Tackling future challenges of mobility

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AkzoNobel's Johan Widheden asks what the IPCC's latest report means for the transport sector

The world is changing at a rapid rate and so is the ability of our planet to withstand these changes. In fact, it has been estimated that we have already breached the safe operating space of humanity in three out of the nine planetary boundaries that define the resilience of our planet.

One of the most important boundaries that has been crossed is climate change. Yesterday's IPCC report warned that carbon emissions grew nearly twice as fast from 2000-10 as compared to the previous 30 years, despite the economic slowdown.

A major contributor to this process has been the transportation sector's growth which now accounts for 11 percent of all global emissions. Looking forward, the sector will have to address both the public and the policy responses to climate change. Also, shortages in resources will intensify this pressure - from oil scarcity, rising energy prices and the competition between biofuels and food production, to the scarcity of rare metals needed for batteries.

At the same time, a fast growing population as well as urbanisation are driving major changes within business and society. These changes can be seen visibly in our transport systems - our roads, train stations, ports and airports are busier than ever as populations grow and urbanize and as we demand ever-increasing mobility.

Change is rapid and the challenges ahead are many and varied. While politicians often struggle to deal with these challenges, scientists and engineers are busy getting on with designing the technologies and systems which will eventually meet them.

For example, in the automotive industry, average CO2 emissions of new vehicles are over 20 per cent less than in 2007. Meanwhile, Norway is expected to become the first country where one in every 100 cars is purely electric. There is also a strong trend in younger generations away from ownership toward car sharing schemes. In a few years we may start seeing autonomous or "driverless" cars, which could revolutionise personal travel forever.

Looking further into the future, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's (WBCSD) Vision 2050 report, we can expect universal access to low carbon transport in 2050. An 80 percent reduction in energy use by light-duty vehicles is also forecast, along with a 50 percent drop in energy usage within shipping/freight transportation.

Are countries and companies prepared for these rapid changes; do they have enough resilience?

At AkzoNobel, the ‘Vision 2050' report is used to inform our long-term innovation strategy and to help us adapt to the changes in the market such as the need for drag reducing coatings, which can offer enhanced efficiencies and protective properties for our customers. Two-thirds of our research and development are purely focussed on meeting sustainability related challenges.

Ultimately, the ability to adapt successfully to changing circumstances requires some strategic longer-term thinking. Without this, businesses will always miss the threats and opportunities presented by major technological, economic and societal changes.

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