Cities Can Reach Climate Goals With The Right Mobility Mix

Sustainable urban mobility means more than just electrification. It requires striking an ideal balance of different transit modes.

sustainable mobility, climate change, urban mobility, electric vehicles, public transit, cycling, biking

The clock is ticking if we’re to limit global warming to 1.5-degrees Celsius by 2030, and major cities must sprint to more sustainable mobility solutions if they’re to meet this deadline. A third of the carbon footprint for major cities is from transportation, with 75% of those emissions coming from road vehicles. And while more than 700 cities across the globe have committed to halve emissions by 2030 through regulation and investments in clean energy, these efforts simply will not be enough to close the gap between where emissions are forecasted to be and where they need to be.

To ensure a sustainable and livable future, cities need tailor-fit solutions that offer a range of options based on their unique infrastructure, geographical and demographical features, and ambitions. Achieving a 1.5-degree Celsius target by 2030 is still attainable  for cities if they make the right choices such as accelerating the electrification of their fleet – if green energy is available — reducing personal cars, or promoting shared mobility uses.

Ongoing research from the Oliver Wyman Forum roadmaps exactly how global cities – including Berlin, Dubai, Los Angeles, London, New York, Paris, and Singapore – can meet their climate targets.

These guidelines were built by comparing the status quo of urban mobility demand and its future trajectory to the current action plans cities have in reducing their transit emissions. After identifying whether there was an emissions gap between mobility use and city ambitions, an optimization of the mobility modal mix was calculated to identify and quantify the most effective levers to reach that goal.

To make these roadmaps as realistic as possible, we introduced various constraints to account for the fact that people cannot fundamentally change  overnight. Commuters who travel, say 10 miles, to their office cannot feasibly be asked to walk or bike instead of driving their car. Our model is optimized not only for sustainability, but controls for factors like safety, accessibility, affordability, investment costs, and convenience and efficiency and is individualized for each city.

The First Steps Towards Sustainability

Decreasing car use and gasoline vehicles can accomplish much of the task for cities, according to our research. An increase in shared and active mobility, like bike-sharing and walking, and incentivizing public transit use can compensate for lower car use and bring cities closer to their goal.

Some cities, like London, New York, and Paris, have ambitious climate action plans but will still fall just short of closing their emissions gap, if no additional measures are introduced. Cities with strong public transit, like London and Paris, have more options for multimodality available to them, like encouraging more ride-hailing, public transit, and micromobility. Others, like Dubai and Los Angeles, rely heavily on personal cars and are far from closing the gap despite their city plans. But whether they’re near or far from achieving their climate goals, each city shares common action points: they all need to accelerate electrified mobility and expand public transit ridership.

No city is quite alike, however, and the three cities below highlight the need for unique solutions to compliment the shift to electrification and public transit.

A Holistic Roadmap For London

While London is among the leading cities in closing its mobility emissions gap among the cities we measured, it is still not going to reach its global warming target based on city action plans. Based on those plans alone, travel emissions should reduce by 20% by 2030, even as mobility demand is expected to grow by 9%.

Electrifying mobility modes and decarbonizing its energy grid will play a vital role in bringing London closer to its emissions target, but the United Kingdom capital will need to reduce those mobility emissions even further – by 25% by 2030 – on top of its commitments to reach the target. A holistic plan is needed, and the city should redirect riders to use everything from micromobility to the metro to reduce the reliance on personal cars while also electrifying each mode. Boosting ridership on its metro systems, electrifying ride-hailing and carsharing fleets, incentivizing shared mobility like mopeds and bikes, and promoting walking and cycling for shorter distance trips can bring London to its goal.

Shared Mobility May Be Key For Berlin

Mobility demand in Germany’s capital is expected to grow by 7% by 2030 while the city’s current plans will enable a 23% drop in emissions. But Berlin needs to be much more aggressive if it’s to come close to meeting its climate target goals, requiring a further reduction of emissions by nearly 40% by 2030. A large-scale roll out of electric vehicles is a key lever in this, but it will not be enough due to the city’s carbon-intensive energy grid that limits a greener urban modal mix.

Shared mobility can compensate for a high-carbon grid as Berlin explores integrating greener sources of energy. Berlin needs to reduce not only personal car use, but car emissions as well – by 38% by 2030, to be exact.

One potential solution to close that emissions gap and reduce personal car use is to optimize multimodality. Ride-hailing and carsharing fleets are likely to be electrified at a much faster rate than personal cars, and if the perfect modal mix is achieved, emissions may be significantly reduced. In an optimized scenario, car-sharing, for example, is expected to see a 39% increase by 2030. If Berlin promotes the use of shared mopeds to reach their emissions target, moped use may soar by 158%.

A Drop In Mobility Demand For Los Angeles

Los Angeles is far from closing its emissions gap, and the city’s current plans would only reduce emissions by 9% by 2030, requiring an additional cut of 54% on top of those current commitments to meet a 1.5-degree goal. And mobility demand in Los Angeles – a city notorious for its gridlock traffic – is expected to grow by 8% by 2030, which puts it further from one of the city’s key levers: significantly reducing overall mobility demand. Los Angeles can reduce demand for personal car use by limiting parking spaces and establishing congestion pricing and low-emission zones where only clean-energy vehicles are allowed.

Better public transit options also can help, but the city is spread over a wide area, which makes it challenging to provide services with enough station density. City officials should explore increasing the appeal of buses with more affordable fares and more frequent and expansive routes.

And while California made a splash last year by banning the sale of new-gasoline-powered cars by 2035, Los Angeles needs to be more proactive in phasing them out. More than 90% of distance traveled in Los Angeles was made by car in 2022, and roughly 90% of those vehicless are gasoline or diesel-powered. Aggressive pushes for electrification will go a long way for a city with historically high levels of car ownership.

Reaching A 1.5-Degree Target Will Take Everyone

A sustainable future is still in reach but realizing that vision will require everyone to work together, from mobility providers and governments to consumers. The Oliver Wyman Forum designed these modal mixes to account for new technologies and solutions that enable more equitable, affordable, and sustainable mobility – particularly for parts of our society that are heavily reliant on personal cars.

Commuters need to reflect on how they travel and what their carbon footprint is, and subsequently make a greener choice. City governments must double down on sustainable infrastructure and incentives to shift the modal mix in line with their emissions targets, while providers work to unfold the full potential of their services without cannibalizing ridership from public transport. With transit accounting for such a large percentage of global emissions, cities must act now on their urban mobility networks.