As the world marked World Environment Day on the 5th of June, with the theme #BeatPlasticPollution, it is also very important to factor in other pollutants which might be deadlier. According to Statista.com, as of 2021, the United States is the biggest worldwide emitter of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion. The United States has released 422 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (GtCO₂) into the atmosphere since the birth of the industrial revolution and is responsible for 50% of the climate breakdown the world is experiencing today. In total, the Global North is responsible for 92% of excess global carbon emissions. (Pardikar, 2020)
Due to these alarming facts, at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Glasgow, multiple governments and companies signed The Glasgow Declaration, which pledges to accelerate the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans. This would entail that all new cars and vans would not emit zero greenhouse gas at the tailpipe by 2035 in leading markets and by 2040 globally. The United States and China, the biggest car markets, did not sign and neither did Germany, the biggest car market in the EU. Also absent from the list of signatories were major car manufacturers Volkswagen, Toyota, Renault-Nissan and Hyundai-Kia.
In a research survey carried out by ecoAmerica, it was found that among the largest drivers of our changing climate is transportation, – which accounts for 29% of total emission in the United States and 14% globally. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], 2018; US Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2019). Additionally, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) postulates that moving to zero-emission trucks by 2050 could Provide our nation with up to $485 billion in health and environmental benefits alone as a result of pollution reductions, and prevent over 57,000 premature deaths, eliminate more than 4.7 billion tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 140,000 lost workdays. (Environmental Defense Fund, 2021)
Transportation is the largest source of climate pollution all around the world, and this necessitated the 28th Conference of the Parties, which is scheduled to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 2023). Dubai is a country that has successfully piloted its affairs away from fossil fuel in its major energy transition drive. Additionally, Dubai is the global hub for logistics, transportation and green technology. It is also the first country in the region to ratify the Paris Agreement and the Net Zero by 2050 strategic initiative; proving its commitment to raising ambition for climate action, is quite strategic and pivotal to solving global emissions.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR DEVELOPING NATIONS
The United Nations Economic Cooperation for Europe (UNECE) says that the global on-road vehicle fleet is to double by 2050 (from 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion) with the current export of second-hand vehicles majorly exported to eastern Europe, central Asia and Africa, with most future car purchases taking place in developing countries (International Energy Agency [IAE], 2012). It is expected that the number of car purchases will increase geometrically as developed countries in the Global North phase out Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (ICEs) by the year 2035. A majority of these vehicles will be shipped to the developing nations where the GDP and purchasing powers are lesser compared to other parts of the world, making the second-hand cars very affordable and cheap, leaving the global pollution problem in an “open bucket” imbroglio. However, there is no better time to enact this solution than now, which must cut across both developed and developing nations. However the Paris Agreement is not yet fully implemented by developed countries, which would give 100 billion dollars to developing countries to reduce the impacts of pollution (Wright, 2023).
Public transportation is the way forward. I recommend and propose that developed countries be held accountable under an Environmental Justice act (EJA), which must be signed by all participating nations bound by the COP agreement. The EJA policy document should be developed with contributions and inputs from diverse stakeholders across developing and developed countries to have an “even Development” supported by the sustainable development goals (SDG).
In my research work on fleet electrification, I have realized that public transportation would accelerate global emission reduction by 45% (Pei, 2021). A policy to use public transport at least once a week in developed countries will be essential to meeting emission reduction targets. Additionally, Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) can drive a faster transition to clean energy and fleet electrification by making loans available at par with developing countries’ local currency to give loans and grants that can be dispensed by local banks for large corporations and SMEs. By implementing an adaptable and incentivized model across cities, communities, and towns, a deeper appreciation and widespread adoption of public transportation can be fostered. These programs can reduce emissions and save lives. According to the US Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Authority, if just one driver per household switched to taking public transportation for a daily commute of 10 miles each way, it would save 4,627 pounds of carbon dioxide per household per year. This is equivalent to an 8.1% reduction in the annual carbon footprint of a typical American household (US Department of Transportation, 2010). The emission of harmful pollutants from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE), which poses a severe threat to human health.
There has never been a more crucial moment to protect our planet than now, as we find ourselves facing the consequences of global warming, moving from a state of concern to one of urgency – global boiling. Proponents of global health have been canvassing for cleaner air, better food and safe drinking water. I believe it is imperative to end the silos between health and climate discussions if we are to achieve sustainability and resilience effectively. Rather than keeping these conversations separate, we must integrate them into a unified approach to address planetary health as the pathway to global well-being. By connecting the dots between public transportation and Fleet Electrification, we can work towards a healthier and more sustainable future for our planet!
About the Author
Oluwole Olakunle Ajayi, Graduate Student Researcher (Planetary Health) at Clark University and ecoAmerica Climate for Health Ambassador