Global Shift to Mass Transit Can Save $100 Trillion by 2050

More than $100 trillion in cumulative public and private spending, and 1,700 megatons of annual carbon dioxide (CO2) — a 40 percent reduction of urban passenger transport emissions — could be eliminated by 2050 if the world expands public transportation, walking and cycling in cities, according to a new report released by the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

In addition, an estimated 1.4 million early deaths could be avoided annually by 2050 if governments began requiring the strongest vehicle pollution controls and ultralow-sulfur fuels, according to a related analysis of these urban vehicle activity pathways by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) included in the report.

The report, A Global High Shift Scenario, is the first study to examine how major changes in transport investments worldwide would affect urban passenger transport emissions as well as the mobility of different income groups. The authors calculated CO2 emissions in 2050 under two scenarios, a business-as-usual scenario and a “High Shift” scenario where governments significantly increased rail and clean bus transport, especially Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and helped urban areas provide infrastructure to ensure safe walking, bicycling and other active forms of transportation. The projections also include moving investments away from road construction, parking garages and other ways that encourage car ownership.

Under this High Shift, not only would CO2 emissions fall dramatically, but the net financial impact of this shift would be a major savings over the next 35 years, covering construction, operating, vehicle and fuel-related costs.

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The United States currently is the world leader in urban passenger transportation CO2 emissions, with nearly 670 megatons annually. However, the U.S. is projected to lower these emissions to 560 megatons by 2050 because of slower population growth, higher fuel efficiencies and a decline in driving per person that has already started as people move back to cities. This pace can be sharply accelerated with more sustainable transportation options, dropping to about 280 megatons, under the High Shift scenario, the report says.

The University of California has been at the forefront of taking action to address climate change. Last week, the UC announced it will allocate $1 billion over five years for direct investments in solutions to climate change. The 10-campus university system has also signed agreements to secure substantial solar energy for the next 25 years as part of UC President Janet Napolitano’s goal of bringing university operations to carbon neutrality by 2025,.

Earlier this month, University of California, Santa Barbara was ranked No. 1 in the environmental sustainability category of Net Impact’s Business as UNusual report, which includes a sustainability ranking of more than 100 U.S. graduate programs by 3,300 students nationwide.

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