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A global project for emission-free mobility

2.7.2020
A global project for emission-free mobility

Rob de Jong is head of the Air Quality and Mobility Unit at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Here is his vision for making mobility sustainable and protecting the planet.

We only have five to ten years to create the conditions for emission-free mobility, to protect the environment and the climate. If we do not succeed, the air quality in cities will deteriorate dramatically and we will miss the climate targets of the Paris Agreement”. Those are the thoughts of Rob de Jong, head of the Air Quality and Mobility Unit at the United Nations Environment Programme.

During the pandemic, global transportation has dropped by up to 80 percent: “It’s like a forced experiment that shows us the benefits of sustainable mobility. In many places, air quality has improved immensely. We should use this experience to make our transport systems more sustainable”, says de Jong.

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The time factor

Cars have a long life expectancy: a vehicle usually stays on the road for 20 years, “first in an industrialised country, then it is typically sold to a developing country. So, cars that are put on the road today will determine emission levels for the next two decades”.

And for that reason, maintains de Jong, “electric cars are one of the three important pillars for climate protection. The other two are systems for mass transportation, which must become more efficient, and a new architecture for our cities to promote walking and cycling, reducing the distances people have to travel. Only when these three things come together can climate goals be achieved”. 

Big cities

A metropolis like London, for example, increases its investment in road infrastructure every year - just to keep up with traffic congestion. But what would happen if every employee worked from home one day a week? “Traffic would drop significantly, and the big cities could save billions in infrastructure investment. This money would then be available for climate friendly mobility”.

Developing countries must avoid the mistakes of the industrialised countries and immediately focus on non-motorised and e-mobility,” explains de Jong, who lives and works in Kenya. “The vehicle population doubles here every seven-to-eight years. There is no time for a slow, gradual development”.

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Taxes and emissions

UNEP works with more than 60 countries to establish favorable conditions for clean mobility. For example, says de Jong, “by linking the taxation of cars to CO₂ emissions, some countries have improved the CO₂ balance of imported vehicles by 20 percent without losing even one dollar in tax revenue. What we really need is a joint effort by politicians, car manufacturers and society to reduce CO₂ emissions in the transport sector to zero”.

The global vehicle fleet continues to grow – especially in developing countries. We cannot afford this growth to take place with internal combustion engines. Jointly setting regional and global targets for a switch to zero emissions mobility is what we need, followed by concrete action plans”, emphasises de Jong.

Not all countries may progress fast enough on their own. We need a joint project for electric mobility between institutions and car manufacturers. For example, car makers, in agreement with governments, could jointly agree not to manufacture combustion engines after 2030. We also need a really aggressive, global campaign for e-mobility”.

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Planning for people

We must design cities according to the needs of the people and not according to the demands of car traffic. We’re not short of positive examples: Copenhagen, Amsterdam and, increasingly, New York. It’s not about banning cars – but designing our mobility around humans rather than individual car use”, de Jong continues.

The Netherlands are an excellent example – they design cities according to people’s needs, have excellent public transport and are one of the pioneers of e-mobility. And Amsterdam is already one of the cycling capitals of the world.

SourceVolkswagen AG