Downshifting North America’s Freight Transport Emissions

MONTREAL, Canada, April 5, 2011 (ENS) – Shifting to lower-carbon fuels, pricing carbon and replacing crumbling infrastructure are among the ways to improve the environmental performance of freight transport across North America detailed in a new report from a tri-national commission.

Established as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation examines environmental issues arising from continental trade and makes recommendations to the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States through the CEC Council of cabinet-level environmental authorities.

Big rigs at a rest stop in Arizona (Photo by mescalito99)

“This report calls on our three governments to adopt a vision of an integrated, intelligent freight transportation system for North America,” said CEC Executive Director Evan Lloyd.

“Without such a vision, and the transformational investments that go with it, greenhouse gas emissions from freight transportation will continue to increase and the NAFTA countries will risk losing their competitive edge,” said Lloyd.

“Reducing the environmental impact of freight transportation in the face of increasing trade and economic growth in North America requires much more than continued progress on fuel economy and transport technology,” he said. “The report identifies clear opportunities, especially in light of infrastructure-related stimulus investment, to get this right.”

Entitled “Destination Sustainability: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freight Transportation in North America,” the report looks at the continental freight transport network, a key component of the transportation sector – the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in North America, after electricity generation.

Trucking across Oklahoma (Photo by Team Express)

Freight transportation is the fastest rising component in that category, the report states. While emissions from passenger vehicles grew by 33 percent between 1990 and 2008, freight-related emissions grew by 74 percent.

Moving freight with trucks offers flexibility, but trucks pose an enormous environmental challenge, producing more carbon dioxide emissions per ton than rail and ships.

While emissions from light-duty vehicles are expected to drop by 12 percent by 2030, freight truck emissions are projected to increase by 20 percent, the report finds.

“This report is something of a roadmap to both sustainability and prosperity,” said CEC Advisory Group Chair Bruce Agnew.

“It turns out that, in the freight transportation sector, the best policies and investments for reducing freight-related greenhouse gas emissions are also some of the most effective measures for driving improvements to efficiency and competitiveness,” Agnew said.

Prepared under the guidance of a 21 member Advisory Group with input from more than 60 stakeholders from industry, academia, the environmental sector and government, the report has six recommendations:

  1. Coordination and Networking: The NAFTA partners should consider forming a ministerial-level North American Transportation Forum that will work with an industry, expert and stakeholder group to foster an integrated, intelligent freight transportation system, a more seamless and efficient set of linkages that bring the three countries closer together.
  2. Carbon Pricing and System Efficiency Strategies: Canada, Mexico and the United States should consider putting a price on carbon to give everyone a clear signal that they should be investing in efficiency and in low-carbon fuel alternatives.
  3. Investments to Improve the Efficiency of the Freight Transportation System: The three countries should re-invest in road, rail and waterway infrastructure that is, in many places, congested and deteriorating. The countries should provide meaningful incentives for advanced fuel-saving technologies and the adoption of intelligent transportation systems.
  4. Supply Chain Management: Transportation agencies, and businesses operating nationally and across international borders, could reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions by managing the transportation system more efficiently. For example, emissions go down and profits up if fewer long-haul trucks return empty or travel over routes that are better served by more carbon-efficient rail.
  5. Training Eco-drivers: Each jurisdiction can improve the training and equipping of drivers to optimize their environmental and economic performance by driving in ways that conserve energy.
  6. Gathering and Sharing Data: Transportation, environmental and statistical agencies in all three countries should work through the North American Transportation Statistics Interchange to enhance the quality and comparability of freight data, including the measurement of environmental impacts, to better manage freight transportation as a continent-wide system.

At a meeting today in Mexico City, the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee is holding a round table discussion on sustainable freight transportation in North America. Click here to tegister for a free, real-time webcast of the round table.

To find out more, visit: www.cec.org/freight.

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