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December 16, 2017
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Without action, freight-related pollution will jump 300 percent, ITF says

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Changes in global trade patterns and soaring freight volumes could lead to a spike in global carbon emissions, warns the International Transport Forum.

In the recently released report Transport Outlook 2015, the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projects that by 2050, total freight volumes will grow fourfold and the average length of haul will increase by 12 percent. These two trends, the report predicts, will lead to a spike in global carbon emissions unless corrective action is taken.

According to the report, freight-related emissions are projected to rise by 290 percent over the next 35 years, barring any steps to reverse the trend. The principal cause of such a jump in greenhouse gas emissions, ITF predicts, will be changes in global trade patterns that result in increased trade with far-distant markets.

Freight will replace passenger traffic as the main source of emissions from surface transportation, the report forecasts. However, air is forecast to be the biggest polluter among transportation modes, with a 411 percent increase in carbon tons emitted from 2010 to 2050, ITF says.

ITF Secretary-General José Viegas said in a statement that the projected increase in freight volumes presents an "unprecedented challenge" for the world's transport systems. Constraints on capacity growth might rein in greenhouse gases but could also act as a brake on economic growth, he said. Yet the deployment of more ships, aircraft, trucks, and trains to handle the expected rise in demand has its own downside: It could severely undermine efforts to address climate change, he said.

Viegas urged stakeholders to make optimal use of existing freight facilities, many of which are underutilized. He also called on government and industry to develop more multimodal connections, adapt port infrastructures to accommodate the mega-vessels that will dominate waterborne trade in the coming decades, and do a better job of reducing vehicle idling, which wastes fuel and spews carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

In addition to forecasting global freight volumes and transport-related carbon emissions and health impacts, Transport Outlook 2015 examines a wide range of subjects, such as factors affecting supply and demand for transport services, mobility in developing countries, changes in global trade flows, and future trade growth by region. For example, ITF predicts that by 2050 the North Pacific trade lane will surpass the North Atlantic as the world's busiest trade corridor. It also projects rapid growth in the Indian Ocean corridor, with volumes quadrupling in the next 40 years. Intra-African volumes will rise by 715 percent, while intra-Asian traffic will gain by 403 percent, the report says. Most of the increased volumes are expected to move via road transport due to the absence of alternate modes.

The International Transport Forum is an intergovernmental group with 54 member countries. It serves as a "think tank" for global transport policy and organizes an annual summit of transport ministers.

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