Logistics 2050: Decarbonising road freight transport to meet 2050 targets

Time period (February-March 2009)

LRC researcher(s) A McKinnon and M Piecyk


Climate change is now widely considered to be the most serious challenge facing mankind. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientific evidence of the relationship between fossil fuel combustion, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and global warming is now ‘unequivocal’.
CO2 levels in the atmosphere now stand at 387 ppm and are rising at about 2 ppm each year. Growing CO2 concentrations increase the probability of average global temperatures exceeding certain levels, which is going to have catastrophic consequences.

In response to the problem, the UK government has now committed the country to an 80% reduction in CO2e emissions relative to 1990, i.e. roughly 75% relative to 2007.

Achieving this target the over next four decades will require fundamental changes in technology, infrastructure, business practices, fiscal and regulatory frameworks, consumption patterns and lifestyles. In this research project, we have assessed the nature and extent of the changes that will be required in the UK logistics and road freight transport sector for its carbon emissions to drop by 75% by 2050.

Using official statistics and data collected in a Delphi survey of expert opinion, we have created a number of alternative scenarios and assessed the likelihood of the required changes in key parameters being achieved by 2050. The analytical framework used in the Green Logistics project has been adapted for this purpose.
This preliminary assessment of the potential for decarbonising the road freight sector suggests that of the 24 scenarios tested  the eight most optimistic would attain required level of reduction in CO2 emissions.
However, they would require step changes in vehicle technology and corporate behaviour. The analysis has so far indicated the magnitude of the challenge confronting logistics managers as they prepare their freight transport systems for a very low carbon world.


The full results of this research project were reported in a book chapter by McKinnon, A.C. and Piecyk, M.I. (2009) ‘Logistics 2050: Road Freight Transport in a Low Carbon World’ in Sweeney, E. (ed) ‘Supply Chain Management and Logistics in a Volatile Global Environment’, Blackhall Publishing, Dublin.
Professor McKinnon also gave presentations on this topic at the IGD Sustainable Distribution conference in London and a European Commission ‘Green Week’ workshop in Brussels in June 2009.