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Transport – Global Challenges

We live in a world at the point of significant change: Around half of us recognise that we need to travel less, just at the same time as the other half want to travel more. There is little doubt that, without a major technology shift, those in the developed, world who are used to high levels of personal mobility, cannot all continue to behave in the same way as they have done in the past. While in the fast-growing emerging economies, with burgeoning middle classes, many see the desire for individual car ownership as a credible and realistic aim. We are at a tipping point between the two seemingly opposing drivers of sustainability and aspiration. Our primary challenge is in balancing these two.
Much large scale transport change takes place over 20 years rather than ten so, given these timescales, in the next decade we face three major issues; providing mass mobility to the growing global community in a sustainable manner; changing the behaviour and actions of many in the developed world; and making the right choices to set the scene for a practical a low-carbon, global transport system after 2020.

  • There are few who would say that mobility in the likes of India and China should be restricted or who would deny citizens in such countries the same freedom of movement that the US and Europe have enjoyed. However most would agree that the route taken in the 20th century cannot be followed in the 21st. Implementing the policies and making the large scale investments required to provide sustainable transport infrastructures in every country involve both bold decisions and deep pockets, but, without a major shift in the next couple of years, the long term consequences on, for example, carbon emissions will be dire. Major transport solutions need to be green, affordable and desirable.
  • In terms of the US and European lifestyles that provide the template for others to follow, we must make visible and significant steps and soon. This is not just about shifting away from the SUV, three car household culture often characterised in the media, but involves significant changes beyond switching to smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. The developed world, and the US in particular, must embrace public transport options both within and between cities, and at the same time proactively regulating for behaviour changing policies such as congestion charging, road pricing and speed control. This can be achieved as much through designing transport that people want to be part of as by regulation.
  • In terms of future choices for the post 2020 world, we already know the decisions that need to be made: Whether to being electric, hydrogen or bio-fuel powered, personal transport has to switch from fossil fuels and this has to happen sooner rather than later; low CO2 options for aviation and shipping have to be found; and an accelerated rollout of integrated mass transit systems has to occur. But, again, this has to be achieved in a manner that attracts consumers.

Of all nations, the US faces many of the greatest obstacles but it also could open the doors to new solutions. The American transportation system has been under-funded and is difficult and costly to maintain: According to the American Society of Civil Engineers it will cost $1.6 trillion to repair critical infrastructure, never mind make the investments to accommodate future demands. While this might sound like gloom, it should be noted that California, as America’s most influential state, raises its ambitions, so they become the benchmark for the US – and this has traditionally had a catalytic effect on global standards. Over the next decade, proactive local policies from Sacramento may well continue to reach globally. Although other nations are thinking well ahead of the US in transport policy, we should not ignore the significant influence that key Federal and State regulations have around the world.

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5 Responses to “Transport – Global Challenges”
  1. Randy Voss says:

    Technological innovation… 2020… so how do we see Transport in 10 short years? Truly (and sadly) the world is not creating enough innovation to provide products for the emerging economies in the world, while at the same time, creating the revolutionary products that developed economies of the world need to reduce emissions and get off the fossil fuel “bottle.” Where does this all leave us, and I mean the collective us?

    From all great depressions and declines we have seen innovation take hold and provide a path to new prosperity. But in this most recent reality, we have seen such constricted realities that real innovation seems squashed into the background. As I have searched the landscape there have been a few small rays of promise, but these seem to be more conceptual in nature. Smaller cars are fine, but the innovation needs to focus across the board to overall transportation; goods, services, people, etc. The public won’t want to buy smaller cars if trucks get bigger (safety scares). There is spotty rail benefits and plans from country to country, region to region.

    What is the way out? You have started the dialog. Hopefully we’ll se people take up the challenge and get involved with their ideas and collective insights.

  2. Much of the debate on the future of electric mobility is focused on the US and China. But some may question whether these will be the locations for the early breakthroughs or if other regions may well have a higher chance of delivering the vision.

    Take for example, the current issue of McKinsey Quarterly in which it is argued that “a global electric-car sector must start in China and the United States, and it must begin with the two countries creating an environment for automotive investors to scale their bets across both nations.” It goes on to suggest that although private companies will compete to provide the technologies, charging stations and the vehicles, “the two governments can no doubt create the conditions for them to succeed – for example, by setting standards, funding the rollout of infrastructure and sponsoring joint R&D initiatives.” This is supported by a host of numbers that show that if penetration of electric vehicles rises above 45% by 2030, oil imports and CO2 emissions would fall dramatically. To achieve this China needs to spend $28bn and build 700,000 charging stations while the figures for the US are $50bn and 1.2m respectively.

    Now this all sounds very good and can be supported by examples such as the Tesla electric sports-car, the GM Volt and Warren Buffet’s investment in BYD – the Chinese electric car manufacturer. But, for me there are two issues which may mean that this US / China leadership should be questioned.

    The first one concerns the fact that other countries have already made the decisions and are acting on them. Electric car recharging networks are already being built in Denmark, Israel and, most significantly, France. I say “most significantly” for France because it is here that government, the car industry and the energy sector appear to be most aligned. Renault is launching (not just talking about) electric vehicles in 2012; Renault and EDF are building a nationwide electric car recharging network in France in 2011; and €400m of initial state backing was personally guaranteed by President Sarkozy in October 2008. So, it looks like the alignment of significant market potential, technology, regulation and finance required to establish the environment for a breakthrough change seems to be coming together pretty well in France with its EU neighbours as candidates for roll-out.

    The second issue concerns the CO2 impacts being claimed vs. those being delivered. In many countries the switch from hydrocarbons to electrons for transport is a bit of a red herring as they will be largely relying on oil, gas and coal to generate the electricity in the first place. Yes the point of CO2 production shifts from the vehicle to the power station, but significant breakthroughs are still required before effective and economic carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are retro-fitted to the existing energy base. If electric mobility is going to have significant impact within the next decade, some see that it needs to be aligned to major sources of renewable, clean energy. So looking at the current leaders in this field, it is no surprise that Denmark (wind), Israel (solar) and France (nuclear) are seen as front-runners: These locations have high renewable supplies of electricity already installed or being installed. As such, they will gain most from the associated carbon credits from the introduction of electric mobility.

    The participation of China and the US in electric mobility will definitely have a major impact – not just because of the size of the domestic markets, but also because of the catalytic effect they have on the rest of the world. But, right now based on current actions, over a 10 rather than 20 year timescale, one can see other countries leading the way, proving the technologies, establishing leadership positions and gaining the most in terms of both economic impact and carbon reduction.

  3. This week’s Economist has a good article ( on Renault’s ‘bold’ plans for electric cars and the reactions that it is getting. Highlighting how, as other manufacturers focus on hybrids and hydrogen options, Renault and Nissan are taking ambitious steps forward into full electric mobility. Carlos Ghosn, boss of both Renault and Nissan, sees that “by 2020 purely electric, zero emission vehicles will will take 10% of the global car market. What is more, he wants such vehicles to account for 20% of Renault-Nissan’s sales by then.” With a range of full electric cars now slated for launch in 2012, the Economist piece highlights the impressive commitment and also some of the constraints to be overcome.

  4. The Future of Transport initial view includes the perspective that over the next decade another 300m new drivers will be added to the world. This piece ( on the BBC website tends to support an even greater pace of change. It reports on an announcement that the Xinhua News Agency in China has announced that 10m cars have been produced so far this year in China. 80% of the way thru 2009 this is a huge growth and, if we assume another 2m will be produced by the end of the year, this will mean an increase of over 30% on 2008. As the news release states “China’s total sales hit 9.66 million vehicles in the first nine months of the year, up 34 percent from a year earlier and are forecast to top 12 million units for the year. Previously only Japan and the U.S. have exceeded 10 million vehicles in annual output.” Looking at the production figures for 2008 in more detail from the OICA Japan’s production in 2008 was 11.6m while the US only managed 8.7m. So looks like China is set to become the world’s leading car producer pretty soon. So this brings us back to the question of whether of not Chinese car production will lead a shift to smaller, more efficient vehicles or not.

  5. Workshop Feedback says:

    The initial perspective reads like the past of transport not the future. In order to be successful and sustainable, public transport systems in cities must offer the same flexibility as personal transport. The fundamental challenge is how to achieve this. A good public transport system is vital, in addition to pedestrian and cycle routes. We should also not confuse the need to reduce carbon with the challenge of congestion. In many ways low carbon vehicles may result in more congestion given the current rules. Although we are planning for a world in 2020 where 10% of vehicles are electric this will not solve congestion issues.

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