The Pathways To A Low-Carbon Future: Transport

by Vincent Diringer

When looking at the innovations being made in energy and technology in terms of carbon-reduction, transportation often gets identified as a major vector for emissions. From cruise ships to flights and cars, our modes of transportation have become one of the largest drivers of the climate crisis [1]. There has been strong advocacy for more intuitive city planning and smarter public transport usage, and strong policy to go along with suggestions to reduce the use of personal vehicles, but our modes of transport themselves can be adapted to fit a low-carbon future without necessarily changing our habits [1, 2].

Driving Innovation

One of the easiest ways to reduce carbon output is through changing how we view and use transportation. Whether it be using different combinations of public transport, reducing usage of personal vehicles for short trips, or favoring low-carbon transportation, there is a need for these alternatives to be met – both physically and logistically [2]. Alternative transport options have long captivated society and propelled research [3, 4]. From hydrogen to biofuels and electric engines, the world has often looked to innovate the transportation of people and goods. As such, there already exists a diverse number of pathways towards a future of low-carbon transport.

Changes to the fuel that propels Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (ICEVs) are one such option – the use of alternative fuels has grown in popularity over time, with research continually undertaken and applied to find ways of reducing our dependence on oil [2, 4]. This focus on reducing the emissions of ICEVs and finding viable fuel alternatives has also helped lead to the rise of Electric Eehicles (EVs) which have outperformed their fossil-fuel counterparts in terms of reduced emissions and air pollution [5]. 

EV technology has led to a fast shift within the automotive industry, transitioning towards fully electric or hybrid vehicle production within relatively short time frames [6]. Driven in part by increased demand from consumers, the rise of EVs also coincides with breakthroughs in renewable energy and battery technology that have pushed researchers to look into aviation and ocean-going equivalencies [6, 7, 8]. Further development and research is needed to bring these two transportation sectors to the same level as that of electric vehicles, but they are well on their way to finding the right solutions [9, 10].

In addition to the research going into low-carbon transportation methods, the implementation of smart technology within public infrastructure systems can also create more efficient transportation options [2, 11]. New tech developments such as the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) can accurately track public transport, route popularity, and traffic conditions to provide real-time updates to customers, as well data to analyse for decision-makers regarding performance [11]. Technology, if it be implemented in transport or other sectors, is certain to play a major role in reducing carbon outputs [12].

Changing Outlooks

Globally there has been a shift in the perception of travel – especially following the COVID-19 pandemic – and there is some credence behind the notion that international travel habits could dip, signalling a change in how we approach air travel [13]. Combined with new policies aimed at reducing emissions from airlines as well as growing pressure to better regulate and manage the carbon offset programmes managed by them, major emitters within the transport sector will likely need to adapt their behaviour [14, 15, 16].

While the aforementioned examples provide an interesting backdrop for a pathway to a low-carbon future where business runs as usual, there are also opportunities for individuals to alter their own habits. Reflecting on how we use different modes of transport can help identify areas where we can improve. 

Reducing the use of personal vehicles for short trips and replacing them by walking, biking, or public transport is an easy swap; choosing to ride-share where possible, or even looking at alternative forms of travel for longer voyages can be good for the planet [17]. However, the infrastructure for these alternatives to be viable also needs to be up to par – which is something that governments are working towards [2, 18].

As COP26 looms, nations are updating their pledges and setting stronger climate goals aimed at facilitating a transition towards a low-carbon future. Despite a general shift within industries to embrace sustainable development models, a lot of work remains to be done to implement workable solutions [19]. The transport sector is an inherently difficult one to overhaul, as it not only interlinks cities but crosses international borders and holds the world together – as such solutions need to have a degree of overlap. 

While this may seem like a tall order, the outlook for a pathway to a low-carbon future certainly seems bright. From fiscal incentives to specialised policy, governments are actively transitioning transportation towards a more sustainable model [18, 20, 21]. In conjunction with new technology, changing consumer demands, and the public’s overall hunger for solutions, the transport sector is one of the most dynamic industries and one with the greatest capacity for change.

This concludes the third article of a multi-part series breaking down the current pathways to a low-carbon future. Stay tuned for more information regarding how we as a society can change.


[1] United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, NDL, “Climate Change and Sustainable Transport”, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[2] European Commission, 2021, “Sustainable Transport”, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[3] SAGE Publishing, 2021, “The Journal of Transport History”, SAGE, Taken from:*1n1oq1k*_ga*OTI1MzM3MzgyLjE2MjMwNzAwNTI.*_ga_60R758KFDG*MTYyMzA3MDA1Mi4xLjAuMTYyMzA3MDA1Mi4w&_ga=2.149641394.587335539.1623070053-925337382.1623070052#description (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[4], NDL, “Alternative Fuels and Vehicles” Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[5] International Council on Clean Transportation, 2018, “Effects of battery manufacturing on electric vehicle life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions”, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[6] Steven Fleming, Ramesh Telang, Akshay Singh, & Brandon Mason, 2019, “Merge ahead: Electric vehicles and the impact on the automotive supply chain”, PwC, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[7] Jenni Read, 2020, “Easyjet partner plans to test electric aircraft in 2023”, Business Traveller, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[8] James Ellsmoor, 2019, “The World’s Largest Electric Ferry Has Completed Its Maiden Voyage”, Forbes, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[9] Mark Moore & Bill Fredericks, 2014, “Misconceptions of electric propulsion aircraft and their emergent aviation markets.” In the 52nd Aerospace Sciences Meeting AIAA SciTech, vol. 17
[10] Hanna Bach, Anna Bergek, Øyvind Bjørgum, Teis Hansen, Assiya Kenzhegaliyeva, and Markus Steen, 2020, “Implementing maritime battery-electric and hydrogen solutions: A technological innovation systems analysis.” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 87
[11] Steve Mazur, 2020, “An Introduction to Smart Transportation: Benefits and Examples”, DIGI, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[12] Börje Ekholm & Johan Rockström, 2019, “Digital technology can cut global emissions by 15%. Here’s how”, World Economic Forum, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[13] Jaap Bouwer, Steve Saxon, & Nina Wittkamp, 2021, “Back to the future? Airline sector poised for change post-COVID-19”, McKinsey, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[14] Kim Wilsher, 2021, “France to ban some domestic flights where train available”, The Guardian, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[15] European Commission, 2021, “Reducing emissions from aviation”, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[16] Patrick Greenfield, 2021, “Carbon offsets used by major airlines based on flawed system, warn experts”, The Guardian, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[17] European Environment Agency, 2021, “Rail and waterborne – best for low-carbon motorised transport”, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[18] United Nations, 2016, “Mobilizing Sustainable Transport for Development: Analysis and Policy Recommendations from the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport”, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[19] Vincent Diringer, 2020, “Greening The Economy: How Manufacturing, Technology & Individuals Can Help”, Impakter, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[20] International Energy Agency, 2021, “Policies to promote electric vehicle deployment”, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
[21]  Frank Watson  & Richard Rubin, 2021, “EU Council adopts conclusions on sustainable transportation”, S&P Global, Taken from: (Accessed 07/06/2021)
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