Humans today are bound by the millions of products zig zagging across the world every minute. On any given day, a consumer in the United States may pick up gardening tools manufactured in rural China, while someone in the Dominican Republic buys the building blocks of a bed from Sweden, while a person in Kenya puts on a sweater hewn at a factory in Thailand. Increasingly––particularly in the United States––those products arrive within days, even hours, of being ordered. These staggering conveniences often occur at no cost to the consumer––at least, that’s how it can seem.
Products wind across the world thanks to a shadow skeleton of trains, boats, planes, and trucks called global freight. This industry runs almost entirely on fossil fuels, the main cause of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Freight’s actual cost may be remote but that doesn’t make it less severe.
Freight transportation constitutes 8 percent of global CO2 emissions today, which is expected to increase by 157 percent on the road and 77 percent over the water by 2050. Experts predict that the movement of goods may triple or quadruple in the next few decades.
“You have a sector that is relatively impactful for climate change but is not yet enough on the radar of the government or the multinationals who hold the key to do something about it through policy or through buyer awareness,” said Sophie Punte, the Executive Director of Smart Freight Centre. “Freight is the orphan of climate action.”
Indeed, less than a third of countries mention freight in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are national plans that explain how they plan to reduce greenhouse gases and by how much.
Luckily, things are changing. A growing number of Green Freight Programmes are helping to update a creaky industry by helping companies understand and reduce their emissions while improving efficiency and decreasing costs.