The shift to a decarbonised transportation sector

Understanding the shift towards Transport Decarbonization

September 23, 2023

The shift to a decarbonised transportation sector

Understanding the shift towards Transport Decarbonization

September 23, 2023

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One-quarter of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions come from the transport sector.

Change is taking place and the space is poised for an unparalleled revolution.

Private companies and governments have tried to reduce emissions in the past, but change has been slow.

We believe however that today's environment and regulatory space provides an opportunity for investors, makers, and innovators to make quick, lasting, and impactful changes to the industry.

From our understanding, the shift to a decarbonised transportation sector can be understood in 4 factors:

  • Urgency - As CO2 emissions keep trending higher, the world is also making leaps and bounds in terms of EV adoption. Emissions fell by roughly 10% in 2020 during the Covid outbreak, but picked up quickly the following year. Ev adoption on the other hand shows an exponential adoption curve.
  • Strategy - Decarbonization won’t happen on its own, change has to be forced, or at least encouraged to ensure actors of the transport sector actually make the change to greener and zero-low carbon emission alternatives.
  • Innovation - Engineers have had great ideas to support the transition to a decarbonized world. We’ll explore some of the most promising technologies and what they bring to the table.
  • Challenges - Getting things to change is never easy, from regulations, to costs and constraints, the road is paved with hurdles.

Data found on Our World in Data

Let’s take a look at each of these, and understand what the transition will bring.

The Urgency of Decarbonizing the Transport Sector

Global warming is a significant driver of climate change, which is increasingly affecting transportation systems. The rise in temperatures affects the physical infrastructure, causing damage to roads and railways, and disrupting transportation services. 

“Almost every study of significant heat waves since 2015 has found that probability has been significantly increased by anthropogenic climate change.”                                       - World Meteorological Organization

Moreover, changing weather patterns such as extreme weather events or precipitation changes affect the mobility of people and goods. Addressing the climate crisis requires urgent action in decarbonizing the transport sector to prevent further damage to the environment and public health.

One of the most significant impacts of climate change on transportation is the increased risk of flooding. Coastal cities and low-lying areas are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise, which can cause severe flooding and damage to transportation infrastructure. 

In addition, heavy rainfall can cause flash floods, landslides, and other natural disasters that can disrupt transportation services, adding another significant risk to the list of potential hazards.

The transport sector is responsible for a considerable share of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Within the sector, road transportation is the most significant contributor, accounting for over 70% of total transport CO2 emissions. Moreover, emissions from the aviation and maritime sectors continue to grow, contributing to the overall carbon footprint. Therefore, reducing emissions from the transport sector is crucial in mitigating climate change.

One of the most effective ways to reduce emissions from the transport sector is to promote sustainable mobility solutions. This can include investing in public transportation infrastructure, promoting active transportation such as walking and cycling, and encouraging the use of electric and hybrid vehicles. By shifting away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles, we can significantly reduce emissions and improve air quality.

Paris plans to invest 100€ billion by 2040 for its “new rail deal”

To achieve the transport decarbonization goals, it is essential to have the coordinated efforts of both governments and industry. Governments have a crucial role to play in setting ambitious targets and implementing policies and regulations to create conducive environments for decarbonization efforts. Private sector leaders and industry experts can support these efforts by investing in clean energy technologies, promoting sustainable mobility solutions and developing innovative decarbonization strategies.

For example, governments can provide incentives for the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles, such as tax credits and rebates. They can also invest in public transportation infrastructure and promote active transportation through the development of bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets. Industry leaders can invest in research and development of new clean energy technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells and renewable energy sources, to power transportation systems.

In conclusion, decarbonizing the transport sector is crucial in mitigating the impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure and public health. Governments and industry leaders must work together to set ambitious targets and implement policies and regulations to promote sustainable mobility solutions and reduce emissions from the transport sector. By taking urgent action, we can create a more sustainable and resilient transportation system for future generations.

Key Strategies for Transport Decarbonization

Let’s have a look at the key strategies for decarbonizing the transport sector to achieve the climate goals set forth in the Paris Agreement:

Understanding the cost of green alternatives

The "green premium" refers to the cost difference between a product or service that has a high carbon footprint and its green or low-carbon equivalent. For instance, if a gallon of regular gasoline costs $3, but the price of the equivalent amount of biofuel is $4, the green premium is $1. 

The concept is important in discussions about the economics of transitioning to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. High green premiums can deter people and organizations from choosing environmentally friendly options due to increased costs. Therefore, policymakers and researchers are focusing on strategies to reduce green premiums, such as technological innovations, economies of scale, and policy incentives, to accelerate the shift towards sustainability.

Alternative Fuels and Energy Sources

Alternative fuels and energy sources offer significant potential for decarbonizing the transport sector. Biofuels, for instance, can significantly reduce GHG emissions in the aviation and marine sectors, while hydrogen fuel cells, when combined with electricity from renewable energy sources, can power heavy-duty trucks and other vehicles with greater efficiency than combustion engines.

In addition, the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) can significantly reduce emissions from the aviation sector. SAFs are made from renewable sources such as biomass, municipal waste, and agricultural residues. They have the potential to reduce GHG emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel.

Public Transportation and Shared Mobility Solutions

Public transportation and shared mobility solutions, such as carpooling and bike sharing, offer excellent potential for reducing overall emissions and improving traffic efficiency. Combined with the integration of low-emission vehicles, policymakers should prioritize the shift towards larger-scale public transport networks in urban and suburban areas.

For example, the city of Paris has implemented a bike-sharing system called Vélib'. The system has over 20,000 bicycles and 1,800 stations, making it one of the largest bike-sharing systems in the world. The system has been successful in reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality in the city.

UrbanLoop and the HyperLoop are actually two examples of very promising technologies in the space, both promising low emission and high efficiency public transportation systems. The main idea being to create low pressure tunnels in which high speed capsules could travel through with minimal air resistance.

Infrastructure Development for Sustainable Transport

The development of sustainable and innovative transportation infrastructure is essential for achieving the decarbonization goals. This includes the construction of bike and pedestrian paths, as well as EV charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations. Investment in transportation infrastructure also provides an opportunity for creating jobs and boosting economic growth.

For instance, the state of California has set a goal of having 250,000 EV charging stations by 2025. The state has also invested in the development of hydrogen fueling stations to support the growth of fuel cell vehicles. These investments are essential for creating a supportive infrastructure for low-carbon transport. The startup ecosystem also features a lot of promising projects like Electra who’s working on creating very fast chargers (20 minutes for a full charge).

In conclusion, the transport sector has a significant role to play in achieving the climate goals set forth in the Paris Agreement. The strategies outlined above offer a roadmap for decarbonizing the sector and transitioning towards a low-carbon future.

Challenges and Barriers to Decarbonization

Developing these solutions is a step in the right direction but this path is also filled with challenges and problems to overcome. 

  • High Costs and Limited Funding

Decarbonizing the transport sector requires significant investments in research, development, and innovation, which is often costly. The limited funding and high costs of carbon-neutral technologies remain a significant challenge, particularly for developing countries. Governments must facilitate private sector investments in clean energy and incentivize individuals to adopt clean mobility solutions.

  • Consumer Acceptance and Adoption

In some regions, consumer acceptance of EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles remains limited due to perceptions of affordability, range anxiety, and a lack of charging infrastructure. Addressing these concerns requires creating greater awareness of the benefits of low-carbon mobility solutions and ensuring convenient access to charging infrastructure and other support services.

  • Policy and Regulatory Hurdles

The lack of supportive policies and regulations is a significant barrier in the adoption of low-carbon transportation solutions. Governments must create a stable policy and regulatory environment that supports the development and adoption of clean energy technologies and sustainable transport systems.

  • Technological Limitations and Infrastructure Constraints

The successful deployment of clean energy technologies and sustainable transport systems requires adequate infrastructure and supporting technologies. The availability of appropriate infrastructure for charging, hydrogen fueling, and biogas refueling remains limited in certain regions. Governments must support infrastructure development and deployment to enable innovative solutions, including those in the decarbonization of the transport sector.


Transport decarbonization is critical for mitigating climate change and improving the quality of life for people worldwide. Governments, industry experts, and private sector leaders must collaborate to develop innovative strategies and invest in transformative technologies. From electric vehicles to smart mobility solutions, we must embrace innovative solutions to overcome the challenges facing decarbonization in the transport sector. With concerted efforts, we can achieve low-carbon transport systems and a sustainable future.

Sparkmate is a hardware prototyping company, we focus on big challenges from mobility, to climate tech, we enjoy every kind of challenge.

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