The next 40 years pose big challenges for the world’s freight transport network. Population growth, increasing urbanization and more trade will put more pressure than ever on global cargo connections, according to a new report by the International Transport Forum (ITF), a division of the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD).
In its Transport Outlook 2010, ITF points out that both passenger and freight transport capacity around the world will be hard-pressed to expand as rapidly as demand will. That will be due in part to expectations for safer yet “greener” transport options forcing transportation providers to operate much more efficiently.
The need for greater efficiency will drive the need for transport innovation as well, said Jack Short, ITF Secretary General. And those needs will be driven in no small way by the havoc wreaked on the transportation sector during the global economic recession.
According to research by the ITF/OECD’s Joint Transport Research Centre, the current economic crisis had a relatively greater impact on trade and transport than previous downturns. This is reflected in very large volume and price effects, especially in freight transport.
Short noted that trade fell by about 20%, according to the CPB World Trade Volume Index, with dry bulk shipping rates falling dramatically by a factor of eight from 2007 to 2008.
“Innovation is the key,” said Short. “We need it in all areas: To get the most out of the tried and tested technologies, and to open new paths that can make transport cleaner, safer more accessible and more efficient.”
However, he stressed that the global transport sector should be under no illusions that any single solution is on the horizon to resolve such a complex array of issues. That especially applies to reducing transportation’s reliance on petroleum fuels and its environmental impact.
“There seems to be a presumption that the current monopoly technology in transport, petrol-based fuels, will ultimately be replaced by a different monopoly technology – be it electricity, biofuels, hydrogen. But that is not the most likely outcome in my view,” Short told FleetOwner by email from ITF headquarters in Paris.
“Of course there is always the possibility of a radical breakthrough – a technological revolution that suddenly changes everything,” he said. “But presently, there is no silver bullet in sight.
“Instead, transport will come to rely on diverse energy sources,” Short continued. “For some market segments, good alternatives to gasoline already exist, and further improvements will broaden their appeal. Such diversification is certainly good for climate protection, but also from an energy security perspective. Inter-urban trucking will depend on oil for some time, and hence we need to keep up the incremental improvements that have been made.”
Reducing the emissions generated by the transportation sector – especially carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas fingered as a chief cause of global warming – is not so clear-cut, either, Short noted.
“A direct link exists if we talk about CO2 emissions [as] the quantity of CO2 that emanates from your exhaust pipes depends on how much [fuel] your engine burns,” he said. “But increasing fuel efficiency does not necessarily drive down overall emissions. While more efficient engines reduce CO2 output, NOx [oxides of nitrogen] emissions may actually go up. And particulate matter [PM] emissions are by far more dangerous than CO2 in terms of average damage to human health and the environment.”
Nevertheless, fuel efficiency will be a driver for transport innovation – simply because it reduces transport costs and helps reduce CO2 in the bargain.
“Trucks have made enormous and very rapid progress in reducing ‘traditional’ pollutants,” said Short. “And although there are still some problems with NOx and particulate matter emissions in urban areas, the key longer term challenge is now CO2 emissions.”
What is most certain, in ITF’s view, is that transport will remain the key to independent living, to trade and to social cohesion, as well as being a positive force for integration, economic development and peace.
“Trade will continue to support economic growth and will lead to increased volumes of goods travelling longer distances,” ITF noted in its report. “Future social and economic policy objectives will include providing accessibility to economic opportunity for all, leading a demand for increased capacity and flexibility in the transport system. There will thus be enormous pressure on transport systems, particularly in cities and in the developing world.”
The International Transport Forum describes itself as a “strategic think tank for the transport sector.” It brings together government ministers from over 50 countries, along with leading decision-makers and stakeholders from the private sector, civil society, and research organizations to address transport issues of strategic importance. It is linked to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization founded in 1961 that consists of 31 member nations, including the United States and Canada.