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Published 11 November 2021
It was stop-start for Transport Day at COP26 yesterday. The promise of significant pledges on land, sea and air transport was not fully realised but there was still plenty of movement in the right direction.
Replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with electric vehicles has long been identified as offering a significant step towards achieving net zero emissions. The aspiration for COP26 was to get everyone – governments, city authorities and the automobile sector working towards 100% zero emission vehicle sales by 2035 at the latest in leading markets, and by 2040 globally.
Despite the strong lead given by the UK, which has committed to end all petrol and diesel car and van sales by 2030 and diesel powered HGVs by 2040, the agreement failed to win support from several large nations including China, the world's largest car market, and the United States, the world's second-largest car market, although some key states including California and New York are going to back the plan.
While this was expected, it was the public refusal of several large car manufacturers to sign up that caused the greatest dismay. Among those not putting their names to the pledge were Germany's BMW and Volkswagen (both of whom are currently being sued in Germany by climate activists seeking an end to the production of combustion engines by 2030), Japan's Honda and the conglomerate Stellantis, which owns Citroen, Fiat, Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall.
Even those that have signed up made it clear that they expect much more from governments if these plans are to be realised.
“We need these vehicles now, we need actions to match our ambitions. One of the key things we will need to accelerate the electrification revolution is incentives. We need infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure” said Cynthia Williams, environmental policy manager at Ford.
Peter Allchorne, a motor and future mobility Partner in Bristol, commented that the plan “paints a positive picture of collaboration in the delivery of a ‘global, equitable and just transition’ to a sustainable alternative to the internal combustion engine, including those in leading markets appreciating the need to support emerging markets and developing economies. “There is a realisation that by working together to increase economies of scale, the transition to zero emission vehicles will be ‘faster, lower cost and easier for everyone’. But wholesale support is needed and the signatories to the declaration represents anything other than an exhaustive list of global industry stakeholders. In fact, several governments and manufacturers in developed nations are conspicuous by their absence.”
Aviation had a similarly mixed day. The launch of a new International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition was backed by 23 countries but with few specific objectives. Instead, the ball was passed to the International Civil Aviation Organisation – the industry’s governing body – to find ways of meeting the objective of aligning with the targets set at COP21 in Paris in 2015. The ICAO is not due to meet to discuss this until next year.
We should however remain optimistic that the aviation sector will make progress, says Lorraine Wilson, Legal Director in the aviation team.
“The aviation industry stands ready to act, to produce positive results in the drive towards this goal. Aviation has a strong and proud history both of fostering innovation and embracing new technology. The industry will not shirk from the task at hand. The call now is for other states to step-up, to sign the declaration and to take steps to share the responsibility in tackling global CO2 emissions.”
There was more immediate progress in the marine sector with the publication of an innovative plan backed by 22 countries to create green shipping corridors through “the formation of an international coalition between ambitious governments, to act together and demonstrate that maritime decarbonisation is possible, while unlocking new business opportunities and socioeconomic benefits for communities across the globe”, said the signatories to what has been christened the Clydebank Declaration.
The signatories aim to establish at least six zero-emission maritime routes between two (or more) ports by the middle of this decade, aiming to scale activity up in the following years. This could be achieved by creating more routes, longer routes or having more ships on the same routes. Marine and goods in transit insurers will need to keep close to these developments as they will involve innovative technologies both on the ships and in the ports.
This will come at a price, according to Toby Vallance, a marine Partner and climate change lead in London.
“The cost of funding the drive to zero-emissions in maritime shipping will be significant and cannot be borne by vessel owners alone. There is also the question of how much of this cost can and will be passed on to shippers and consumers at a time when shipping costs are already at record highs”.
While welcoming the principle of the green corridors, Vallance says the biggest boost to them will come when China and other countries that are key to the major shipping routes such as Panama, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Egypt, UAE and South Africa sign up.
Day 10 also saw the welcome news that the US and China had signed a joint declaration promising to work together across a range of critical climate issues. In the words of China climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, “By working together our two countries can achieve many important things that are beneficial not only to our two countries but the world as a whole.” There is still everything to play for as we enter the final day of detailed discussions, with the focus now on cities and urban environments.
Toby Vallance, Partner and climate change lead, LondonPeter Allchorne, Partner and future mobility lead, BristolLorraine Wilson, Legal Director, London
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