This article featured in Revolve Magazine Issue #25 (Autumn 2017) on pages 16-22.
The modernisation and democratisation of means of transports have radically changed our perception of distances and the world in general, while resource scarcity, climate change and geopolitical stakes have obliged us to re-think models of mobility.
Mobility is first of all access – to work, education, goods and services including health, friends and family. Choices in mobility therefore directly affect the competitiveness of territories as well as rural-urban relations, territorial and social cohesion, fairness in terms of health or education, energy security, advancing the circular economy, and so on.
An energy-intensive sector
According to the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), transport accounts for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Trends in transport are impacted by population growth and changes in demographics as well as by changes in the structure of the economy. And the shift to a service economy considerably increases the weight of transport in greenhouse gas emissions.
Connectivity: essential for regional development
For regions, connectivity is an essential element for economic development. For Europe this is also a question of territorial cohesion, a matter for which the Assembly of European Regions (AER) has consistently been lobbying. This is why members in the AER working group on transport and energy have focused on different aspects of connectivity including railways, regional airports, and electric vehicles. A major aspect of connectivity is now the digitalisation of transports. While digitalisation implies new challenges for regions, for example for health, culture or jobs, it also enable citizens to make more sustainable choices.
What is “sustainable”?
Defining mobility as sustainable refers to the ability of individuals to provide for their needs without compromising the same privilege to future generations. To minimise the negative impact of greenhouse gas emissions, individuals need information, motivation and/or incentives to promote more sustainable solutions, for instance, public transport or bicycles, instead of individual cars. The key challenge is to meet environmental, economic and societal sustainability. With the new role of sub-national entities and organisations, after COP21, regions have a crucial role in implementing environmentally responsible and sustainable policies.
Funding climate action
To provide regions with the means to finance climate action AER collaborates closely with the R20 which helps sub-national governments around the world to develop and communicate low-carbon and climate resilient economic development projects.
The ideal pipeline of clean energy projects, however, is not currently happening, even though intergovernmental bodies, national governments, sub-national governments, NGOs, academics, technology providers, public and private financial partners share the same vision and want concrete action. This is due to a number of factors:
- national and sub-national politicians lack awareness of the long-term political, technical and financial solutions for a sustainable, safe, and clean economy
- project developers do not know how to identify, design and communicate the right information to project investors
- project investors are not sure how low-carbon investments fit into their existing investment instruments and portfolios
The R20 works towards addressing these factors to help build an effective green deal flow at sub-national level. This is made possible by connecting Regions, Technology and Finance to build sustainable low-carbon projects.
At AER we know that our politicians are here in the name of our citizens and we owe them concrete outputs. Words are not enough when it comes to sustainability, we need to create solutions which will actually impact our territories. This is the essence of our work and the reason why we engage in inter-regional cooperation.
Sustainable mobility at the heart of regional development
Izmir is carrying out a wide-range of actions to improve the sustainability of mobility. With over 4 million inhabitants, Izmir is the third most populous city in Turkey. There are almost 6 million journeys taken in one day in İzmir and two thirds of these are taken in the centre are by vehicle (motor vehicles such as private vehicle, bus, minibus, services, motorcycle). Izmir has set up an impressive range of public transportation including rail (serving 192 kilometres), sea transportation (ferry boats), rubber-tired vehicle transportation, electric buses, bicycles, and the very useful “busses carrying bicycles” allowing passengers to better switch from one public transport to another. These numerous vehicles are optimised by projects and studies that guarantee their proper implementation and usage.
One of the major innovations for more sustainable transport management is the Full Adaptive Traffic Control, Supervision and Information System. This advanced IT system will enable real time management of the different transportation systems, lowering traffic congestion considerably. This will allow for shorter travel times and a decrease in fuel consumption. The Full Adaptive Traffic Administration, Supervision and Information System has won the best project award in all categories at the 2016 Amsterdam Intertraffic Fair.
As Sıla Ilgi Akkas, Second Vice President of Izmir Municipal Council says: “Sustainable transports and mobility require a holistic approach which goes far beyond the remit of spatial planners. But more importantly sustainable mobility requires mutual learning and experience sharing because the time is now. Regions have a tremendous potential to make the change happen and they are doing it already.” Izmir hosted the conference “Sustainable Mobility: a brand new world?” organised by the Assembly of European Regions to further exchange on successes and failures in the field of mobility.
Linking waste management to greener transportation
The waste management plant Mjøsanlegget AS in Lillehammer (Oppland-NO) is the result of the growing desire for environmentally-friendly treatment of waste that began in the 1990s in particular with the planning of the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. The plant has tremendous potential for greener transports as well: during the conversion of food waste into compost and fluid fertilize, gas is developed; this gas consists mainly of methane. Some of the gas is used by the plant to produce steam for the cooking of the food waste. About 90% of the gas is resold to the waste disposal company GLØR which has been developed a system to purify the gas into fuel. The biogas is sold as fuel by the gas-company AGA. The annual production of biogas at Mjøsanlegget is now 4,3 million Nm3 . This represents 2,75 million Nm3 of pure methane, corresponding approximately to 2,7 million liters of diesel/year. This amount can keep 125 buses on the road annually. Currently GLØR is running some of their trucks on this biogas, and another waste disposal company plans to run its trucks on biogas from 2017. Barriers such as the price of biogas and the biogas distribution infrastructure subsist to develop the use of biogas for public transport while focusing on combatting climate change and prioritising sustainability for regional infrastructure and mobility solutions.
Holistic approaches to renewables in public transport
Sustainable mobility is at the heart of the development of Östergötland and Sweden in general. The region has achieved 100% renewable-fuelled public transport thanks to the use of biogas. But the challenge is now how to motivate citizens to opt for the sustainable means of transport that are available for them. This requires a holistic approach, analysing the mobility needs of the population and identifying what triggers their behaviour. The excellency of public transport is a key aspect of the region’s transport and mobility strategy.
The construction of Sweden’s first high-speed train tracks with the region of Östergötland right at the heart of the project therefore represents a major aspect of good infrastructure. The tracks will run between the capital – Stockholm – and the second and third largest cities, Gothenburg and Malmö. The first 150 kilometres running from Järna outside of Stockholm to Linköping, the biggest town of Östergötland. This part of the tracks is called Ostlänken (“the Eastern link”) and is particularly important for the region as the trains will have the possibility of stopping at stations in both of the region’s biggest towns.
Another point of focus is the concept of smart cities and the connection between transport infrastructure and housing. The region’s engagement for sustainable mobility includes leading the activities of the AER working group on Transports and Mobility, chaired by Martin Tollén, who explains that “we exchange experiences to better grasp the potential of smart and connected regions, share good practices and address barriers. With the digitalisation of the economy and the growing weight of data management, the working group looks at themes such as connectivity and permeability, in particular intelligent transport systems, seamless transport services; freight management and data; smart green infrastructure and the financing of infrastructure.”
AER is the largest independent political network of regions in wider Europe. Standing by, and working towards, its members’ interests, AER provides a platform for best practice exchange on topics ranging from renewables to e-health.