By Stefan Nicola
The greatest emerging threat to the global climate may rest in the side pocket of your trousers — or wherever you keep the car keys.
Emissions from transportation may rise at the fastest rate of all major sources through 2050, the United Nations will say in a report due April 13. Heat-trapping gases from vehicles may surge 71 percent from 2010 levels, mainly from emerging economies, according to a leaked draft of the most comprehensive UN study to date on the causes of climate change.
Rising incomes in nations like China, India and Brazil have produced explosive demand for cars and for consumer goods that must be delivered by highway, rail, ship or air. The new pollution, measured in millions of tons of greenhouse gases, may exceed all of the savings achieved through initiatives like subsidies for public transport and fuel efficiency.
Cutting back on transportation gases “will be challenging, since the continuing growth in passenger and freight activity could outweigh all mitigation measures unless transport emissions can be strongly decoupled from GDP growth,” the report’s authors wrote.
In China, gross domestic product will jump to $10,661 per capita this year from $3,614 a decade earlier, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund. That vaulted it to rank 92 worldwide by that measure, from 114 in 2004. The countries that jumped even more in ranking were Timor-Leste, up 43 levels, followed by Azerbaijan, Belarus and Turkmenistan.
The warning in the 2,061-page report forms the third part of the UN’s study into global warming. Hundreds of scientists and government officials are meeting through at least April 11 in Berlin to finalize the wording of a smaller document summarizing their findings. It will guide UN envoys as they try to devise a plan to fight climate change and stop temperatures from rising to dangerous levels.
While transportation only accounted for about 27 percent of total “end-use” energy in 2010, according to the report, emissions from vehicles have more than doubled since 1970.
They expanded at a faster rate than any other energy end-use sector, to reach 7 gigatons of CO2 in 2010. Road vehicles made up about 80 percent of the increase. The report examines four end-use sectors; transport, industry, building, and agriculture and forestry.
Not all polluting groups burn fossil fuels as end-users. The power generation industry, for example, uses coal, natural gas and the like to make electricity, and it is a bigger emitter than transportation.
For road traffic will remain a potent source of emissions. Global car sales will rise 4 percent to 70.2 million in 2014 from last year, and are forecast to jump 27 percent by 2020, according to IHS Inc. The researcher expects demand to peak around 100 million units.
While there will be efforts to mitigate increases in developing nations, “there will still be a lot of transportation growth in places such as Thailand, Indonesia and India,” Dave Hurst, a transportation analyst at Navigant Research, said April 7 by phone from Troy, Michigan.
The study from the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is designed to influence governments around the world. Envoys from 194 nations next year intend to adopt an agreement on fighting climate change and will use the report to guide their discussions. A draft of the study was obtained by Bloomberg from a person with official access to the documents who asked not to be further identified.
Jonathan Lynn, a spokesman for the IPCC, declined by e-mail to comment on the contents of the report because it hasn’t yet been published.
Global emissions need to fall about 12 percent in 2020 from 2012 levels to prevent temperatures rising 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. It estimates carbon output won’t fall under existing climate commitments.
A decrease in emissions may come from government policies to change driving behavior, investments in public transport, substituting oil-based fuels in cars, ships and airplanes with natural gas, biofuels or renewable electricity, and new technologies such as lightweight vehicles and electric cars, the authors write. Reducing transport pollution can benefit economies, the authors wrote.
“In least developed countries, prioritizing access to pedestrians and integrating non-motorized and public transport services can result in higher levels of economic and social prosperity,” they wrote. “In fast growing emerging economies, investments in mass transit and other low-carbon transport infrastructure can help avoid future lock-in to carbon intensive modes.”
While China will be one of the biggest electric car markets because of strong government support, the vehicles will spread slower in other nations because they’re expensive, Hurst said.
Technologies that shut off idling engines when stopped at a red light, so-called start-stop that’s increasingly installed in new European cars, have potential to spread further in North America and emerging economies “as it’s a relatively cheap technology to introduce,” he said.