UC Davis Transportation Research Contributes to New Climate Change Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released a report in Berlin that details what needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC is a scientific body commissioned by the United Nations to review and assess the most recent scientific, technical and socioeconomic information regarding climate change.

Why am I focusing on news from Germany? As a member of one of the IPCC’s scientific working groups, I was honored to be one of the lead authors behind the transportation chapter of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. Two of my fellow ITS-Davis colleagues, Lew Fulton and Richard Plevin, joined me as co-authors for this chapter. We believe UC Davis was the only organization with three experts invited to participate on a single chapter (rarely was there even three from any single country…. though I confess it was serendipity, or perhaps good recruiting by us; Lew was a researcher at the International Energy Agency when he was appointed and Rich was with UC Berkeley).

ITS-Davis research cited in the IPCC assessment included 32 papers, reports, and books on market analyses of plug-in electric vehicles; lifecycle analyses of biofuels, hydrogen, electric vehicles, and high speed rail; low carbon fuel policies; land use and other effects of biofuels; strategies to reduce vehicle use; California’s policy; transportation in developing countries; and more.

ITS-Davis is uniquely situated to inform and educate. Not only are we a world leader in sustainable transportation, but ITS-Davis plays a pivotal role in helping California adopt the most comprehensive set of climate change policies in the world, with a special focus on transportation. California has a goal of 80 percent reduction in total emissions by 2050, and 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California roads by 2025. The State has a adopted a portfolio of policies, combining a carbon cap and trade program with standards and incentives for purchasing vehicle efficiency, zero emission vehicles, low carbon fuels, urban land use and mobility, clean electricity and more. These innovative policies combine “carrots and sticks”—harnessing market forces and imposing regulations—and also encourage the development for building electricity and hydrogen infrastructure. To date, results have been mixed, but California continues to be a model and leader.

In 2010, the transportation sector globally accounted for 27 percent of final energy use and about the same percentage of CO2 (but a much higher 40 percent in California). The new IPCC report asserts that growth in greenhouse gases from transportation could be greatly reduced, more so than was anticipated in the previous IPCC assessment report, seven years earlier. The report notes that huge advances are being made in vehicle efficiency with a transition anticipated to electric and hydrogen vehicles. Projected energy efficiency improvements in vehicles of 30 to 50 percent are anticipated by 2030 compared to 2010, depending on the transport mode and vehicle type. Behavioral changes and integrated urban planning could also make similar size contributions, assuming the right public policies are put into practice.

But this positive GHG reduction story is undermined by the oil renaissance, with vast new investments being made in shale oil, oil sands, and heavy oil.

California’s experience shows that opportunities for reducing carbon emissions in transportation are becoming more attractive and accepted due to advances in efficiency and electric-drive vehicles changes in travel behavior. ITS-Davis analysis shows that a portfolio of different policies and technologies are needed to achieve large reductions. No one technology will be sufficient to reach carbon reduction attainment.

Since the IPCC only publishes its report once every seven years, the key findings on mitigating climate change in the transportation sector will be studied and referenced for years to come. As we consider the importance of reducing carbon emissions, policy analysis backed by scientific research should provide the foundation for developing informed policy decisions. We are proud that ITS-Davis plays a leading role in building the scientific foundation of knowledge and bringing that knowledge to the policy process.


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