- If global temperatures continue to rise, we will increasingly see planes unable to take off, ports unable to operate and cars unable to propel themselves. The transport industry has a lot at stake in the battle against global warming.
Global temperature rise must be limited to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The urgency of complying with the Paris Agreement on climate change is forcing industries to rethink their model and to opt for clean energies such as hydrogen in order to achieve the goal of zero net emissions by 2050.
The shipping industry accounts for 80% of the world’s transport. Bearing in mind that a large cargo ship produces as much pollution as 50 million cars, it is not surprising that the European Union is demanding heavy measures to reduce emissions.
Unlike other industries, where the reduction of gases would be achieved through a reduction in their use or a change of fuel, in the shipping industry the key is the speed of the ships. A 20% reduction would reduce sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions by around 24% and would also lead to significant reductions in black carbon emissions. At the same time, these new speed limits would reduce underwater noise pollution by 66% and the possibility of collision with whales would be reduced by 78%.
However, to tackle the problem at its root, fuel solutions are being sought, with a preference for hydrogen, which has already been tested and is increasingly becoming a reality in the short term.
If these changes are not addressed, sea levels will continue to rise and could structurally affect international ports around the world. In Spain alone, by 2050 most ports would see sea levels rise by more than 20 centimetres. This, although it may seem a minor figure, would jeopardise the structural safety of the docks and the exposure to adverse weather conditions. In fact, 65% of European ports are already reinforcing their infrastructures to adapt them to climate change.
In parallel, maritime navigation would become more complex and costly due to more adverse weather phenomena, fishing vessels would be able to fish less due to the reduction of species and the auxiliary industry, traditionally based in coastal enclaves, would disappear or be forced to move due to changes in sea levels and diversity.
The challenge in the aerospace sector is even greater. As global temperatures rise, flight cancellations increase year on year because of air density. When the temperature rises, the air is lighter and makes aircraft need more fuel and more runway metres to take off. The heavier the aircraft, the more dangerous it is to operate in these climates, and this will lead to much more massive cancellations than at present.
The most representative example is in the United States, in 2017: more than 60 flights had to be cancelled in Phoenix in a 3-day period because temperatures reached 48.8°C.
This industry is responsible for more than 2% of global emissions. The way forward is to use new materials in aircraft to make them lighter and to explore clean fuels, at least for shorter distances, as elements such as paraffin are necessary for longer distances and are, by contrast, extremely polluting.
The automotive industry is already experiencing side-effects of the pandemic and globalised supply chains, with global sales down 32.3% in the last two years, punished by the lack of microchips. In a few years’ time, this lack could be fuel for the cars themselves, due to their scarcity or their high price, as we are seeing how the energy crisis caused by the war in Russia is highlighting the global climate model based on fossil fuels.
In parallel, manufacturers must face the challenge of electrification and green fuels, but it should not be forgotten that components also play a key role in reducing emissions and gases. Renewing parts, electric car batteries, body plastics or the precious metals of catalytic converters has become a multi-million dollar business that many companies are betting on.
85% of the weight of each vehicle can be reused or recycled through processes such as shredding or separating the metal and plastic parts of each car. The implementation of this technology today could reduce CO2 emissions by 75% and resource consumption per passenger kilometre by 80% by 2030, according to a report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF).