If 2019 was the year of a collective climate awakening, will 2020 be the year of collective action? Jennifer Dungs, Strategic Investor at EIT InnoEnergy reveals the answer in this focus on transport, mobility and the energy transition in cities
“Climate emergency” – the phrase that defined 2019, following a one-hundred-fold increase in its usage in the proceeding months. Concurrently, the term “flygskam” (flight shame), coined in Sweden, pulled the decarbonisation of transport and mobility into sharp focus. Indeed, its effect has spread across Europe; in November, Germany’s aviation industry recorded a fourth month of declining domestic passengers(1).
Transport realities: Comfort and convenience
If we are to successfully address the climate emergency, transport and mobility will play an essential role. We’ll need new technologies, but also a systematic redesign of mobility. Car ownership has made modern mobility very comfortable, moving away from this model will not only require new infrastructure, but an openness to change. Indeed, the most radical of options seek to recentre city-life away from the car entirely, putting neighbours and neighbourhoods at the centre instead.
Freight – essential to modern economies – is another transport reality. In 2016, road vehicles still accounted for 76.4% of total inland cargos (based on tonne-kilometres travelled). (2)
Digitalisation is a massive game-changer for freight both for better and for worse. It brings consumers a new level of convenience, whether it’s groceries straight to our fridge or an Amazon delivery made on the same day. It has given rise to hundreds of new ways of doing things.
But with rapid population growth, rising GDP and the proliferation of online shopping, more deliveries are being made than ever before.
These everyday acts of urban mobility and convenience add up to a significant consumption of energy. By 2050, we can expect goods to travel three times the distance they travel today to get to their destination. This is unsustainable, and it is this “last mile” – the good’s journey between the final hub to the home – where we need a new model the most.
Each urban area will need a different approach, tailored to the needs of their citizens, and Barcelona is one of those cities that is leading by example.
Barcelona’s route to sustainable mobility
As early as the 1980s “radical” city planners – focused on health and community – were proposing a complete rethink on urban mobility: the superblock. A near car-free zone, the superblock gives space back to pedestrians and greenery, helping to reduce air and noise pollution. After much campaigning, there are now at least six trial superblocks across Barcelona.
At first, many residents were sceptical of this bold change. In the Poblenou superblock, the scepticism was not helped by the initial lack of communication, which left many residents confused and frustrated(3). Yet, over time, and anecdotally with the introduction of community-centred infrastructure like picnic benches, a new playground and trees, much of the opposition has been muted.
Many lessons have been learned from the earlier superblocks; lessons that will be vital for further rollout. But the evidence for the redesign is not simply anecdotal. A recent study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health estimated that 667 premature deaths could be prevented yearly if the city creates all 503 superblocks in the initial plan(4).
Into the next decade
A slightly less radical step is Barcelona’s decision to introduce a 95 square kilometre low emission zone to improve air quality. From 2020, over 5 million residents will benefit from the measure which will see over 50,000 of the city’s most polluting cars left at home. Several city-wide initiatives to improve shared mobility are already in place or edging towards launch. With urbanisation, half of all journeys are for less than 5 km, making a focus on finding sustainable solutions for these “last mile” journeys even more prudent.
The tarjeta T-verde – an unlimited travel card that is valid for three years – has been introduced for affected drivers. It is completely free, although you must first scrap your old vehicle and agree not to purchase a replacement for the duration.
The city’s bike-sharing scheme, Bicing, will also see a boost in numbers. While it already boasts 6,000 traditional bikes, a further 700 electric bikes will arrive by 2020.
To provide a solution for “last mile” freight, EIT InnoEnergy’s start-up Evolo, has designed a range of inner-city electric delivery vehicles. For use on the road and in pedestrianised areas where they can be parked without issue, the vehicles provide ultimate flexibility for deliveries to be made. With a carrying capacity of up to 250kg, the tricycles offer a sustainable solution for urban logistics.
From 2020, residents and visitors to Barcelona and Madrid will benefit from a new, affordable high-speed train service “AVLO”. It’s a trip made by 10 million people per year, many by car, so it will help improve air quality and congestion. Similarly, great strides are being made to connect cities together via hyperloop technology. Hardt Hyperloop expects to develop a 3 km test track by 2022 in the Netherlands.
What do we need?
No one individual solution is the answer, and no city has entirely sustainable mobility, yet. We need more collaboration, more co-creation, more living labs, more space, less noise. It’s not about an individual ‘hero’ idea, but about the connections required to make it happen. That’s the path forward.
At EIT InnoEnergy, recognising the importance of energy for mobility and transport, we created a new investment stream to support start-ups and innovations in this field. It’s important to invest along the entire stage of the innovation process providing specific tools and resources to start-ups, such as Evolo and Hardt Hyperloop, in their early stages and scale-ups too. We hope to find these great innovators who want to create impact – and help re-design cities like Barcelona for the benefit of us all.
1 German air travel slump points to spread of flight shame in climate change push
2 Energy, transport and environment indicators 2018 edition
3 Barcelona wants to build 500 superblocks. Here’s what it learned from the first ones
4 ‘Superblocks’ model could prevent almost 700 premature deaths every year in Barcelona
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