Climate Change and the Transport Industry

While the sources of pollution seldom bear the costs of their impacts, they are often the only ones who pay the direct costs of ownership. For several modes of transport, the cost of ownership is the only entry point. Other costs incurred by society include the repair and maintenance of infrastructure, health services, and damage to ecosystems. The geographic separation between the sources and recipients is often extreme. In addition to the costs of ownership, the transport industry often pays little or no tax.

Efficiency improvements

Efficiency improvements in the transport industry are becoming more important as we all try to keep our planet as clean as possible. The transportation sector has powerful economic incentives to make these improvements. Fuel is the most expensive operating expense in long-distance modes of transport when it comes to logistics and freight. We can compare moving companies, transport companies servicing produce and manufacturing, supply and distribution companies and they will  all agree fuel is the major hurdle that prevents them from further reducing emissions. Increasing fuel efficiency will save money and help curb emissions. But to make a difference, companies must invest in transportation and warehouse management solutions. Technology such as truck platooning has the potential for emissions reduction but is still a long way away to being implemented in the real world.

The energy intensity of freight is rising at double the rate of that of passenger transportation. Increases in freight demand and a general decline in energy efficiency are contributing to the growth of these emissions. There is an exception to this trend – pipelines. Between 1990 and 2005, freight-truck GHG emissions rose by 62% and freight-rail GHG emissions grew by 18%. But there is a long way to go before emissions of both modes reach the target levels.


The transportation sector plays a major role in climate change and its consequences. It accounts for 22% of global carbon dioxide emissions and about a quarter of global CO2 emissions in the advanced economies. As such, reducing emissions from transportation is crucial. However, there are several challenges to reducing emissions from transport. In the following, we look at three of these challenges:

Digitization of the transport sector is key to making the transition to cleaner modes and increasing sustainability. Advanced train-control systems, such as the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), use wireless communications to supervise the movement of trains. The deployment of advanced signaling systems and technologies can reduce maintenance costs and capital expenditures. This can help the industry achieve its goal of a 30 percent modal share. This, in turn, helps the industry reduce emissions while reducing fuel costs and maintenance costs.

Value creation

Achieving climate-neutrality goals requires a coordinated approach to transportation infrastructure development. The transport industry is the largest contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG), contributing nearly 28 percent of the total. While other sectors are decarbonizing, transportation is bucking the trend, reporting 0.8 percent annual growth in MtCO2e. And, passenger vehicles account for the largest share of emissions. Creating new value for reducing emissions is a key strategy for the transportation industry.

The transport industry needs new ways to drive efficiency, reduce costs and improve socioeconomic outcomes. Digital technologies can help companies transition to sustainable transportation infrastructure and achieve greater sustainability. Deploying advanced train-control systems with the European Rail Traffic Management System, which uses wireless communications to supervise train movement, will contribute to the rail sector meeting its European goal of a more sustainable freight sector. Advanced signaling systems and condition monitoring can reduce idling and emissions from vehicles.

Climate-proofing operations

The transport industry is one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change, with infrastructure vulnerable to storms and heatwaves. The report outlines the potential effects of climate change on transport assets, including roads, railways, and airborne transport. Participants at the report’s workshop listed climate-related risks as well as opportunities to address these challenges. A high risk of service disruptions arises when 25 percent of airports in the world are located below 10m above sea level. In case of flooding, roads and rail assets may be in danger of significant damage and speed reductions can result in lengthy journeys.

One of the key challenges for the transport industry is assessing the risks from climate change. The National Adaptation Strategy of Italy does not include the transport sector, but recognises the need for climate-proofing infrastructures and processes. The strategy recommends several actions, including the integration of climate change issues into current urban planning tools. Climate-proofing transport infrastructures is included in the Ancona Adaptation Plan developed within the ACT Life Project. Italy and Croatia are also cooperating on upgrading sustainable energy communities and developing climate change adaptation strategies.

Government role

The transportation sector contributes one-quarter of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and is one of the biggest sources of regional and urban air pollution. According to recent studies, outdoor air pollution causes 3.2 million premature deaths each year. Government actions can reduce these emissions by making vehicles more fuel-efficient and cleaner.

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