Friday, October 23, 2009

Sustainable transport on the road to COP15?
"In my humble opinion we are not ready."

"Transport is not a party to CO2 talks. Local, regional, and national transport stakeholders – planners, mayors, transit operators, developers, walkers, bikers are only there if they are invited by their delegations or as part of a true blizzard of interesting side events. But SIDE events. The power lies elsewhere."

- Contribution by Schipper following up on 20 Oct. posting under this heading.

I was in Kyoto and others through Cop 6, then again Montreal and Bali. I will be in Copenhagen just before the beginning for a meeting of a special study on CO2 and transport in 2050, (There will be an open side event Saturday Dec 5, followed by a reception with a jazz group known as “Lee Schipper and the Mitigators”.)

What was notable about Kyoto was the little guys from the car industry through the “Global Climax Coalition”, a solid contrarian group at the time of mostly America car and fuel companies. They were wearing “badges of convenience”, in that case the “International Chamber of Commerce.” They contributed nothing to the discussion -- although a few were helpful at the various transport-related side events I had organized for the International Energy Agency. General Motors and Honda participated in one side event in the Hague (COP 6) with constructive comments, as did Volvo Bus.

At Bali, I co-organized with the International Transport Forum an SRO event on transport, but mostly focused on tailpipes. Local councilors and others who do have political power were there, but only as observers.

And IMHO, while transport is crucial to solving the problem because over the long run transport – Co2 has grown more than other major sources—CO2 is just NOT a driving factor to total transport costs, externalities, or even variable costs.

Have a look here at our latest report, focused on Latin America but suggesting a total reframing of the problem -

Last year a major global NGO asked me to write a paper explaining how transport could be part of the CO2 process we call “Kyoto”, how the “North” could aid the “South”, etc. Hmm. I demurred.

Shall “we” pay ”them” not to be like us? Do we have some magic low-CO2 technologies? Can CO2-related money (i.e., CDM) possibly add up to anywhere near the trillions that go into roads and expensive metros systems? Will small change undo what mayors, transport ministers and other authorities have been unable to do, namely break the lock of the car on development? I wish it were so.

So maybe we are not ready and should not have high expectations, particularly with the US still in its usual state of disarray and denial, in spite of what I would term positive leadership from our new White House and departments of Transport and Energy and the EPA.

There is at least one bright hope on the horizon. The "Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport", founded in a small meeting held in Bellagio Italy last May, with Cornie Huizenga, formerly director of Clean Air Initiative-Asia as the spearhead, is trying to find ways (and money) to reframe the whole process for transportation funding and policy. Details here from their launch last month in Bangkok.

I am biased because of my association with this group and its founding, in a way in response to my continual harrumphing about the problems of transport and CO2. This group will be visible in Copenhagen and elsewhere in the future and gives me reason to be more optimistic.

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About the author:
After leaving the International Energy Agency to start EMBARQ, The WRI Center for Sustainable Transport in Washington DC 2002-2007, Lee Schipper moved back to the SF Bay area to split his time between Global Metro Studies, UC Berkeley and the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford where he works to this day.

I asked Lee what in addition to his desk work is he doing to help stem our planet's miserable decline, to which he replied: I have 4 bikes and bike/train to work every day (presumably one at time). My wife and I split one car, 5000 km/year. One daughter (Lisa) is one of the world's leading experts on climate vulnerability and adaptation - her father having failed miserably to help stem the rise in CO2. The other works on issues of refugees and anti-trafficking. I rest my case.

The editor

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