COP26 ‘Transport Day’ Ignores Everything But EVs
The agenda for “transport day” at the international climate conference in Glasgow was dominated almost entirely by electric cars — and advocates are reminding global leaders that averting environmental disaster is impossible without getting people onto truly sustainable modes.
The United Nations kicked off its COP26 conversations on decarbonizing the global transportation sector on Wednesday with a deeply myopic webpage that encouraged member states to “commit to ensuring all new car and van sales are zero emission vehicles by 2035” and asked everyday people to “build support” for vehicle electrification to the total exclusion of all other carbon-cutting strategies, like transit and active transportation.
That didn’t sit well with sustainable transportation advocates, who know all too well that it is mathematically impossible for the world to replace enough gas-powered cars with EVs in time to avert the worst impacts of climate change — and they flocked to Twitter to urge the council to expand its framing.
And of course, they brought the memes.
Happy COP26 Transport day! pic.twitter.com/ZoWbOsWks4
— Alex Ingram (@nuttyxander) November 10, 2021
The UN’s troubling web launch wasn’t the first time that advocates had pointed out that the critical conference was over-focusing on EVs.
Last week, a coalition of cycling organizations wrote an open letter urging the council to adopt a global goal to increase mode share for biking and other active modes, and to track those key metrics the same way they do other climate indicators.
Today is Transport Day @COP26. The talk will be all about electric cars, like this one here in the "Green Zone". We are at #COP26 to tell the world's leaders that electric cars are not the answer. Read – and spread – our message to world leaders?https://t.co/7bM2Q0yxdN pic.twitter.com/rOYxaapESA
— Henk Swarttouw (@copenhenken) November 10, 2021
1. Walking/mobility aids
3. Public transit
4. Electric cars
Here’s the order they ARE focussing on:
1. Electric cars
2. Electric cars
3. Electric cars
— Brent Toderian (@BrentToderian) November 1, 2021
Of course, biking and other zero-carbon ways of getting around are getting some air time at COP26 — but so far, it’s mostly been relegated to the “green zone,” where members of the public are invited to make their voices heard, rather than in the “blue zone,” where the U.N. hosts its actual negotiations between powerful world leaders.
I’ve seen loads of bike folk saying “talking at COP26” tomorrow. Talking in Glasgow, yes, but not in the all-important “blue zone.” The only things getting *officially* discussed on transport day are little bit of shipping, little bit of aviation and rest is electric vehicles.
— Carlton Reid (@carltonreid) November 9, 2021
Even outside the Green Zone, advocates struggled to put active modes on their leaders’ radar, or even to navigate the streets of Glasgow, which locals say the conference had clogged with cars.
#ThisMachineFightsClimateChange Being able to commute to work by bike is good for me, my mental health (most of the time, not during #COP26 ironically…), and the planet. Cycling *must* be made safer and more accessible to more people. Electric vehicles are not the only answer! https://t.co/hltQf99z5s pic.twitter.com/7lDGR48InE
— Nina (@ninaneedsspace) November 10, 2021
— Bonnie (@greenurlifenow) November 10, 2021
People-powered modes aren’t the only ones getting short shrift — because as experts like Sebastián Castellanos of the NUMO Alliance pointed out, public transportation isn’t getting much attention, either.
Transport at #COP26 has been dominated by conversations around electric vehicles, but we will not reach our 1.5°C climate target unless governments invest in public transport, walking, and cycling, even if these topics are not as sexy as EVs.
Read my thoughts here: https://t.co/fWbMb4g6Wq
— Sebastián Castellanos (@js_castellanos) November 10, 2021
Those omissions are particularly troubling in the context of an international conference where many communities don’t even have the means to rapidly electrify their fleets — an approach which does “not address transport inequality and social injustice within and between countries, especially in the developing world where e-cars may will only be an option for the powerful and wealthy,” as University of Oxford professor Christian Brand pointed out.
Reasons why global transport is so hard to decarbonise:
?? Transport is still 95% dependent on oil
?? Obsession with electric cars
? Cargo ships run on diesel
? We're locked into bad habits
— University of Oxford (@UniofOxford) November 10, 2021
Others noted that the process of manufacturing an EV itself carries environmental costs — and that even “clean” cars pollute the environment and damage human health in lots of ways beyond the tailpipe.
"#ElectricVehicles contain ~3 x more metal than regular vehicles? While they do produce lower emissions they do require more in terms of #resources."@Geo_Eimear discusses role of electric vehicles in the transition to #NetZero.
— British Geological Survey (@BritGeoSurvey) November 10, 2021
— Dave Walker (@davewalker) November 10, 2021
Fortunately, the benefits of going truly green are well-documented…even if COP26 attendees aren’t necessarily getting the stats.
For #COP26, a friendly reminder that trips on bikes, e-bikes, and transit produce a small fraction of greenhouse gas emissions from cars, ride hail, and taxis — regardless of whether the automobile is electric.
— David Zipper (@DavidZipper) November 2, 2021
Governments can think outside the four-wheeled vehicle when it comes to non-passenger trips, too — especially when it comes to first- and last-mile solutions.
This is the @Velovebikes Armadillo.
Electrically assisted, 4 wheel cargobike. It can carry cargo of 350 kg & is already used for delivering goods in a number of cities. Battery size: 0,6 kWh (in comparison a Tesla S is 100 kWh).
— Henrik Lundorff (@bicivikingo) November 10, 2021
It’s not too late for the leaders behind COP26 to cop to their mistake in leaving active and shared modes off the agenda and expand the dialogue around what green transport looks like.
Because if they don’t, all those crestfallen Queen Amidala memes might be proven right.
— Lego Road Safety & Highways (@PlasticPlanners) November 7, 2021