White paper

Vision 2050: A strategy to decarbonize the global transport sector by mid-century

Global demand for passenger and freight transportation continues to rise, driven by population and economic growth. As transportation demand has grown so too, inexorably, have carbon emissions from the global transportation sector. That is a trend that we know cannot be permitted to continue. The destructive effects of the warming that has already occurred as a consequence of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are dire enough. Scientists warn that we must steeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century to avoid additional warming that will have genuinely catastrophic effects. In that light, transforming the technologies and systems that move people and goods around the world appears imperative.

And greenhouse gas emissions do not even fully describe the environmental challenges posed by rising demand for transportation in a system that remains dependent on burning fossil fuel. The public health toll of air pollution, especially in large cities, remains unacceptably high. More than 90% of the world’s population lives in areas that do not meet the air-quality guidelines set by the World Health Organization—including places, like parts of the United States and Europe, that do not habitually think of themselves as suffering from air pollution.

Climate and health impacts are inherently coupled. The bottom line is that a sector almost exclusively dependent on a single energy source, petroleum, operating on infrastructure that represents trillions of dollars of investment, must change substantially in little more than a generation.

Many people have engaged these problems. Policymakers at all levels of government are working to implement new environmental protections and other measures. The automotive industry is investing in the development and deployment of new technologies. Philanthropies are directing large sums to support climate action. Advocacy and consumer groups are launching campaigns to raise awareness and put pressure on decisionmakers. Scientists and academic institutions are conducting research and analyses to support decision-making.

The ICCT works with all these stakeholders. This document summarizes our own vision, reached after long internal deliberation, for decarbonizing the transport sector. Vison 2050 addresses four central questions:

  1. What is the baseline trajectory of global transportation emissions from 2020 to 2050 by country and by vehicle segment?
  2. What is the magnitude of reductions needed if the global transport sector is to contribute to keeping global temperature rise below 1.5˚C?
  3. What is an ambitious yet feasible set of policies and technologies for decarbonizing the transportation sector by mid-century?
  4. What are the highest priority focus areas over the next five years?

For road, air, and maritime transportation it articulates a set of targets for greenhouse gas emissions that we collectively must reach if we are to keep global warming below 1.5º C, and a series of steps that we collectively can take to reach them. In short, it summarizes our strategic approach to meeting the climate crisis.