Pounding the pavement could do wonders for climate change, IPCC expert says

By Melissa Coade

April 6, 2022

walking to work
IPCC report shows changing transport habits is one of the simplest ways ordinary people can help countries reduce emissions. (qunamax/Adobe)

Calls for an urgent transition to net-zero carbon emissions in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report show changing transport habits is one of the simplest ways ordinary people can help.

According to Dr Jake Whitehead, a research fellow in the University of Queensland’s school of civil engineering, when it comes to the contribution of transport emissions to global warming, individual choices matter. Governments should be doing more to encourage citizens to take up options with fewer emissions, such as electric scooters, bikes, cars, trucks and buses. But of course, more people walking and cycling would go even further. 

“On an individual level, our largest contributions can come from walking and cycling, using more public transport and electrified transport, reducing air travel, adopting sustainable housing, and shifting towards plant-based diets,” Whitehead said. 

“For land-based transport, electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes, powered by low-carbon electricity, are the most viable decarbonisation solution. This would ensure individuals and businesses have ways to reduce their transport emissions.”

The IPCC’s sixth assessment report, Climate change 2022: Mitigation of climate change, was published this week. Whitehead was the lead author for the chapter that addressed transport and warned that a careful balancing act was needed to maximise emissions reduction from renewable energy over the coming decades.

“Energy-intensive fuels, such as hydrogen and synthetic fuels, need to be strategically used in harder-to-decarbonise segments such as shipping and aviation, to maximise energy efficiency and minimise costs,” Whitehead said. 

“While government funding is critical for decarbonising transport, this transition also presents significant economic opportunities. Australia could support transport decarbonisation globally through the mining of critical minerals, as well as the manufacturing, reuse and recycling of electric vehicles.”

The latest IPCC report found policy coverage of emissions was uneven across sectors and, worryingly, said the alignment of financial flows towards the goals of the Paris Agreement continued to be slow and were unevenly distributed among regions and sectors. 

Sustainability expert Dr Arunima Malik, from the University of Sydney, was the lead author for chapter 1 of the report. She said the document’s modelling showed ‘deep and sustained reductions’ in global greenhouse gas emissions were needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The main goal of the multilateral treaty is to limit global warming preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century. 

Against a backdrop of rising greenhouse gas emissions, Malik said, some global progress had been made in the past few years. She also noted hopeful cooperation programs between local and state actors and industry sectors, which could enable the system transformations that were needed to limit global warming further. 

“Costs for low-carbon technologies [have come] down (especially for solar power), [there has been] a growing concern for climate change, and rising support for the need for climate action across society, with youth movements playing a key role,” Malik said. 

“[However] regional inequalities still exist, and climate change mitigation needs to sit in line with the global agenda for sustainable development,” she added.


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