This blog was written by Himanshu Raj, Sustainable Mobility Officer at ICLEI World Secretariat
As the vaccination for COVID19 is in sight, a cure for air pollution is still not there. Both are urgent to improve the health of millions of people affected around the world. During COVID-19 lockdowns many cities around the world witnessed clear blue skies and mountain views; a view obscured by smog for many years . Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows lowered levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) linked to automobiles over cities and industrial clusters worldwide. A large portion of it was due to a decline in travel from fuel-burning vehicles and airliners. Such atmospheric transformation left a grim hope and excitement to scientists, researchers and policy makers around the world that the issue of ‘air pollution’ is solvable.
Air pollution has been identified as one of the greatest risks to human health before COVID-19 pandemic and will be even after. As estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 91 percent of people worldwide breathe polluted air and every year 4.2 million premature deaths could be attributed to ambient (outdoor) air pollution. While ambient air pollution affects developed and developing countries alike, low- and middle-income countries experience the highest-burden as they lack access to the resources to adapt to—or move away from—air pollution and associated challenges.
The transportation sector powered by fossil fuels is a major contributor to air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Globally, it accounts for a quarter of energy based GHG emissions and emits more than half of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the air. In the EU, transport is responsible for more than two thirds of all NOx emissions and in particular road transport where on-road diesel vehicles account for 60 percent of transportation-attributable fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Recently, a significant shift is happening in transforming the transport sector through strong and sustained public policy promoting low and zero emission mobility. Electrification of transport modes, use of multimodal mobility, improved fuel quality, use of alternative fuels and stringent policies to promote all of it have remained the key discussion points in the last decade.
Emissions from urban freight transport
Globally, an efficient freight movement is no longer a necessity rather a need for a liveable city and has a strong link for a thriving economy. A recent study by ITF suggests that the last mile trips represent only 3 percent of total freight activity but accounts for the same amount of emissions as global maritime shipping; which is 20 percent of all freight emissions. In the EU, trucks account for only 2 percent of vehicles on the road—yet they are responsible for 22 percent of road transport CO2 emissions. The growth in the freight sector is inevitable, and is suggested to be more than double in next three decades, even with an ambitious policy agenda (ITF, 2021). Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce was on the rise and competition to address customer demand resulted in faster,but not necessarily sustainable, deliveries. If the trend continues without any intervention, the number of delivery vehicles in the top 100 cities globally will increase by 36 percent until 2030 further adding up to challenges cities are facing already. (WEF, 2020). In the ongoing COVID19 pandemic the trend of online shopping soared in all sectors including groceries and essential goods which has given an opportunity to restructure the last mile logistics while keeping decarbonization at the core of it.
Improving air quality has become one of the important drivers for sustainable urban freight in the cities. Cities like Los Angeles (USA) and Bogota (Colombia) have included freight as an intervention area in their Climate Action Plans and Clean Air Action Plans. The Dutch National Climate Agreement directed the logistics sector to significantly reduce CO2 emissions and recommended implementing zero emission zones for freight (ZEZs-F) in the country’s 30-40 largest cities for achieving the target. Focusing on air quality, the city and business community of Rotterdam have partnered for a local ‘green deal’ called “010 City Logistics”.
EcoLogistics approach: Cleaner air is on its way
The EcoLogistics approach follows the strategy to Avoid (and reduce) the freight volume and haul distance, Shift (and maintain) to more sustainable modes of freight transportation, Improve the logistics operations by use of innovative technologies and better operation. Phasing out sales of new internal combustion engines vehicles, electrification of freight fleets, the promotion of cargo bikes, shifting to multi-modal transport, providing incentives for private companies to move towards zero emission logistics, introducing low/zero emission zones, use of robots and drones for deliveries are some of the intervention areas to watch for in the near future to transition towards sustainable freight.
Through the EcoLogistics initiative, ICLEI aims to transform the urban logistics scene in cities through effective regulatory, planning and administrative instruments at all levels of government. ICLEI builds capacity across local governments to implement sustainable urban freight policies through urban freight emission assessment tools, developing action plans, implementing demonstration projects and creating national policy recommendations to connect local, regional and national level interventions. ICLEI’s EcoLogistics initiative launched 8 foundational principles that local governments can follow to lead the transition to sustainable urban freight. In Bogota ( EcoLogistics project city), transport is responsible for 70% of total air pollution of which 43% comes from trucks that are often outdated; the average vehicle age of 3.5-18t trucks in Bogota is 25 years. In the quest of improving the city’s air quality, Bogota is planning for micro consolidation hubs to restrict high numbers of vehicles entering the inner city and replacing trucks with cargo bikes (bicicarga). It also aims to develop a Low Carbon Action plan for urban freight to streamline the freight movement. The EcoLogistics approach encourages sustainable urban freight movement and reduces exposure to air pollution, resulting in health, environmental and economic benefits. Combating air pollution requires all stakeholders to work together and commit strategies for a decarbonized future.
A rare sight emerged for L.A. residents in April 2020: the snow-capped peaks of the San Gabriel mountains, clearly visible in the smog-free atmosphere. Photographer: David McNew/Getty Images North America (source: CITYLAB)