In 2019, the future of renewable energy in the travel industry was looking cautiously optimistic - with growing awareness of the climate crisis and increased demand from both the public and government policies, efforts to reduce carbon emissions through travel were improving. Alternative fuels were being introduced, electric vehicles were on the rise and carbon offsetting was becoming a routine requirement for many international travellers.
However, the global and political shifts of the past 4 years have, concerningly, slowed the progress of sustainability in the travel industry by a worrying degree. Through the devastating restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the widespread ramifications of the war on Ukraine and the impact of staff strikes - both within the UK and internationally, the focus of the travel industry has shifted away from their climate targets.
How has the pandemic impacted the renewable energy targets of the transport sector?
In a recent study carried out by the EU statistics agency Eurostat, they found that out of the core 27 countries within the EU, only 4 were able to reach their renewable transport targets in 2021. With countries such as Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Romania all facing drops in their renewable energy shares in the transport sectors, the impact of the pandemic marked a clear detachment from the progress previously made.
Additionally, the financial investment in sustainable transport and travel, reduced across the board, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Their study discovered that renewable energy investment in the travel industry dropped by 39% in 2020, with the demands of the pandemic causing funds to be redistributed elsewhere.
In 2022, however, as the transport industry began to recover economically, it simultaneously began to decline ecologically. As restrictions were lifted, more and more consumers began to travel again, causing an 8% jump in CO2 emissions, rebounding faster than any other end-use sector - more cars returned to the road, flights were rebooked and with a widespread ‘return to office’ shift for those working from home, the daily commute was resumed.
What is the current climate status of the travel industry?
As declared by the European Commission in Brussels, 2020; ‘to achieve climate neutrality, we need to reduce transport emissions by 90% by 2050.’ So how far from that target is the transport sector in 2023? As it currently stands, the transport sector is making positive changes to help reduce its overall carbon emissions. From micro changes for the individual traveller, such as carbon offsetting options on international flights, eco-routes on Google Maps and accessible electric vehicles (including e-bikes and scooters), to large-scale changes such as promoting alternative fuel usages and developing sustainable transport infrastructures
New policies are also being introduced regarding the use of sustainable intermodal transportation over long-haul road travel. The use of rail, road and water as a combination is now being promoted to help reduce harmful GHC emissions when transporting both goods and passengers across the country.
Additionally, individual countries are finding ways to help reduce the impact of transport and travel on their overall carbon emissions. In 2021, Austria introduced a single travel ticket for a set price which allows citizens to travel across tram, train and bus with ease - encouraging increased use of public transportation over personal cars. The Netherlands has also made significant progress in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions and now supports the greatest EV charging infrastructure in the EU, with over 90,000 charging stations available to the public.
However, the industry as a whole still has a long way to go. The travel sector still relies on oil products for 91% of its final energy output and is responsible for 24% of direct carbon dioxide emissions around the world. In the US alone, transport remains the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, significantly overtaking other major carbon-heavy industries such as manufacturing, retail and energy.
Globally, the travel industry needs to enforce further change and increased sustainable policy throughout to be in with a chance of reaching their future climate goals.
‘The travel and transport sectors have a responsibility to make an impactful, positive change towards climate neutrality, in a very short space of time. It can’t be understated just how important systemic shifts towards sustainable goals are if we hope to achieve our climate goals by 2030. At Clean Energy Capital, we can offer guided advice and support to businesses and landowners with connections to transport, looking to make real sustainable change.’
Tony Harrison, Commercial Director (CEC)