Freight Transport

Though freight transport by rail is more efficient, trucks are likely to remain the dominant means of sending commercial goods. Strategies are therefore needed to make truck transport carbon neutral.

A freight train today uses only around 20% of the energy to transport the same amount of cargo as a truck and produces only around one-fourth of its greenhouse gas emissions. Despite these advantages, most freight is transported by road. In 2014, rail carried only 18% of commercial goods shipped in Germany. 

As the volume of freight continues to grow, it will be possible to eliminate CO2 emissions in the sector only if trains transport a larger share of goods, if trucks become carbon neutral and if there’s better coordination between different means of transport. In strengthening rail transport, the immediate priority must be to make freight trains more competitive than trucks. Additionally, railway capacity must be increased while keeping noise levels down, expanding electrification and introducing more efficient logistics systems.

However, the transformation of the German transport system will not dethrone the truck’s status as the main means of freight transport in Germany. In other words, there’s no way to create a sustainable transport sector without making trucks carbon neutral. Small and medium-sized trucks can be powered by electricity for shorter distances. For Europe-wide transport, experts envision drivetrains powered by renewable electricity via overhead lines or in converted form as hydrogen, methane or liquid fuels. Each technology path has different infrastructure requirements and different consequences that must be coordinated across Europe.

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Core results

  1. 1

    Technology openness is a prerequisite for a successful and cost-efficient achievement of a sustainable transport sector.

    This means switching to new drive trains and fuels in an undistorted competitive field factoring in all economic costs and benefits of the various technologies.

  2. 2

    Technology openness does not mean technology neutrality.

    Technology-neutral regulations do not discriminate against available technologies. They generate technology openness only when technologies compete against each other under undistorted conditions. However, in practice technology-specific regulations are needed as well to overcome path dependencies in the transport sector and to guarantee technology openness.

  3. 3

    Technologies that harm the climate must be curbed to make space for new climate ­friendly ones.

    Path dependencies and external costs bias technology competition towards combustion engines and fossil fuels. A key approach for correcting these distortions and supporting the market exit (exnovation) of fossil fuels is an effective carbon pricing. Other supplementary instruments are a carbon-based vehicle tax and strict fleet-wide emission limits for new cars.

  4. 4

    Technology-specific policies are needed to promote infrastructure for new drive systems.

    To find acceptance, drive systems require a sufficiently tight-knit and user-friendly energy supply infrastructure network. But the private sector can profitably build infrastructure only when the technology is widely used. Accordingly, the state should temporarily promote the expansion of infrastructure and create a regulatory framework that enables the simple usage of this infrastructure.

  5. 5

    Support new technologies’ competitiveness.

    In order to overcome remaining barriers, targeted and temporarily limited support programmes can facilitate the market entry and ramp-up of innovative technologies. The programmes should consider the state of development of technologies and their projected contribution to decarbonisation. More­over, it seems desirable that the necessary financial means are raised in the transport sector itself, e. g., by the means of a bonus-malus system.

  6. 6

    Generate investment security by a long-term political commitment to sustainable transport and ambitious policy measures.

    Effective political commitment requires setting and ­achieving explicit sector targets. Moreover, the state should signal the inevitability of a transition towards a sustainable transport system by making targeted public investments and enacting a broad instrument mix for the reliable achievement of the transport sector emission target. Furthermore, it must seek to build the broadest political consensus possible.

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