When it comes to addressing the fearsome challenge of accelerating climate change, we are still in something of a phony war: we know the changes are coming, and we know they are going to have a big impact on all of us, but we keep hoping we can put things off for just a little bit longer!
The truth of it is that our politicians still don’t know how to get their electorates on board with the idea of a low-carbon, super-efficient society, and have been next to useless at spelling out all the economic benefits that will flow as a result of this transition.
Encouragingly, however, our scientists and entrepreneurs are just getting on with designing the technologies and systems which will eventually deliver this low-carbon society. A lot of this is still below the radar, but even the stuff that we can already see is hugely exciting. And we need a lot more of that to help inform what are some of the most controversial issues in society today.
Perhaps the most important flash point in today’s energy debate has to do with mobility. And it goes almost without saying that the most powerful manifestation of the desire for mobility over the last 100 years has undoubtedly been the car. We already have one billion cars on the road today, and due to growing demand in emerging markets, we are on course to have more than two billion within the next 20 years. Cars provide so much more than a means of getting from A to B – in terms of status, aspiration, comfort, convenience – and even (for some) true passion!
But this love affair comes at a price: as a result of our vehicles’ dependence on fossil fuels, land transportation today is already responsible for 11% of global GHG emissions. That can’t go on. In the future, the transport sector will have to adjust both to the policy responses to climate change (such as a real and even punitive price on carbon), and to the physical impacts of changing weather patterns. Resource shortages will intensify this pressure – from oil scarcity and rising energy prices to competition between biofuels and food production. There are major challenges ahead.
At Forum for the Future, we have examined what the future of mobility might look like in light of some of these challenges. On the back of that, we have identified six critical areas we must act on now in order to create more sustainable mobility systems in the future:
Go beyond the car
Current growth rates in car ownership are simply unsustainable. We need alternative ways of getting around, and new business models which encourage on-demand access to cars rather than simply ownership. We need urban planning mandates that prevent further sprawl, make it easy to walk around local communities, and provide access to key goods and services.
‘Refuel’ our vehicles
Needless to say, cars will still be with us for a long time to come! But not as we know them today. As oil becomes more expensive and more of a security risk, success for the OEMs will be all about dramatically improved efficiency and alternative powertrains.
Integrate, integrate, integrate
Energy, transport, business, public services and food supply can no longer be considered in isolation. We need to create integrated mobility systems that will provide people with choice, flexibility and seamless connectivity – whether they are traveling from one place to another or accessing goods and services in all sorts of different ways.
Make the poor a priority
There are currently 4 billion people around the globe on low incomes, and this trend will increase as much of the world’s future population growth will be occurring in Asia and Africa. The mobility sector will have to design tailored mobility solutions that meet these people’s needs.
Switch on to IT networks
There is enormous potential for information technology to reduce the energy intensity of mobility by enabling urban dwellers to access more and more services online. Using IT networks to connect and coordinate cars and public transport can also help optimize energy efficiency.
Change people’s behaviour
Many of our future challenges are shaped by people’s values, behavior and preferences. We need to think about ways to influence these social norms in positive ways to promote low-carbon, healthier lifestyles. The leading mobility players of the future will plan today to influence lifestyles, rather than simply relying on putting more cars on the road or developing additional road infrastructure.
None of this is science fiction. In each of these six areas, we can already see the green shoots of ‘sustainable mobility’ breaking through in cities all around the world. One way or another, it’s going to be an exciting ride!
This article originally appeared on the website of independent sustainability experts Forum for the Future.