Some Solutions to Reduce Emissions from Transport Lie outside Our Cities – Case Study of India

Sudhir Gota

Developing countries are at a crossroads as current decisions and investments in the transport sector are set to lock-in GHG (CO2) and air pollutant emissions for the next decades. There is reason for concern as sustainable transport policies that incorporate air quality and climate change are being developed and implemented at a slow pace, risking irreversible damage to the environment and people’s welfare. This is further aggravated by the global economic recession, which has lead to economic stimulus packages in developed countries for roads, the automotive industry, and related transport infrastructure. If developing countries follow this lead by prioritizing vehicles instead of people, it is certain that CO2 emissions, air pollution, congestion, and other transport related problems will worsen.

It has been analyzed that, based on a business-as-usual scenario for motorization in India, the main trends from 2005 to 2025 are:

· The number of total vehicles would grow at 8.70% per year, an increase from 49 million to 246 million between 2005 and 2025.

· CO2 emissions from road transport would increase at 7.75% per year, which is higher than many other Asian countries, from 203 million tons in 2005 to 905 million tons by 2025. Passenger transport represents 45% and freight transport represents 55% of total CO2 emissions from road transport in 2005; this ratio would remain approximately the same in 2025.

· PM emissions from road transport would decline until 2025 by 1.88% per year due to the adoption of stricter fuel and vehicle emission standards, while NOx emissions would increase at a rate of 2.37% per year. However, PM emissions would subsequently rise again due to the continued rapid vehicle growth, especially if emissions standards are not further tightened (Euro IV and above).

· Only about 22% of total CO2 emissions from land passenger transport in India are attributed to intracity movement in these 29 cities. It is probable that the remaining 78% of CO2 emissions come from other 498 cities (India has a total of 527 cities with over 100,000 people but limited data are available) and movement of passengers and freight from one city to another (intercity transport).

  • If the current city trip mode share is retained, CO2 emissions would increase 2- or 3-fold between 2008 and 2025, due to a rapid growth in urban population and in the number of trips.
  • If the cities are able to increase the current non-motorized transport (NMT) and public transport trip shares by 5% each with a reduction in motorized transport share, the CO2 emissions in 2008 would reduce by 9.16% and 6.21%.

A simple sketch analysis of intercity transport contribution to India’s total CO2 emissions from road transport indicates that a 442 km stretch of 4-lane national highway may approximately correspond to the total passenger transport emissions from intracity movement in Bangalore. Similarly, CO2 emissions from intracity passenger transport in Delhi are comparable to a 772 km stretch of highway.

The high emission from traffic in National Highways needs to be tackled by the government to reduce the environmental impact. The reason for relatively high emissions from national highways is that freight transport dominates the highways (52% of the vehicle mode share) whereas 2- and 3-wheelers are more present on typical urban roads (about 40% of vehicle mode share). Because 2- and 3-wheelers are more fuel efficient and emit less CO2 than larger vehicles, emissions from urban road transport are relatively lower compared to highways. A second reason could be high empty truck movements due to inefficiencies in freight logistics. Nearly 88% of the truck fleet is under unorganized operators.

Key recommendations for government and stakeholders are as follows:

  1. Policies and projects should have a stronger focus on making cities livable and accessible for people, rather than on just improving the flow of vehicles in cities, by integrating transport demand management (i.e. reducing the number of trips made and distances traveled), public transport, and non-motorized transport into urban development and transport policies.
  2. Policies and projects should aim to reduce CO2 and air pollutant emissions from the outset, thus creating a low carbon and emission transport system, rather than adding emission mitigating measures to transport policies and projects after they have been designed. Land use and urban planning is critical in influencing transport demand and behavior thereby reducing the emissions thus improving the health.
  3. Indian cities are not maximizing the density influence to reduce the emissions. Many cities which are dense are showing high emissions because of insufficient public transport and high influx of private vehicles. Many Transit oriented development initiatives are being taken by city governments, but much remains to be done on land use-transport-environment integration.
  4. The National Highways carry a huge amount of traffic. Considering high emissions from road based mode of transportation, the government needs to revise feasibility and environmental impact assessment (EIA) guidelines to include emission quantification and mitigation measures in the selection of projects.
  5. Urgent attention is needed for freight transport, which currently contributes to 55% of road transport CO2 emissions. Most freight vehicles use diesel fuel which contributes to relatively high PM emissions and black carbon (“soot”), which in addition to being an air pollutant is considered a major contributor to global warming. Both urban transport and freight transport should receive equal attention.