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Electric cars aren’t enough to hit climate goals – public transport is also key

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UCC’s Vera O’Riordan explains why focusing on replacing conventional cars with EVs is a ‘missed opportunity’ for countries to also develop alternative means of transport and help meet global climate targets.

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A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

Transport is responsible for 24pc of energy-related carbon emissions worldwide. Half of those emissions are from carrying goods and services, and the other half are from carrying people from A to B – also known as passenger transport.

Passenger transport has a huge impact on our surroundings, and it’s one of the biggest factors in determining where we live and work. It can be bumper-to-bumper LA traffic, bike-filled Danish cities, Japanese bullet trains, buzzing Vietnamese mopeds, taxi ranks lined with India’s famous three-wheeled rickshaws, or bustling London subways.

Introducing electric vehicles (EVs) on a massive scale has often been framed as the solution to reducing passenger transport emissions – witness the UK’s plans for all new homes and upgraded buildings to have EV charging points from 2022.

However, recent research from the US has shown that the electrification of cars alone will not be enough for the transport sector to reach ambitious global climate action targets aiming to prevent more than two degrees Celsius of global warming.

In addition, a population that continues to depend on cars poses significant problems for growing cities. With urbanisation on the rise and space at a premium, we must reduce car ownership in cities if we are to keep them as affordable and accessible as possible. Huge amounts of land which could otherwise be used to house people or be dedicated to nature are still reserved for roads and car parks.

Although EVs certainly help address increasing transport emissions, simply focusing on replacing conventional cars with EVs is a missed opportunity for countries to develop alternative means of transport beyond car dependency.

Climate action funds – including the Adaptation Fund, a UN-backed international fund helping developing countries to adapt to the climate crisis – are projected to reach $100bn of funding by 2023. Much of this money is channelled towards sustainable infrastructure projects, which could help developing countries to build efficient and sustainable mass-transit systems.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advocates for an approach to passenger transport planning called ‘Avoid, Shift, Improve’, which is adapted from a framework first developed in Germany in the early 1990s.

Avoid

‘Avoid’ refers to reducing the need for transport in the first place. This involves planning new urban areas and redeveloping old ones to be as well organised as possible, so people will not have to travel far for their working, shopping, education and recreational needs. While years of investment into roads have made it very difficult for some cities to move away from car use, the future is still unwritten for many of our growing cities.

This approach also involves connecting homes and rural towns to the internet so that people can easily and cheaply work from home, leaving road space free for people – like doctors or teachers – who cannot.

Shift

‘Shift’ means switching necessary travel to more sustainable, active and higher-occupancy modes of transport. Instead of single-occupancy cars, for example, we can use buses, trains, bikes, scooters, skateboards or walking paths. Across the world, we can see exciting examples of how countries have managed to make this shift away from carbon-intensive car dependency.

The TransMilenio bus system, operating in the cities of Bogotá and Soacha in Colombia, is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Transporting between 1m and 2m people daily, its broad range of stops, dedicated bus lanes and affordable ticketing stations create an easily accessible service.

Increasing the uptake of active modes of travel is another way to encourage this shift. E-bikes are among the fastest-growing types of transport in China. The motor-assisted travel encourages cycling longer journeys in hilly areas, warmer areas and among people who are less fit. Studies from Sweden and Norway show that cyclists who switch from conventional bikes to e-bikes increase their number of journeys and the distances they travel on average for each journey.

Recently, residents of Berlin voted to expand car restrictions in the German city to cover 88 sq km of the city – a proposal which would create the world’s largest car-free urban zone. Actions like these can address the safety concerns of pedestrians and cyclists, who fear navigating alongside fast-moving, heavy vehicles, by providing segregated active travel routes.

Importantly, researchers have noted that without measures to restrict car use, other measures to encourage the uptake of public transport, walking and cycling have little impact.

Once unnecessary travel has been cut from things like poor urban planning and employer policies requiring workers’ presence in offices, and once safe public transport systems or active travel options have been provided, we can focus on making the vehicles we currently have more sustainable.

Improve

Although fuel efficiency has slightly reduced the fuel consumption per kilometre of car transport, passenger transport demand continues to grow – meaning that overall, increased emissions from passenger transport outstrip efficiency reductions. As a result, the ‘improve’ part of the UN’s framework involves switching bus, rail and car transport from fossil fuels to electric.

The key to reducing passenger transport emissions is enabling access to and use of electric cars only where there are no other reasonable travel options. If we do this, we have a chance to end car dependency while still helping as many people as possible to travel.

The Conversation

By Vera O’Riordan

Vera O’Riordan is a PhD researcher at Science Foundation Ireland’s Marine and Renewable Energy Institute (MaREI) based at University College Cork. She works with the Energy Policy and Modelling Group to model past, present and future emissions from transport, with funding from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart b3ta.com. B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the logoliftoff.org.uk site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

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