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Driving exponential change

Shape and Pace of Change in the Transport Transition: Sectoral dynamics and indicators of progress

s-curve-transport-reportChange is not linear. Time and again, industry leaders, policy makers and experts have been surprised by the pace at which new technologies transform markets and societies. From horses to cars, landlines to mobile phones, or videos to streaming, technological innovation tends to happen abruptly and radically.

The report The Shape and Pace of Change in the Transport Transition, commissioned by the We Mean Business coalition and conducted by UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources (UCL ISR), finds the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) is now surging up and following an ‘S-curve’ growth. With the transport sector accounting for 24% of energy-related CO2 emissions – of which 45% are due to passenger road vehicles – it is vital to sustain and extend this transition towards zero-emission vehicles.

Electrification of road transport through EVs, in combination with a net-zero power system, is one of the most promising climate solutions available. Harnessing the potential of the ‘S-curve’ – with the right policies and investments – is critical to ensure a net-zero transition at the pace and scale needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

s-curve-graph

This analysis on the dynamics of ‘S-curves’ follows a previous report on renewable energy, which highlighted the power sector’s critical role in leading the global transition to a net-zero carbon future and tackling the escalating climate crisis. While the energy sector has to lead the global transition to a net-zero emissions economy, the transition also hinges on other sectors switching from fossil fuels to renewable electricity.

Research by the Energy Transition Commission showed that from 2024 consumers will prefer EVs over petrol and diesel cars on all fronts – costs, environment and performance. This new report goes one step further: EV sales have increased 41% per year since 2015 and if this ‘S-curve’ continues all new cars sold could be electric by 2040.

However, the climate crisis demands that we push harder. In line with halving emissions by 2030 and a net-zero future by 2050, we need 100% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035. This report gives concrete recommendations to policy makers on how to accelerate EV uptake, including:

  • Invest in infrastructure for reliable, seamless and publicly accessible EV charging.
  • Commit to public procurement of EVs and incentivize private companies to do the same, for example through the Climate Group’s EV100 program.
  • Further reduce EV purchase costs, for example by stimulating leasing schemes and second-hand markets for EVs and batteries.

The transition to zero-emission vehicle is happening, but whether it will happen at the pace and depth needed depends on how policy makers and businesses harness this potential. Public-private collaboration is an essential part to accelerate the transition and halve emissions by 2030.


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The transition to a zero carbon economy is inevitable. Now is the time for companies to start preparing for a zero carbon future.

Jill Duggan, Director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group

This milestone [Paris] Agreement is an important step in ensuring we can maintain quality of life on our planet for future generations.

Neil McArthur, CEO Arcadis

Now businesses are enabled to work together with governments and communities to shape the policies and take the actions necessary to transition to a low carbon future.

Richard Lancaster, CEO of CLP

We are entering an era of system transformation. Business is already playing a leadership role through global collaboration and low carbon partnership initiatives to drive innovation and structural change.

Peter Bakker, President of WBCSD

The global transition to a low-carbon economy is urgent, inevitable, and accelerating faster than we ever believed possible.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

We are already not only bending the curve of emissions but actually already in a global consensus about the inevitability of the major shift that will occur in this century.

Christiana Figueres

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Syngenta

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Roche Holding

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Anirban Ghosh, CSO, Mahindra Group

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Clay Nesler, Vice President for Global Energy & Sustainability at Johnson Controls

Reducing energy consumption will be the primary vehicle in achieving our goals. We are very pleased to be the first property company to sign up to EP100, ensuring we will increase our energy productivity for the benefit of our customers.

Robert Noel, Chief Executive, Land Securities

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Clay Nesler, Vice President for Global Energy & Sustainability at Johnson Controls

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Marc Engel, Chief Supply Chain Officer, Unilever

Climate change is a huge risk to the long-term supply of safe, high quality ingredients for Nestlé’s products as crop yields fall and production areas shift. We are determined to play our part in taking climate action by purchasing renewable electricity.

Pascal Gréverath, Head of Environmental Sustainability, Nestlé

Renewable energy plays a key role in achieving our ongoing commitment to carbon neutrality, as we aim to use 100% renewable energy to meet our global electricity needs by 2020.

Anthony Cammarata, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs

Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centers, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy.

Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President, Technical Infrastructure, Google

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Laurel Peacock, Senior Manager of Sustainability, NRG

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Laurel Peacock, Senior Manager of Sustainability, NRG

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Tom Byrne, Energy Manager at Land Securities

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Andy Howard, Head of Sustainable Research at Schroders

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Rob Walton, Walmart

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Alexandra Palt, Chief Sustainability Officer, L’Oreal

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Ramadas Kamath, Executive Vice President and Head – Infrastructure and Sustainability, Infosys

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Guilherme Leal, B Team Leader and one of the founders of Natura Cosméticos

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Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

…we’re working in partnerships even with our competitors, but also with governments and other industries. But to help us get there, we need policymakers to play their role. We need them to give us certainty. We need them to level out the playing field.

Hannah Jones, Vice President Sustainable Business & Innovation, Nike

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Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business, Marks & Spencer

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David Tulauskas, Director Sustainability, General Motors

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Mike Bloomberg, Former NYS Mayor

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Lance Pierce, President of CDP North America

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Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President, PG&E

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John Bryant, CEO, Kellogg Company

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Ken Powell, CEO, General Mills

(Climate change) is absolutely a threat. And that’s why we’re doing all that we’re doing today.

Barry Parkin, CSO, Mars

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Letitia Webster, Senior Director, VF

Low-carbon, sustainable investments are key to our future.

Tom DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller

We want the underlying companies in our ($300 billion) portfolio to be aligned with the transition to a low-carbon global economy.

Anne Simpson, Global Governance Investment Director, CalPERS

If you can do one thing for me today, please, never refer to clean energy as “alternative energy” again.

Michael Liebreich, Founder & Chairman of Bloomberg New Energy Finance Advisory Board

Getting to the Paris Agreement was the easy component, it meant setting the starting line. Now we have to turn those intentions into implemented activities and projects.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC

There seems to be a tendency to believe that now that the Paris Agreement is done, it is now up to governments. But the real action starts now. The business community and civil society need to push governments so that they will keep this agreement.

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General, United Nations

The once unthinkable has now become unstoppable. This train is moving. It started at the Paris station, it has to go and move.

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General, United Nations

The entry into force of the Paris Agreement just ten months after COP21 is a defining moment for the global economy.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

The global transition to a low-carbon economy is urgent, inevitable, and accelerating faster than we ever believed possible.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and Chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

We are entering an era of system transformation. Business is already playing a leadership role through global collaboration and low carbon partnership initiatives to drive innovation and structural change.

Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Now businesses are enabled to work together with governments and communities to shape the policies and take the actions necessary to transition to a low carbon future.

Richard Lancaster, CEO of CLP

This milestone Paris Agreement is an important step in ensuring we can maintain quality of life on our planet for future generations.

Neil McArthur, CEO Arcadis

The significance of the Paris Agreement and its universal impact cannot be underestimated. The transition to a zero carbon economy is inevitable. Now is the time for companies to start preparing for a zero carbon future.

Jill Duggan, Director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group

What the Paris Agreement means for business

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