Road to 1.5

How Urban Mobility Can Help Cities Limit Climate Change

Transport emissions are key to meeting The Paris Agreement goals

More than 700 cities globally have committed to meet The Paris Agreement goals of halving their carbon emissions and limiting global warming to 1.5-degrees Celsius by 2030. The task isn’t easy, and time is running out, but cities can make significant progress by focusing greater attention on transport emissions, which account for about a third of their carbon footprint.

Cities must strike the right balance in how different modes – from mass transit to personal cars and cycling – are used. And each city has its own unique set of variables, like infrastructure, geography, and demographics.

New research from the Oliver Wyman Forum offers individualized solutions for major global cities to help them meet their climate targets with sustainable mobility.

Projected Urban Mobility Warming Impact And Emissions at City-Level (2030)
Based on cities’ existing action plans

Temperature in °C, emissions in Megatons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (MtCO2e)





–––   Target 1.5°C


Our approach prioritizes not only sustainability, but controls for factors like accessibility, affordability, investment costs, convenience, and efficiency. We used sophisticated modelling, introducing factors to account for different scenarios and the fact that people cannot change overnight. Commuters who travel, say 10 miles, to their office cannot feasibly be asked to walk or bike instead of driving.

And while every city needs a unique strategy, there are common threads that most should weave into their plans, like electrifying fleets, reducing personal car usage, or promoting shared mobility.

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 to some extent and bring cities closer to their goal.

However, it’s close to impossible for some cities to achieve their Paris Agreement targets by 2030 without drastic measures like stark and sudden shifts in commuter behavior. The research examines where those changes are needed and what they would have to be for each city.

But the scope of exactly how far those solutions will reach in lowering emissions varies widely depending on how car-dependent or holistic a city’s mobility network is. That underscores the need for individualized plans, even between cities grouped in the following categories.

These 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. They boast strong public transport networks, and have more multimodality available, like ride-hailing and micromobility. And yet, commuters still typically rely on traditional modes, like personal car use, because of gaps in first- and last-mile transportation. Authorities for the leading cities need to commit to even further action.

Take San Francisco, for example. It’s the leading city in our research – almost closing its mobility emissions gap without employing any optimization scenarios. However, the Bay Area city falls just short of reaching its global warming target based on city action plans despite an expected 20% decline in carbon emissions by 2030. San Francisco is estimated to reach 1.6°C in 2030 with current city plans and needs an additional 11% emissions drop on top of those plans to meet the Paris Agreement.

That small gap gives San Francisco a wide array of feasible options for city leaders to act on. Pursuing more multimodality would be relatively simple, requiring solutions like more car-free areas and public transit infrastructure, more electrification largely means accelerating the electrification of car and bus fleets. The latter is already a goal in the city’s Electric Mobility Implementation Plan.

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City Overview

2030 Projected Temperature Increase (°C)

About Road to 1.5

This report was created to offer city governments a feasible blueprint to lower their carbon footprint. With some estimates suggest that cities are responsible for 75% of global CO2e, and the transport sector placed among the largest contributors, the weight of this research is clear. This report narrows its focus to cities rather than national governments, given the size and severity of their carbon footprints. Cities can also act with more agility than national governments – the former having more control to enforce mobility policies within their jurisdiction than national governments and are more intimately aware of their demographic makeup.

Read about how sustainability lays at the core of our research