IEA Report Identifies Opportunities to Decarbonize Transport with High-speed Rail
Photo by IISD/ENB | Angeles Estrada Vigil
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The IEA Railway Handbook 2017 outlines the potential of high-speed rail for mitigating transport emissions and providing benefits for sustainable growth of urban agglomerations.

The publication calls for higher investments in high-speed rail to achieve climate mitigation targets.

IEA also updated its energy efficiency database, which allows tracking progress in increasing energy efficiency in IEA member states in the most energy intensive sectors of the economy.

7 December 2017: High-speed railways have become a viable low-carbon alternative to airplanes in densely populated regions in Europe, Japan and China. IEA’s report titled, ‘Railway Handbook 2017: Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions,’ outlines the benefits of high-speed rail for climate mitigation and estimates the potential to decarbonize transport through its continued growth.

The publication shows, for example, that high-speed rail, while accounting for 6% of global passenger transport activity in 2015, only accounted for 2% of transport final energy demand and 4% of CO2 emissions from the transport sector. The efficiency advantage means that high-speed rail could play a key role in reducing transport-related CO2 emissions, in particular if it displaces short-haul aviation. High-speed rail is especially attractive to link cities that are up to 700 km apart where it is competitive with aviation regarding travel time and price. The connection of cities also offers broader benefits through economic feed-backs and by stimulating the growth of networks of “large, but not oversized,” urban agglomerations.

While in Asia, high-speed rail is growing rapidly, accounting for 70% of passenger transport growth in China alone, it’s share relative to other modes has decreased in Europe and North America in recent decades. The report therefore concludes that, despite rapid growth in China, achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change will require much higher investments in high-speed rail at the global level. [IEA Press Release] [IEA Railway Handbook 2017]

In related news, IEA also released updated data on key energy efficiency indicators. First released in 2000, and including annual data from 2000-2015, the IEA Energy Efficiency Database aims to inform and monitor the effectiveness and energy efficiency policies. It covers energy consumption for eight energy products and provides energy efficiency and carbon intensity indicators for the four most important economic sectors including residential, services, industry and transport. The update shows that the largest energy end-users in IEA member countries are: transport (34%), including 20% demand from passenger cars; manufacturing (27%); and residential (19%), including 10% demand from space heating. The database allows cross-country comparisons as well as analysis of trends over time. [IEA Press Release. Energy Efficiency] [Energy Efficiency Indicators: Highlights 2017]

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