Study reveals transport decarbonisation requires degrowth

Sustainable energy

Spain – A new study examines transportation decarbonization solutions that consider energy and material resources.

In 2019, 27% of worldwide CO2 emissions came from transportation. Decarbonisation plans include electrifying transportation, which could cut two-thirds of transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

The Group of Energy, Economy, and System Dynamics of the University of Valladolid (GEEDS-UVa) presented a research in the LOCOMOTION project comparing solutions for decarbonizing the worldwide transportation industry by 2050. It examines situations with greater efficiency, technological substitution, and major mobility pattern changes that may indicate a de- or post-growth transportation scenario.

The study found that only a degrowth scenario, which reduces consumption and mobility, is conceivable given present material resources.

The study highlights the limitations of recycling in electrifying transportation by examining two biophysical limitations: material shortages and net energy returns. Achieving high end-of-life recycling target levels does not necessarily mean that a high percentage of manufactured products use recycled materials. Due to the vast quantity of stored materials in use and the ongoing demand for fresh materials, recycled resources are always delayed.

Prioritizing EVs

The report suggests prioritizing electric vehicle transport modes including shared and public transportation that have a higher energy return on investment (ESOI). EVs use less grid energy to operate but more energy to manufacture. Renewable energy sources demand more energy to set up but less to provide electricity than fossil fuels. The analysis found that electric vehicles’ energy stored on energy invested is low, and until the energy mix shifts, their environmental costs and greenhouse gas emissions would not considerably drop.

Transport electrification is an important global strategy to decarbonize the transport industry, but it requires a lot of primary materials, many of which are scarce and expensive to extract and refine. Degrowth puts the least burden on resources, but it requires global policy and economic and cultural adjustments.