3.1 Mobility, buildings and the wider built environment are a key challenge for sustainability
Transport and residential property together account for nearly 30% of global carbon emissions.
Estimates above 1x indicate higher risk of developing a given psychiatric disorder for children living among little green space compared with children living with lots.
The global aviation industry has collapsed, while people are making fewer shorter trips as they practise social distancing.
Car use in China has returned to normal levels, but public-transport use has not. Milan is widening pavements and offering more cycling lanes to maintain social distancing. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced sweeping changes to mobility.
Seven-day moving average
Public transport must only be used when absolutely necessary – as a last resort. Many more Londoners must now walk or cycle. Everyone who can work from home must continue doing so for the foreseeable future. We must all spend more of our leisure time in our local areas to avoid unnecessary journeys. Londoners who can only get to work on rail must now walk or cycle from rail stations rather than using the tube or bus.
Sadiq Khan, May 2020
Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images
3.2 Electric vehicles at a tipping point
Plug-in vehicle sales were especially strong in the United States in 2018 and 2019. In Norway, penetration of plug-in vehicles now exceeds 50%.
A study in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, co-authored by an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, found that a one-dollar increase in the oil price leads people to buy a car which is one-mile-per-gallon more efficient. This relationship is also suggested by the historical data.
Electric car registrations continued to rise in the early part of the pandemic. The top two selling car models in the UK in April were electric. So far in 2020, electric car sales in Europe were 13% of the total, double the share last year.
Consumers already have a variety of electric vehicles to choose from, but between 2019 and 2021, the range of models is expected to double.
Electricity is the most efficient way of powering vehicles. The price of lithium-ion batteries has collapsed. The combination of these two factors is making electric vehicles an increasingly attractive option for consumers.
In the United States, it is cheaper to run an electric car than a fossil-fuel one, even in parts of the country where electricity is relatively expensive.
Including three years tax on company-car benefit
In Britain there are now more charging locations than petrol stations, while across the world there are nearly 900,000 public electric vehicle charging points.
Investments in electrification and autonomous driving have taken off, while autotech transactions have risen sharply in recent years.
We will exit this crisis, and people will no longer agree to breathing polluted air. You’ll see something that was already rising in our societies, people will come out and say ‘I don’t want to breathe this air . . . you have accepted the idea of shutting down everything to stop Covid, but now you are ready to let me go on breathing bad air.’
In many countries, such as the US, state and city governments are leading the way.
* Indicates that the policy is only implemented at a state/province/local level.
** Standards for chargers are a fundamental prerequisite for the development of EV supply equipment. All regions listed here have developed standards for chargers. Some (China, European Union, India) are mandating specific standards as a minimum requirement; others (Canada, Japan, United States) are not.
Over half the world now lives in cities, and the pandemic is causing people to rethink where they live and how they prefer to move around. This has opened up new opportunities to rethink urban space to create safer spaces for walking and cycling.
So far there is little evidence that the economic crisis will reverse progress on electric vehicles. The transition will likely accelerate once the sector gets back on its feet.
Shifting to 100% electric vehicles is a priority for climate action. An electric and pooled ride-hailing trip can reduce emissions by about 70% compared to the average private car trip today and the gap is growing as the power sector gets cleaner.
Many governments are considering “cash for clunker” programmes to help reboot the economy. It is critical that such policies provide support to electric vehicles rather than internal combustion engines, or progress could be delayed by years.
The community engagement and cooperation being developed during the pandemic can be repurposed in the recovery, e.g., for re-wilding our urban spaces. Electric vehicles and the supporting infrastructure can be a part of this urban transformation.
A wider public discussion is needed about the nature of our cities and the role of mobility. On the one hand, more people recognise the need for clean air and safer, greener urban spaces. On the other, it is likely that some will prefer to use cars over public transport while there is a risk of contracting COVID-19. Others will move further away from dense urban environments.
3.3 Technology is enabling the next generation of ultra-efficient buildings
The energy intensity per square meter of the global buildings sector needs to improve on average by 30% by 2030 (compared to 2015) to be on track to meet global climate ambitions set forth in the Paris Agreement.
A cooling degree day (CDD) is a measurement designed to quantify the demand for energy needed to cool buildings. Heating and air-conditioning systems have been getting more efficient, and new standards are coming into force in 2023.
Annual investment in smart-grid technologies is rising fast. However, even within the US, some states have much higher adoption of smart meters than others.
For new buildings, materials are the key to reducing emissions. Different materials have widely different climatic impacts.
Advanced building management systems are increasingly popular, especially in the US.
Buildings have extensive socio-economic impacts. In many cities houses have been getting smaller as land costs rise, with negative effects on welfare.
Net-zero buildings should be a central focus of economic recovery plans. The technology required to enable net-zero carbon, smart buildings is ready for the mainstream. Plus, energy efficiency in the home and other smart-energy investments are among the most cost-effective and job-intensive available.
Our collective experience indoors during lockdown is a reminder of how this push for net-zero buildings is part of a wider conversation about quality of life and wellness at home, in the workplace and across our lived experience in cities.
Regulators will need to adapt to new realities and needs. For instance, product material standards are needed for net-zero-carbon building materials. Policies will need to enable a growing role for wood in construction whilst tackling emissions from cement and concrete.
Technology is also enabling safer, more comfortable homes that help to connect people. Beyond the traditional buildings and construction sector, this provides opportunities for a wide variety of technology, equipment and service companies.