Transportation Industry Looks to Hit Net Zero Emissions


December 14, 2021

Governments around the world have been committing recently to the greening of the transportation industry with a variety of net zero emission targets, funding proposals, and potential penalties and taxes.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November created the Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council to bring together governments representing over half the global car market to increase international collaboration to accelerate the transition to net zero. In the United States, President Joseph Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on November 15, which allocates $550 billion in new federal spending over the next five years to improve US infrastructure, including critical investments in the energy sector. The investments will cover power grids, electric vehicles and charging stations, renewable energy, nuclear power, hydropower, and cybersecurity with the goal to strengthen the energy industry, support emission-free power generation, and bolster emerging technologies. And in the United Kingdom, the government set its net zero strategy, aiming for a 2035 deadline of being powered entirely by clean electricity, “subject to security of supply,” extending a 2050 net zero emissions target for the shipping and aviation industries.

The transportation industry’s sheer size means it faces intense scrutiny and plays an enormous role in efforts to reduce emissions to address climate change. Following is a breakdown of some of the high-level efforts being made by the aviation, shipping, and auto industries.

  • Aviation contributes 11% of transportation-related emissions in the United States, according to the White House. To address that, the Biden-Harris administration has set the target of 2050 for the aviation industry to reach net zero emissions as part of its Climate Action Plan. In the United Kingdom, emissions from international shipping and aviation contribute 3% and 7% to the UK total, respectively. The United Kingdom, in 2020, was the first national aviation body to commit to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. But the government took that a step further in June 2021 and set a target of 2040 to reach net zero emissions for domestic flights.
  • The Aviation Working Group, a nonprofit legal entity composed of major aviation companies and regulators, have been lobbying the European Union to create a single international system for the classification of green aircraft financing and leasing to avoid conflicting national or regional standards to eliminate any conflicts in different regions the airlines fly.
  • For almost two decades, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Maritime Environment Protection Committee has explored the issue of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the shipping sector, which generates 2.5% to 3.5% of global GHG emissions. In 2018, the IMO adopted an initial strategy to reduce GHG emissions from ships by 50% from 2008 levels by 2050. While that is modest in relation to other transportation sectors, it is still a challenge for this industry.
  • Of the 146 new ships ordered in 2020, only 17% were ordered with cleaner fuel engines. The shipping industry is working on finding more environmentally friendly fuels, scrubbing fuel to reduce emissions, and retrofitting ocean ships. Hydrogen-fueled ships are viewed by some as a drawing board submission but have not been put in place. Others are exploring nuclear power as an alternative fuel. Each option, however, comes with challenges.
  • President Biden signed an executive order this summer setting a goal of 50% of all new passenger cars and light trucks to be zero emissions vehicles by 2030 and building on Environmental Protection Agency proposed tailpipe emission standards that are set to begin with 2023 car models.
  • The recently passed US infrastructure bill earmarks $7.5 billion to build a national network for charging to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. Along with the funds, the bill establishes a 25-member electric vehicle working group, which will be led by the secretaries of Transportation and Energy, to provide federal guidance and strategy for the development, adoption, and integration of electric vehicles into the US transportation and energy systems.