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Countdown to Copenhagen: Deborah Gordon and Daniel Sperling

Next week sees the beginning of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Copenhagen. The aim of the conference is to reach an ambitious global agreement including all the countries in the world. This week OUPblog will be posting a series of Countdown to Copenhagen blogs from some of our authors.  Today we have a post from Deborah Gordon and Daniel Sperling, authors of of Two Billion Cars: Driving Towards Sustainability.  Their book provides a concise history of America’s love affair with cars and an overview of the global oil and auto industries.  Deborah Gordon is a senior transportation policy analyst who has worked with the National Commission on Energy Policy, the Chinese government and many other organizations. Daniel Sperling is Professor of Engineering and Environmental Science and Founding Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.

Copenhagen, Climate Change & Cars:
Combining Top Down and Bottom Up Approaches

All eyes are on Copenhagen. On the eve of the new decade, we will witness firsthand whether the United Nations can successfully forge the next international climate agreement. Countries large and small, rich and poor – 192 in all – must agree on how to collectively move forward to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Most nations, including China and India, now accept the need for international agreements. But determining the right approach remains uncertain and contentious.

Left to its own devices, the market will not address climate change. Thus, it is imperative that governments intervene. While most large nations have begun to enact laws and put policies in place to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, the net effect has been a continued rise in emissions—with transport-related carbon emissions more than doubling since 1970, increasing faster than any other sector. With transportation already accounting for one-fourth of all carbon emissions, transformative change is clearly needed.

Forging a global agreement in Copenhagen is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. This top-down approach largely ignores the transportation sector, with a worldwide vehicle population of 2 billion projected by 2020. Cap-and-trade programs, widely touted as the market-wide solution, are expected to have little impact on transport emissions. Real progress is more likely to come from local and national commitments in the form of regulatory and economic policies. This requires implementing a wide array of strategies—aggressive vehicle performance standards, low carbon fuel standards, feebates on vehicle purchases, carbon budgets for local governments, price floors on oil, improved public transport, research, development and demonstration on alternative fuels, and incentives for low-carbon mobility options.

Vehicles, fuels, and mobility must be transformed to mitigate climate change. This will require consumers, businesses, and governments to alter their behavior. Just as California did not wait for the United States to adopt aggressive vehicle carbon standards and China is not looking beyond its borders to launch its massive electric vehicle industry, progress will and must come from the bottom up. Ultimately, the winning combination will contain both top down and bottom up approaches.

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