High Volume Transport

Vital transport research to ensure accessible, affordable and climate friendly transport for all.

Climate adaptation and mitigation in the transport sector: a Research Knowledge Exchange.

Transport is a major contributor to climate change, its emissions are growing faster than other economic sectors and it is responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In our latest Research Knowledge Exchange on 29th March, we showcased two HVT projects that consider climate adaptation and mitigation in the transport sector: Climate Resilient Transport: A Policy Guide from the University of Birmingham and the TRANSitions project from Vectos.

The webinar was moderated by Gary Haq, Senior Research Associate at the Stockholm Environment Institute at York University, whose research focuses largely on low emission mobility, transport policy, urban air pollution and climate change.

In opening remarks, Gary referred to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as a framework for the key requirements to move toward climate resilient development, including:

And that developing more climate resilient transport will require solutions that:

The HVT programme is contributing to more climate resilient transport by providing knowledge and capacity building through its various activities, including the two projects featured in the RKE.

Dr Andrew Quinn, Reader in Atmospheric Science and Engineering at the University of Birmingham presented highlights from the soon to be published policy guide on Climate Resilient Transport.

The University of Birmingham’s project provides systematic guidance on how to scope, develop and implement climate change adaptation plans for transport infrastructure in LICs in Africa and South Asia and aims to increase the resilience of all types of transport infrastructure to climate change. Andrew flagged up four key research themes:

Findings from the SoK report show that while national adaptation plans are improving, there are capability gaps in implementation, monitoring and evaluation of these plans. Similarly, there is an array of tools available to assess adaptation needs and opportunities, but many do not meet the capacities of low income countries.

The policy guide covers four steps in a process that considers the above areas. It includes:

It is crucial, Andrew said, “To understand the past and the future climate, .. the vulnerability of the local transport infrastructure .. and how developing it and making it more resilient will be of benefit to the people who use it. And then to use that information to allow a proper set of priorities to be developed.”

This is a circular cycle, he stressed, and implemented changes need to be evaluated. It’s not necessary to build new infrastructure all of the time. People need to consider and build on what has gone before, rather than thinking of this as a ‘once only’ opportunity.

“Incremental change is a very powerful tool for improving the adaptation and resilience of infrastructure in the transport sector,” he said.

He added that the Policy Guide is very much about encouraging and enabling people to take the next step, whatever that might be.

Tim Durant, Associate Director at Vectos then presented findings from TRANSitions, an HVT project that focuses on the role of informal public transport in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For the majority of Sub-Saharan African cities, informal transport is an essential form of transit, Tim explained. In the context of the climate crisis, rapid urbanisation, increasing congestion and worsening air quality, the TRANSitions project set out to address two main research questions:

  1. What is the future role of informal transport in cities in the global south?
  2. How can we enable a transition towards a clean, affordable, efficient and safe transport network involving informal transport?

Informal transport services have evolved over time to respond to passenger needs. In some cases, there is resistance to plans for formal transport schemes such as bus rapid transit which would threaten people’s livelihoods and jobs. In these circumstances, informal public transport operators could continue to be part of the solution for high volume transport, although it must be acknowledged that there are serious negative aspects to be addressed.

“We’re interested in looking at the continuing role of informal transport, how this can be protected in the appropriate circumstances and supported in the future.” Tim said.

A Literature report identified numerous gaps in knowledge in relation to specific themes and cities. (see TRANSITIONS Compendium Report (June 2021) on the HVT Website).

Primary research then took place in five cities, organised into two clusters: Western African – Accra and Kumasi in Ghana and Freetown in Sierra Leone – and Southern African – Cape Town, Maputo and, for a brief time, Harare. Research across the cities took the form of:

Responses to these led to cross-city comparisons and informed the development of a ‘routemap’ of actions for clean, affordable and safe informal public transport.

The TRANSitions project is focused on mitigation, on reducing emissions, but in conclusion Tim pointed out that the team is also thinking about climate adaptation and the involvement of the transport industry in that, “The more we can invest in the first step in terms of prevention and then preparedness, then hopefully the less will be required in terms of response and recovery” he said.

A Q&A session followed both presentataions, prompting a question from one attendee about the lack of data around vulnerabilities. Andrew Quinn answered that vulnerability is often where we have the weakest data. He advised using historical information about disruption to identify key elements of the infrastructure which are particularly vulnerable to different meteorological variables.

“If we can find somewhere in the world today that has the type of climate and infrastructure that a different place will see tomorrow. Can we learn lessons from what happens in Country A to help inform the adaptation plans of Country B?” he asked.

This led to a second question about data sharing. “We need good information sharing and we really need to make good use of all the data that is out there,” he answered.

The discussion then moved on to the future use of fuel in Africa, and the idea of electrification of vehicles. This would take a while to filter through in Africa, given the current second-hand vehicle usage, said Tim. In the meantime, there are ways to help improve efficiencies, such as improving maintenance regimes.

The webinar ended on an upbeat takeaway message from Andrew Quinn: “You can take the next step, there is support there to start adaptation planning no matter where you are”.

Watch the full recording of the webinar here.