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International Freight Transport to Quadruple by 2050

Matt Ball on January 28, 2015 - in Analysis, Corporate, Environment, Transportation

In the face of shifting global trade patterns, international freight transport volumes will grow more than fourfold  (factor 4.3) by 2050. Average transport distance across all modes will increase 12%.

  • As a result, CO2 emissions from freight transport will grow by 290% by 2050. Freight will replace passenger traffic as main source of CO2 emissions from surface transport.
  • The North Pacific route will surpass the North Atlantic as the world’s most busy trading corridor in terms of freight volume (in tonne-km), growing 100 percentage points faster than the North Atlantic. The Indian Ocean corridor will see large growth, with freight volume quadrupling.
  • Intra-African (+715%) and intra-Asian (+403%) freight volumes will see particularly strong growth to 2050. Road transport will dominate here due to lack of other modes.
  • The share of domestic transport of international freight flows, identified here for the first time, accounts for 10% of trade-related international freight, but 30% of CO2 emissions. This is important: Domestic transport is shaped by national policies, less by international agreements.

These are some of the key findings of the ITF Transport Outlook 2015, presented today at the OECD headquarters in Paris, France.

“The foreseeable increase in global freight represents an unprecedented challenge for the world’s transport systems“, said ITF Secretary-General José Viegas at the launch. “Increasing capacity constraints in transport can act as a brake on economic growth. A quadrupling of freight emissions can seriously undermine climate change mitigation.”

Viegas pointed to four action items that would help to avoid such a scenario:

  1. Improve capacity management: Many freight facilities are underutilised
  2. Invest in missing links: More alternative and multi-modal connections increase efficiency
  3. Prepare for mega-ships: Adapt infrastructure to more and bigger vessels, including the port-hinterland connections
  4. Increase vehicle utilisation: Improve load factors and reduce idle times across supply chains.

ITF projections for transport modes (road, rail, air, sea) and for 19 commodities and product groups are shown in the tables below (see appendix). Related topics will be discussed at ITF’s summit on “Transport, Trade and Tourism” on 27-29 May 2015in Leipzig, Germany (website).

The ITF Transport Outlook 2015 also contains a wealth of information on passenger transport. In particular, latest projections on CO2 emissions and health impacts for car-based and public transport-based mobility scenarios for big cities in China, India and Latin America.

According to these projections, cities in these regions will generate more than a third (38%) of the growth in passenger transport emissions to 2050. Policies to avoid urban traffic and shift to public transport could reduce this growth by 30-40%. But these must look at both climate and health impacts, as some measures reduce CO2 emissions, but increase other pollutants.

Access the ITF Transport Outlook 2015 via the OECD iLibrary here

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