Negotiators at the United Nations climate conference in Paris appear to be heading toward an agreement that’s expected to be announced Friday.
Whatever is in that final document, there’s a huge problem that hasn’t been addressed during the two-week gathering: transportation. The transport sector, which includes passenger vehicles, air travel, rail and ships, accounts for a significant portion of greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG), including carbon dioxide, that trap heat in the atmosphere.
As the EPA notes, “Almost all (95%) of the world’s transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels, largely gasoline and diesel.” Regardless of your views on climate change, it’s indisputable that our over-reliance on oil for transportation has had devastating consequences for the planet, as well as health. Combustion of gasoline and diesel in vehicles produces vast amounts of CO2, methane and other gases, but also particulates and nitrogen oxides that contribute to smog and worsen health problems like asthma and heart disease. (Read more on the Air Quality page of our website.)
One solution, among the many needed to keep the world’s temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution under 2 degrees Celsius, is liquid alcohol fuels like ethanol and methanol. Wider availability and adoption of these cheaper, cleaner, American-made fuels could displace some oil, resulting in fewer GHG and smog-producing emissions.
Despite the known problem of emissions coming from transport, few nations gave it much thought in Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the formal proposals submitted before the Paris talks, spelling out the steps each member nation is willing to take to reduce GHG.
One nation that stepped up was Brazil. Already possessing a thriving distribution network that offers sugarcane-based ethanol to consumers, it’s expanding the use of biofuels to complement zero-emissions electric vehicles. The country proposes:
“increasing the share of sustainable biofuels in the Brazilian energy mix to approximately 18% by 2030, by expanding biofuel consumption, increasing ethanol supply, including by increasing the share of advanced biofuels (second generation), and increasing the share of biodiesel in the diesel mix.”
Brazil is committing to cutting GHG by 37 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
It’s this kind of forward thinking that will be required of nations if the goals reached in Paris are to be implemented. Another benefit of including alcohol fuels in the mix is that there doesn’t need to be massive taxpayer money devoted to new projects, which has been a significant issue among between the wealthy and poor nations in Paris. Alternative fuels already are produced in mass quantities (14 billion gallons of ethanol produced in 2014); the vehicles are available (17.4 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road); and the fueling infrastructure is there (2,700 stations in the U.S. that sell E85 ethanol blend).
We salute the contributions of the tireless U.N. representatives and researchers. But after Paris comes the hardest work yet: Putting ideas to work that will cut emissions while also allowing countries to grow economically. What we’re offering could be a practical solution that can make a difference now.
- What Fuel Freedom is doing to protect the environment
- Yet more evidence that pollution harms health
- Dirty air hurts the most vulnerable among us
- What the VW scandal means for our health
- Find out if your vehicle is flex-fuel