Changing SA's transport sector | WWF South Africa

Changing SA's transport sector

Posted on 28 October 2013
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Long-distance domestic freight has increasingly moved onto road as our rail systems have become less and less able to meet the needs of freight customers. As a result, transport is one of the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting sectors in South Africa, based on unsustainable production and consumption patterns and a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. WWF-SA has embarked on a new stream of work to engage the local transport sector and the role it plays in the transition to a low-carbon economy. WWF’s transport project aims to provide a platform, expertise and interactive modelling to support labour, business and government in engaging with the challenges implicit in the transition.

National mitigation moves forward
This new area of work supports national policy requirements that key emitting sectors develop sector-specific ‘carbon budgets’ and mitigation plans. This approach to mitigating climate change is reflected in South Africa’s National Climate Change Response White Paper, which was finalised in November
2011. The White Paper stipulates that economic sectors need to develop carbon budgets with emission reduction ‘outcomes’ within two years, and mitigation plans must then be developed by sectors and later companies within three years.
Government is analysing what initiatives might reduce emissions within different sectors – we can refer to this as “what can be done” by emitters.
Pending an international equitable carve-up between countries of a global carbon budget as required to avert catastrophic climate change, WWF suggests working with an indicative national carbon budget derived from South Africa’s commitment to reduce national GHG emissions by 34% by 2020 and 42% by 2025. Assuming that there is an indicative national ‘carbon budget’, there will be decisions to make about developmental trade-offs, sequencing of initiatives and investment so as to reduce emissions. Some of the carbon budget will need to be reserved for economic activities which have not even fully emerged yet.
A national mitigation plan that just looks at existing emissions and what can be done piecemeal to reduce those will miss the strategic questions that a carbon budget approach allows, about how best to emit that budget to foster a flourishing economy with equity and developmental benefits – we can refer to this as “what should be done.” A process which iteratively compares “what can be done” (mitigation potential) and “what should be done” (best use of our carbon budget) will be most fruitful and practical for long-term economic, developmental and environmental benefits.

Shifting gear within a transport sectoral carbon budget
Already contributing about 13% of the country’s emissions, any means of reducing emissions in the transport sector holds the potential for widespread impact in the move towards an economy that is not based on fossil fuel exploitation.
The sector provides an excellent opportunity for modelling options and trade-offs, and advancing ways forward. Liquid fuels and transport are among the worst causes of South Africa’s emissions, and any solutions in the transport sector will make a big difference towards a low-carbon economy. There is also comparatively better data and research available than for many other sectors.
Interventions to transform the transport sector include reducing movement of goods and people; shifting to low-carbon modes of transport and improving energy and fuel efficiency.

Reduce the movement of goods and people:
In addition to increasing localisation and shortening the length of global and domestic supply chains, city planning will be a critical factor. Cities consume 75% of the world’s energy and produce 80% of its greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time in history, over half the world’s population, about 3 billion people, live in cities. The process of urbanisation is also intensifying, particularly in developing countries. According to UN projections, in the next 25 to 30 years, virtually all population growth will occur in urban areas. Major shifts in cities’ land-use planning will allow people to accomplish more while travelling less.

Shift modes of transport:
Means of transport will need to undergo significant shifts to reduce carbon emissions. Such changes will include shifting from air travel to high-speed rail, from road freight to rail, sea and waterways,
and private transport to public transport. Railways are a great deal more efficient bulk carriers than high numbers of vehicles on the roads. Meanwhile, passenger cars emit more than half of global transport emissions and short-distance trips (under 3.2 km) make up the majority of private vehicle trips. Consequently, reducing the use of personal vehicles by shifting these trips to public transit and non-motorised mobility is critical to reducing transport emissions.

Improve efficiency:
Finally, mobility services must be improved with better technology and increased energy and fuel efficiency.

WWF’s Transport Low-Carbon Frameworks programme gains traction
WWF’s transport project, or ‘Low-carbon frameworks for South Africa: A transport sectoral investigation’, has laid a solid foundation to develop over time. It is planned to scale up in February 2013 and run to June 2014, with results being publicised at key stages.
Thus far, representatives from government, labour, business and academia have been approached to contribute to the project, to peer review the work, and to assist in shaping the modelling and solution options. A regularly convened reference group has been established comprising selected individuals or representatives of organisations to contribute their expertise and guide the project’s orientation, strategy and programme.
The project builds on previous work on a carbon budget approach to a low-carbon action plan for South Africa, and is grounded in existing initiatives in the transport sector.

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