Sustainable mobility is a relatively new concept in the history of transportation. Its origin has been dated to 1992 and the publication of a European Communities Green Paper on ‘The Impact of Transport on the Environment: A Community strategy for “sustainable mobility”’ (Commission of the European Communities, 1992; see Holden
Looking specifically at the UK, with declining emissions elsewhere in the economy, transport in 2018 (the most recent year for which we have data) was the single largest emitter
Looking over time, road transport has also contributed 80 percent of the growth in emissions between 1970 and 2010 (WRI, 2019). Aviation and shipping contribute just over 10 percent each, but their emissions also continue to grow. Railways contribute a minimal amount because, globally, they are powered mainly by electricity. The movement of people produces more emissions than freight – about 60 percent of total emissions (Planete Energies, 2019). These figures are, in turn, underpinned by reliance on fossil fuels. Transportation is roughly 95 percent reliant on oil-based fuel which, in turn, represents approximately two-thirds of global oil consumption (Navas-Anguita
Given the demonstrable failure thus far to redirect the transport sector onto a less environmentally-damaging path, more and more governments are implementing policies to try to address this. The significance of road transport and passenger mobility in the current emissions statistics helps to explain why much attention is being paid to policy measures intended to push the car industry away from petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles, primarily towards electric power. Other efforts include the promotion of non-oil based fuels – for aviation and shipping as well as road transport. Slowly, ambitions for sustainable mobility are also being incorporated into broader sustainability efforts. At the end of 2019, the European Commission published a Communication on ‘The European Green Deal’ (European Commission, 2019a. 2019b). This recognises the efforts required to decarbonise transport if the goal of a net zero-emission European Union (EU) by 2050 is to be met.
These recent efforts must be seen against the backdrop of one of the most important of all contributions to the climate change debate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2015 Synthesis Report (IPCC, 2014). This paved the way for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris in late 2015, at which countries agreed, albeit only informally, to limit global temperature rises to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, whilst aiming for a limit of 1.5°C. This lower target was agreed in a follow-up report (IPCC, 2018), after several countries at COP 21 feared a 2°C rise was too much in terms of global impacts and therefore called for an assessment of the impacts of and pathways towards limiting the rise to 1.5°C. As a result, recent policy responses such as the EU Green Deal are developing measures aimed at limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C.
Another way of considering the global effects of anthropogenic climate change is through the rising concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere. Against a pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million (ppm), CO2 levels in 2016 rose above 400 ppm (and at no point during the year did it fluctuate below that level – for the first time). Recent recordings from Mauna Loa
But why does this matter? Research presented by the IPCC (IPCC, 2018: 101), estimates that in order to achieve the 1.5°C figure by 2100, average CO2 concentration must remain below 2016 levels (that is to say, below levels we are at already in 2020). To achieve even the 2°C figure, CO2 levels can only exceed 2016 levels by 5–10 percent. But if we make even the rough calculation of a 2016 figure of 400 ppm, growing at 20 ppm per decade, a ten percent increase will be hit before mid-century. And to restate – it is transport that is generating significant increases in GHGs, even as other economic sectors slow down or even reverse emissions growth. Research being prepared for the next IPCC assessment scheduled to be published in 2021, suggests that climate sensitivity to CO2 emissions is higher than previously thought, which would make this outlook optimistic. See:
Research being prepared for the next IPCC assessment scheduled to be published in 2021, suggests that climate sensitivity to CO2 emissions is higher than previously thought, which would make this outlook optimistic. See:
Meanwhile, the global responses to Covid-19 have had interesting consequences that offer insights into potential future developments. The loss of economic activity, but also the almost total initial halt to travel, saw emissions fall significantly, with dramatic impacts on air quality, for example. Lockdown disrupted established ways of working, such as travelling to the office each day, or travelling for meetings and conferences. It also disrupted leisure activities, from local trips to foreign holidays in far-off destinations. Covid has also highlighted some of the vulnerabilities of global just-in-time supply chains. Questions abound as to what comes next, notably around whether we simply look to return to the ‘old normal’; and if not, what might the ‘new normal’ look like? In particular, what could and should mobility look like as governments globally start to plan for post-Covid economic recovery?
With great environmental challenges and major policy initiatives, 2020 is therefore a very exciting time to be launching a new journal. Below, we first reflect on what is meant by three of the key terms in these debates – sustainable development, sustainability, and sustainable mobility. We then elaborate further on our vision for
Any understanding of the evolution of thinking on sustainable development involves, almost inevitably, reference to The Brundtland Report (WCED, 1987), which then formed the basis of discussion at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. This United Nations (UN) report defined sustainable development as development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (WCED, 1987: 24 [paragraph 27]). The Brundtland Report, in that same paragraph, elaborates on what is possible:
The concept of sustainable development does imply limits – not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities. But technology and social organization can be both managed and improved to make way for a new era of economic growth.
In other words, develop new technologies and change how we organise society and growth can continue as it had in the past. The Brundtland Report also observed that in 1985, an international scientific meeting had ‘concluded that climate change must be considered a “plausible and serious probability”.’ (WCED, 1987: 177 [paragraph 20]). One of the bodies organising that 1985 meeting, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), now promotes the idea of a climate emergency (UNEP, n.d.). Reflecting on the socio-technical optimism of Gro Harlem Brundtland and her co-authors from this distance, fundamental questions arise as to whether their understanding of sustainable development now holds.
Do absolute limits exist, notably on ‘the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities’? Do discussions around limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C or 2°C indicate an absolute limit, or that scientific discussion is focusing only on the relative and plausible, if still challenging? Have economic developments unimagined in the 1980s, such as the economic growth witnessed in the Global South, altered fundamentally the relationships embedded in The Brundtland Report definition? Socio-technical developments were seen as the way of enabling new economic growth. Enormous economic gains have been achieved, notably the reduction of extreme poverty from 36 percent of the world's population in 1990, to 10 percent in 2015 (UN, 2020). That said, growing economic activity has resulted in growing emissions, increasing incomes have increased demand for personal mobility (especially cars), and both have increased international trade – and its associated emissions – all moving ahead of the potential neutralising effects of technological development and social reorganisation. Growth, therefore, has helped to create sustainability challenges, rather than be enabled to avoid sustainability challenges.
Agreement on The Brundtland Report at the UN (1987), the Rio Earth Summit (1992) and the subsequent Kyoto Protocol (1997) represent ten years of intergovernmental discussion on sustainable development. A key development coming out of the academic business literature emerged when John Elkington (1994) wrote about business strategies for sustainable development, introducing the world to the triple bottom line (TBL). He writes of businesses developing win-win-win strategies that benefit themselves, their customers and the environment, although the TBL is usually framed as ‘a sustainability framework that examines a company's social, environment, and economic impact’ (Elkington, 2018). That said, in the latter publication This is an online blog that has no page numbers.
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[T]he original idea was wider still, encouraging businesses to track and manage
Thus, as with sustainable development, The Brundtland Report, the Rio Earth Summit, Kyoto Protocol, through to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, with the TBL as well there appears to be a lot of work still needed to deliver fully on the original ambition of the concept.
As a major source of emissions growth, the transport sector should be central to responses around sustainable development. That said, the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fail almost totally to address transport and mobility. SDG 3, good health and well-being, seeks to reduce deaths from road traffic accidents, without mentioning the number of vehicles on the road. SDG 7, affordable and clean energy, includes promoting the shift to a substantial increase in the share of energy generated from renewable sources. This is essential if the electrification of transport is to maximise its contribution to decarbonisation, but again transportation is not mentioned. SDG 9, industry, innovation and infrastructure, includes in its targets reference to sustainable infrastructure, and to industrial and technological upgrading and development that could include transportation. SDG 12, responsible consumption and production, refers in its targets to rationalising fossil-fuel subsidies, and to transnational companies operating in a more sustainable way. It is only SDG 11, sustainable cities and communities that, in one of its targets, refers explicitly to either transport or mobility
Even this represents only limited consideration of transport-related sustainability. As noted already, 40 percent of emissions comes from the movement of freight. Further, a major source of emissions growth in developing and emerging countries is the growing demand for private cars (
There is no single, widely accepted, definition for sustainable mobility (Holden
Changing the terminology slightly, the EUs European Green Deal (European Commission, 2019a: 10) refers to sustainable transport as ‘putting users first and providing them with more affordable, accessible, healthier and cleaner alternatives to their current mobility habits’ but this, like SDG 11 and the foregoing definition of sustainable mobility, fails to capture the breadth of challenges faced in enhancing the sustainability of the transport system. A different definition for sustainable transport that has gained more traction, comes from a 2001 meeting of the European Communities’ Council of Ministers for Transport and Telecommunications This definition is contained in the minutes of the meeting, available at:
This definition is contained in the minutes of the meeting, available at:
A sustainable transport system [is] defined as one that:
allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and societies to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and promotes equity within and between successive generations; is affordable, operates fairly and efficiently, offers choice of transport mode, and supports a competitive economy, as well as balanced regional development; limits emissions and waste within the planet's ability to absorb them, uses renewable resources at or below their rates of generation, and, uses nonrenewable resources at or below the rates of development of renewable substitutes while minimising the impact on the use of land and the generation of noise.
allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and societies to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and promotes equity within and between successive generations;
is affordable, operates fairly and efficiently, offers choice of transport mode, and supports a competitive economy, as well as balanced regional development;
limits emissions and waste within the planet's ability to absorb them, uses renewable resources at or below their rates of generation, and, uses nonrenewable resources at or below the rates of development of renewable substitutes while minimising the impact on the use of land and the generation of noise.
From all of the foregoing, we offer this definition of sustainable mobility:
Access to the means of mobility by all individuals, companies and societies, ensuring the safe movement of people and goods, minimising the environmental impact of this movement, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own mobility needs
Naturally, any concise definition of a complex and multidimensional concept needs to be accompanied by a further elaboration of the practical implications of the definition. That, concisely, is the purpose of
The aim of
We welcome submissions from across the social sciences, broadly defined – and beyond, if a social dimension is presented. We have put together an impressive Editorial Board, bringing together leading experts in sustainable mobility. Each brings a particular specialism, in terms of discipline and/or transport mode. We have chosen deliberately to operate with a small group of experts, as a sign of our intent to have our editorial team play an active role in the running, leadership and development of the journal.
Supporting the Editorial Board, we have been very fortunate to bring together a truly impressive Editorial Advisory Board. The Editorial Advisory Board brings together individuals with considerable professional expertise and experience from a range of stakeholder companies and organisations with interest in sustainable mobility. We intend
In order to promote high quality research, interaction and debate,
Policy perspectives, by contrast, are short articles that aim to promote dialogue between all interested in sustainable mobility. They should be written in a style that avoids technical and scientific jargon as far as is reasonable. Academics can publish research in this format, where the key findings and the implications of findings for policy, practice and society are central. We welcome in particular policy perspectives written by stakeholders from outside of the academic community, in order to bring new insights and to stimulate debate. Further, we welcome contributions in the policy perspectives format which present academic and/or practitioner insights into current policy documents, events or announcements. We shall actively commission such contributions, but will also welcome proposals for such contributions from any potential author.
Third, we shall publish case studies. These can provide insights capable of informing policy and practice in a clear and concise way. Case studies are also an established resource in social science teaching. As we educate future leaders in sustainable mobility then case studies, informed by rigorous academic research and/or insights from practitioners, will ensure students remain at the forefront of developments in sustainable mobility.
Fourth, there are book reviews. These will help to guide our readership around the latest long-form publications in the field of sustainable mobility.
Our coverage is intended to be guided by, but not limited by, our definition of sustainable mobility. Our coverage embraces people and freight. Transport modes include, but are not limited to, road, air, shipping, rail and active mobility/active travel (walking and cycling. See, e.g., Biehl
Empirical analyses can address global issues, all the way down to very localised challenges from and responses to mobility and the climate emergency. Even though research with a local focus will be geographically-specific, lessons can be shared and learned. We have no barriers to the country or region of analytical focus – the sustainable mobility challenge is global, but responses are needed not only at the global level, but also locally, where bespoke responses can be designed to address specific challenges.
Climate change is the archetypal super wicked problem (Lazarus, 2009; Levin