“Avoid, Shift, and Improve” for a More Energy-Efficient Transport Sector
Three words: Avoid, Shift, Improve. These words make up the three-pronged paradigm of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) approach towards greater energy efficiency in the transport sector, as outlined in the agency’s latest report “A Tale of Renewed Cities”.
Nearly half of global oil consumption and about a fifth of the world’s energy use goes to transport. This translates not only to massive noise and air pollution, but also to heavy congestion of city streets around the world. Yet by 2050, the IEA expects urban transport energy consumption to double.
In National Geographic, IEA Director Maria van der Hoeven said, “The need for efficient, affordable, safe and high-capacity transport solutions will become more acute… Urgent steps to improve the efficiency of urban transport systems are needed not only for energy security reasons, but also to mitigate the numerous negative climate, noise, air pollution, congestion and economic impacts of rising urban transport volumes.”
The IEA believes that measures such as improvements in vehicle and fuel technologies, non-motorized travel, and policies to change inefficient modes of travel can help the world hit climate change targets and fuel security. These measures are categorized under ‘Avoid’, ‘Shift’, and ‘Improve’ policies.
‘Avoid’ policies seek to slow down automobile-reliant travel growth through city planning and management of travel demand.
- To reduce trip length, city planners could promote high-density, mixed land-use urban development where residents can live, work , and enjoy leisure activities
- To reduce need or desire to travel, city officials could promote car-pooling, travel costs awareness, and strict parking standards
Policies under the “Shift” approach aims to redirect movement from private automobile travel to more efficient transportation modes.
- More affordable, frequent, and seamless public transport
- Travel bans and traffic restrictions in city centers
- Road space allocations (more sidewalks, dedicated lanes for buses and bicycles)
- Congestion charges
- Implementation of vehicle size and weight standards on roads to shift freight transport to better energy-efficient modes
Motorized travel can be improved through policies that reduce energy consumption and emission through strict fuel-economy standards and efficient vehicles.
- To reduce both energy use and emissions, vehicle standards and speed limits can be implemented
- Promotion of eco-driving
- Smart grids for low-carbon, electric vehicle charging stations
- Development of feedback instruments to improve fuel/vehicle technologies
- Fiscal incentives for fuel-efficient and low-carbon vehicles
- Subsidy grants for alternative fuels
Applied on its own, ‘improve’ policies can be ineffective in the long run as it will encourage more travel and car ownership. The report states that it is best to pair ‘improve’ policies to ‘avoid’ and ‘shift’ measures. This is so as not to defeat the purpose of the latter by losing net gains to increased motor travel.
Application of ‘avoid’ and ‘shift’ policies alone could save USD 30 trillion over a business-as-usual scenario. This is in terms of net global transport expenditures projected to 2050. The IEA estimates that the pairing of an “avoid, shift, improve” paradigm with “improve” policies could result in global transport expenditures savings of nearly USD 70 trillion by 2050.
Though world city planners should take heed of that potential savings figure, what should turn heads is the growing need to achieve energy efficiency in urban transport systems. More importantly, to accomplish this at a more urgent and determined pace. The IEA’s ‘avoid, shift, and improve’ paradigm can help policy makers in addressing immediate transport needs as well as moving the world closer towards more efficient, environmentally sustainable travel.
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