Challenges for sustainable mobility
Sustainable mobility is one of the great challenges of today's world. An efficient and affordable transport system is key for the energy transition.
Sustainable mobility and climate change: main challenges
Sustainable mobility and transport are among the most significant challenges in our society today. An efficient and affordable transport system is essential for maintaining our quality of life. Because it plays a key role in society and the economy, we must address the challenge of transitioning toward sector decarbonisation considering all its impacts.
Transport has two impacts: a local one that affects air quality and a global one that contributes to climate change and global warming.
- Locally transport can affect air quality, especially in cities with high concentrations of pollution, where particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are toxic to human health and the environment. For that reason, in recent years, regulations governing the quality of fuel and vehicle emissions have been implemented in addition to new technologies that significantly reduce these emissions. Engines today have been engineered to reduce these emissions. If we updated vehicle fleets with new models of combustion engines, this problem would be significantly reduced. We would still need to continue investing in developing new technology that helps avoid the emission of these pollutants into the atmosphere.
- Transport’s global impacts are due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, mainly CO2, from combustion engines that consume fossil fuels (petrol, diesel, natural gas) and to the electricity mix that’s used to recharge vehicles. The energy source that makes up the electricity mix determines the amount of CO2 that is emitted into the atmosphere. In addition to CO2, other gases make up the whole of GHG emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide.
Other factors affect CO2 emissions in transport in addition to using vehicles, like vehicle production and managing their waste once they have reached the end of their useful life.
To address the challenge of decarbonising transport, we must consider the emissions throughout a vehicle’s entire life cycle and provide specific solutions for each need.
How much does a vehicle pollute?
To calculate a vehicle’s CO2 emissions, we must take the entire energy cycle into account, from extraction of the raw material (primary energy) to electricity generation or fuel production to its consumption in a vehicle. This cycle is called “Well to Wheel” (WtW).
Transport’s role in terms of greenhouse gas emissions
The latest data on the greenhouse gas inventory in Spain ranks transport as the top-emitting sector. In 2019, it made up 29% of CO2 equivalent emissions, a much higher percentage than emissions derived from industry (20.6%) and electricity generation (13.5%).
That being said, within the sector, the impact of GHG emissions varies by type of vehicle. In Europe, road transport (passenger cards, mopeds, light-duty vehicles, heavy-duty vehicles, and buses) make up more than 70% of GHG emissions. The remainder comes primarily from maritime and air transport.