targets in line with the 1.5-degree C [pathway], and develop concrete reduction strategies to act and fulfill future regulations and shareholder requirements.”

— Tölke

“After two years in which many companies arguably saw long-term environmental concerns slip down their strategic agenda, the topic has very much returned to the top of the agenda for most leading players in the industry today.”

— Hewitt

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.