Global Green Freight Action Plan

In accordance with the Global Green Freight Action Statement issued at the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York, the Global Green Freight Action Plan calls on governments, private sector, civil society, and other actors to work in concert to align and enhance existing green freight efforts, develop and support new green freight programs, and to incorporate black carbon reductions into green freight programs.

The goal of the Global Green Freight Action Plan is to enhance the environmental and energy efficiency of goods movement in ways that significantly reduce the climate, health, energy, and cost impacts of freight transport around the world. Full implementation of this Action Plan will shape a more sustainable global freight sector where goods, materials, and trade flows move with the best available technologies and strategies through an efficient, cleaner and greener, multimodal, global freight supply chain. Performance data and best practices will be shared and exchanged via green freight programs and in ways that enhance efficiency, cost savings, competitiveness, environmental performance, public health, and economic development.

The three main objectives of the Action Plan are described in more detail below:

Green freight programs of all shapes and sizes are in various stages of development across the globe. The characteristics and scope of these programs vary widely, but at the highest level these programs have a common mission: to improve the efficiency of freight transport. These programs range from national programs formed as public-private partnerships, to regional industry-led initiatives, to mode-specific programs. In addition to established programs, there are a vast number of supporting groups, such as NGOs, universities, and other organizations conducting research and associated activities to support specific elements of green freight programs (such as technology verification, emissions measurement and reporting methodologies, or enhanced logistics). 

While the proliferation of green freight efforts underscores the appeal and potential of these programs, their success will depend on global collaboration and cooperation to help ensure maximum impact and reductions. There is a limit to what a disconnected assortment of individual programs can accomplish when it comes to improving the efficiency of the global supply chain. For example, business and industry with global, multi-modal supply chains are increasingly demanding linked green freight programs with standardized tools, methods, and metrics to support their sustainability efforts. Business leaders can most effectively leverage their market influence to drive efficiency efforts when they can accurately account for freight energy use and carbon throughout their supply chain.

Without a way to align the programs, the result is a patchwork system that discourages participation from the global shippers and carriers who are the keys to the implementation of freight efficiency best practices. There is a need to connect the dots at a global level in order to tie all the existing green freight programs together and obtain the maximum potential benefit. Thus there is a growing need to align, harmonize, and share best practices on a global scale. 

There are a number of countries with a desire to establish national green freight programs. However, there are barriers these countries face which can, in general, be traced back to either lack of information or lack of capacity. There is an overall need for access to information and expert support for those countries looking to establish or develop a green freight program. Expertise, data, and reliable information can be difficult to find. There are a number of green freight program elements, such as program financing and applicable technologies and strategies, which program managers need to comprehend in the context of their country or region for a program to be successful.

A range of financing and incentive schemes are necessary for green freight programs to be successful. For example, governments need capacity and resources to run or manage such a program, carriers need financing options to purchase technology and implement strategies promoted by green freight programs, and incentives are needed to encourage increased participation. There are a number of financing and incentive schemes that can be used to increase the success of green freight programs. Some examples are loans, subsidies, grants, reduced taxes and fees, improved access, and combining financial incentives with regulatory backstops. In addition, there is a range of financing sources from which green freight programs can receive financial assistance.

One of the central elements of green freight programs is to give freight carriers reliable tools, information, and support for improving their efficiency. This can be in the form of information on specific technologies (e.g. aerodynamic devices, low rolling resistance tires, and anti-idling equipment) and strategies (e.g., driver training and incentive programs, improved logistics, and improved maintenance programs) and through verification of manufacturer-specific technologies. Most technologies and strategies will have an upfront cost to implement so the carriers need to have a concrete understanding of how well the technologies or strategies will work for their application and what sort of payback time they can expect. Green freight program leaders must have a detailed understanding of the freight system in their country or region in order to understand which technologies and strategies will be the most applicable to the given fleet. Accelerating efficiency improvement, performance benchmarking, and reporting for the carriers will enable shipper partners to also benchmark and report their own emissions while optimizing supply chain performance using performance data.

Ideally all countries would have a green freight program customized for their region. Initially, the actions will focus on creating tools and resources that can be utilized by a wide range of countries and, in addition, conducting specific work in countries that have the most interest in establishing or improving their green freight program. 

While green freight programs’ central mission is the improvement of freight efficiency and the reduction of CO2 emissions, the reduction of other diesel emissions (such as black carbon) is a complementary benefit. Green freight programs reduce black carbon through a number of mechanisms, such as accelerated renewal of the fleet and implementation of technologies and strategies that reduce black carbon while also reducing fuel consumption.

While the business case for improving efficiency to reduce fuel use is straight forward, the business case for black carbon reductions may not be so clear. Black carbon is a relatively new or unknown challenge for most business leaders that are committed to environmental leadership, and these firms will need guidance on how to incorporate black carbon mitigation into their supply chain sustainability efforts. Furthermore, many private sector shippers and carriers will need to understand new risks and unknowns that black carbon could present to their operations and supply chains. Thus prioritization of black carbon emissions should be an essential part of their strategy.

Green freight programs do not currently measure or track black carbon reductions; therefore it can be challenging to quantitatively estimate the potential impact of globalized green freight efforts on black carbon emissions. Tracking black carbon reductions will likely follow a different methodology than CO2 accounting, due to the fact that black carbon reductions are almost entirely dependent on the emissions certification level of the vehicle (or vessel) and the associated sulfur level of the diesel fuel. It would be possible for a given shipper to have a very low black carbon footprint while still having a very large CO2 footprint.

In addition to the lack of measurement and reporting tools for black carbon, there is a lack of information on the impacts of green freight program technologies and strategies on black carbon reductions. There are a number of efficiency technologies that likely have the potential to produce corresponding black carbon reductions, but have not been verified as such.

A number of actions have been identified that will be required to meet the objective of incorporating black carbon (and other air pollutants) into green freight programs.