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Getting to net-zero
Energy majors are having to understand transport and mobility in a way they have never needed to before
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The transport-energy nexus

Keeping global warming to 1.5°C will require the transport and energy sectors to work together, explain Paul Hammond and Craig Lucas.

Human activity is the main cause of global warming, and to avoid catastrophe businesses, governments, communities and individuals all need to take action. It will require local, national and international co-operation.

Reducing or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions will be costly. But as the UK Met Office has made it clear, the cost of inaction, in terms of damage to human and natural systems, will be ‘many times greater’.

The transport and energy sectors are intrinsically linked in the challenge of keeping rising temperature to the 1.5°C above pre-industrial times that experts now say should be the global target.

The co-dependency between the transport and energy sectors, and its importance in tackling climate change, was highlighted last year. Burning fossil fuels is the largest contributor to global warming. Transport typically accounts for 60% of global oil demand. During 2020, the COVID pandemic led to global energy-related emissions falling by 5.8%, roughly equivalent to removing the entirety of the EU’s emissions from the global total. Over half of this saving was due to the fall in oil demand, which was in turn driven primarily by demand side shocks in road transport and aviation.

But it’s not that simple.

The problem of climate change can only be addressed if it is considered from a sustainable development perspective that addresses both greenhouse gas emissions and the economic and social dependencies of our global community.

Across the world, the energy majors employ millions of people – direct, indirect, induced jobs – and their commercial models are founded upon industrial energy consumption. That includes humankind’s love affair (including the authors’) with the internal combustion engine, and jet-propelled access to global markets and experiences.

Targets to 2050 on emissions and temperature warming set a vision to save the planet. At the transport-energy nexus, we are setting the objectives that will deliver the transition from a carbon dependent mobility system to a new, net-zero paradigm.

Getting to net-zero

Since 2008, the UK government has been committed to reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. However, this target was made more ambitious in 2019 when the UK became the first major economy to commit to a ‘net-zero’ target. The new target requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.

A shock was delivered to the UK transport sector in 2020 when an appeal court ruling questioned the validity of the UK's Airport National Policy Statement because, in their view, it had not fully considered the UK government's commitments under the Paris Agreement. While the Supreme Court overturned this finding the appeal court ruling in itself highlights the increasing importance society is now placing on the decarbonisation of the transport sector. The problem and associated solutions, compounded by the collapse of travel demand under COVID-19, looked intractable from a transport economist’s perspective.

There is clearly no quick fix to shifting the 800bn kms travelled each year in Great Britain – 83% by car, van or taxi – into a new mobility paradigm of re-mode, re-route, re-fuel or don’t travel as a means to address the climate emergency in transport. That’s not to mention the economic and social disbenefits and behavioural challenges associated with anything other than a transition.

At the same time as the Court of Appeal delivered its Heathrow ruling, the major carbon contributors and influencers in the energy sector were pondering their own shock – commercial, legal and moral – as the cliff edge for the planet and their businesses became apparent.

An energy transition is acknowledged by the huge amounts that BP, Shell, Total, EDF and others are investing in transport related projects, such as new fuels and electric vehicle (EVs) charging networks. It means that energy majors are having to understand transport and mobility in a way they have never needed to before.

It’s not enough just to supply fuel. In the net-zero world, you need to understand the energy-transport ‘system’ and provide customers with more holistic solutions. For example, if you want to run a hydrogen fleet you need the hydrogen supply as well.

Making progress

Only when we bring multi-faceted problems together and analyse them from different perspectives do we make progress. That’s the transport-energy nexus – a connection or series of connections linking two different things. In this case, consider supply and demand from different perspectives and exploring experience, depth of knowledge and innovations within joined up solutions and ultimately opportunities.

In practice, this means energy suppliers (renewables, nuclear and green hydrogen) being better connected with transport stakeholders and travellers (original equipment manufacturers, regulators, aviation, fleet and public transport operators, private owners etc).

A transport-energy nexus

A world in transition from fossil fuels to a new green future

What is it?

  • Multi-faceted problems
  • No obvious answer
  • Transport needs energy
  • Energy needs transport
  • Nexus
  • Opportunity


  • Define the problem from more than one angle

  • Focus on the solution

  • An eco-system type approach

  • An enterprise model

Expertise in a nexus…

"I'm always looking for a nexus, where you can put all these diverse people together, see how they respond to one another, see what they learn about each other, and what they like and don't like."

Jenji Kohan

The theory of the ‘nexus’ borrows much from Project 13 principles and moving to an enterprise model for infrastructure delivery (see Project 13 Home - Project 13). The focus of the enterprise model is on the outcome rather than transactional matters. An integrator is key – it’s the force that agitates and glues all aspects of the knowledge required to address a seemingly impossible problem.

Our transport decarbonisation team at Mott MacDonald includes international experts on transport economics, behaviour change and carbon emissions. It also includes experts on energy infrastructure, systems and masterplanning, fuel development and production, distribution, pricing and safety.

From hydrogen electrolysers to active travel and triple access planning (do you really need to take that journey?) – we have a nexus view on the issue. The transport-energy nexus builds on our culture of innovation, which removes the fear of failure when sharing new ideas.

As Nelson Mandela said: ‘We never lose, we either win or we learn.’

And the nexus is built on a corporate culture where every voice is heard and every opinion counts – that’s how ‘wicked’ problems are sorted.

Paul Hammond

Global practice leader for infrastructure development and economics

Craig Lucas

Mott MacDonald director of energy transformation

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