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ITF: Worldwide Transport Activity to Double by 2050, Emissions to Rise 16% Compared to 2015

According to the ITF Transport Outlook 2021, the biennial flagship report of the International Transport Forum, a sister organisation of the OECD, global transport activity will more than double by 2050, and traffic emissions will rise by 16% compared to 2015 even if existing commitments to decarbonise transport are fully implemented.

Under the current policy trajectory, passenger activity will increase 2.3-fold to 2050. Freight transport will grow by a factor of 2.6. Any currently expected emissions reductions will be more than offset by the increased demand for transport, according to the analysis.

Emissions from passenger mobility would rise by 13%; freight emissions would be 22% higher. Emissions would exceed transport’s carbon budget more than three times.


However, transport CO2 emissions could be cut by almost 70% over the 2015-50 period with the right policies, the ITF said. This would require:

  • Putting in place ambitious low-carbon policies now;

  • Reinforcing positive behavioral changes caused by the pandemic; and

  • Gearing stimulus packages towards decarbonisation.

The report presents three main policy scenarios for the future of passenger and freight transport, and all transport modes. The scenarios include detailed projections for transport CO2 emissions under different conditions, allowing an assessment of the potential impacts of future transport activity on climate change. The scenarios are:

  • Recover. This scenario is based on the world’s current trajectory of implemented and announced policies. It assumes that the international community adheres to its current climate initiatives, but will base economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic largely on the economic practices of past decades. In the Recover scenario, the international community falls well short of its agreed climate goals. Transport CO2 emissions would not decrease; they would surge to more than triple the amount targeted for 2050 as the maximum that would limit global warming.

  • Reshape. Under Reshape, governments adopt transformational decarbonisation policies that pivot transport onto a sustainable path and put the climate goals of the Paris Agreement within reach.

  • Reshape+. In the Reshape+ scenario, policies for pandemic recovery are accelerated and reinforced in a way that puts transport on a fast track to achieving the climate goals.

Under Reshape and Reshape+, the historic link between economic growth and rising transport emissions is broken. Transport demand still grows, but emissions fall. The core assumption of the Reshape and Reshape+ is an ambitious decarbonisation agenda. These envisioned policies would be intended to end unnecessary travel, shift mobility to more sustainable transport options, improve transport technologies in ways that make them less emitting and enhance the resilience of transport networks.

“Such ambitious policies can and must be executed in a way that ensures fair burden-sharing and avoids adding to existing inequalities. Implementation of climate policies, especially those that involve pricing mechanisms, should account for the specific impacts on different groups of society. They also should leverage global capital to enable all world regions to pursue effective transport decarbonisation.”




The report gives six recommendations on how governments can set the world on a path towards sustainable mobility, achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. Align Covid-19 recovery packages to revive the economy, combat climate change and strengthen equity. Recovery from the Covid-19 crisis offers a singular chance to combine economic development with shifting mobility behavior and scaling up low-carbon technologies while increasing opportunities for citizens by improving access.

  2. Implement much more ambitious policies that will reverse the growth of transport CO2 emissions. Governments must set ambitious targets in the 2021 revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, underpin them with concrete policies, and reinforce them by leveraging Covid-19 recovery packages to accelerate and deepen transport decarbonisation.

  3. Target different transport sectors with strategies that reflect their specific decarbonisation potential and challenges. Not all strategies to “avoid, shift, and improve” are applicable across the sector in the same way.

  4. Support innovation to accelerate the technological breakthroughs needed to decarbonise transport. Technological advances are critical to decarbonize transport effectively, especially in otherwise hard‑to‑decarbonise areas such as aviation and long-haul road freight.

  5. Shift the priority to improving accessibility. Transport planning tends to conflate increased capacity with improved accessibility. Yet traveling more and further does not mean citizens have easy access to where they need to go. Transport planning that serves citizens considers their desired destinations and focuses on how well transport options connect them.

  6. Intensify collaboration with non-transport sectors and between public and private actors. Transport decarbonisation is inseparable from developments in other sectors. Sustainable mobility is only possible with clean energy. In turn, low-carbon transport is central to sustainable trade and tourism.



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