Zero Emissions Initiative for Urban Delivery Solutions
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Zero Emissions Initiative for Urban Delivery Solutions

Photo by:   Ivan de la Lanza
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By Ivan de la Lanza - Sur, Instituto del Sur Urbano
Sustainable Urban Mobility Specialist


Having clean air to breathe is an achievable health and development goal. As one of the main COP26 topics, urban transport is also among the best shots for governments and businesses to reduce emissions and advance climate commitments, while contributing to saving 4.2 million lives every year by improving air quality (WHO 2021).

The world faces an unprecedented climate emergency. To keep global temperature growth below 1.5° C, science tells us that cities must achieve emissions neutrality by 2050. According to the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the increase in temperature already is causing serious loss of life and threatens vital ecosystems and the ecological balance.

Further increases in temperatures pose an existential threat to cities and entire countries. More than half of the global population currently lives in urban areas, and that is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2050. Cities contribute over 80 percent of GDP and three-quarters of the carbon emissions from final energy use, so it can be asserted that the battle for the planet will be won or lost in the cities.

Mobility in cities plays a large role in intensifying negative externalities and urban challenges, such as congestion, accidents, noise pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and poor air quality. These impacts harm us all but particularly vulnerable populations with chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and can lead to premature births, lung cancer, and asthma attacks, among other negative effects.

In recent years, great efforts have been made by the authorities and urban planners to reduce the negative externalities produced by urban mobility and transit. However, the impact of urban freight transport is usually overlooked.

Urban delivery by fossil fuel vehicles exacerbates both local air pollution and global climate change challenges. Freight vehicles make up a small portion of the world's road fleets (less than 4 percent) and vehicle-equivalent miles traveled (from 10-15 percent). However, they represent a high proportion of energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions (27 percent), and toxic air pollutants (more than 50 percent in the case of PM2.5 and NOx).

E-commerce and home delivery activities are increasing rapidly, unlocked by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions as a strong driver. In 2020, e-commerce sales grew 81 percent and the same sales with mobile retailers grew 32 percent, compared to the previous year. Forecasts point to an increase of 29 percent this year, generating a growing demand for delivery vehicles to meet business-to-consumer (B2C) transactions.

In the US alone, the demand for last-mile delivery is growing exponentially, with an estimated increase of at least 12 percent per year until 2025. Given the dependence of these vehicles on diesel, this sector presents significant challenges for global, national, and regional climate goals, as well as for air quality, health, noise, and equity outcomes in cities. (Zero-Emission Zones for Freight, C40, Polis, 2020).

Environmental impacts in Mexico from last-mile business-to-business (B2B) delivery add between 40 and 450kg of CO2e to the supply chain per kilometer traveled and contribute to local air pollution with adverse health outcomes among the most vulnerable populations, particularly children, elderly, and people with related diseases who live in peripheral areas or areas with higher concentrations of emissions.

Zero Emission Delivery Zones for Freight (ZEDZF) are city areas where different stakeholders set goals to reduce congestion, air, and noise pollution and improve health, mobility, and air quality through the implementation of a series of measures focused on last-mile delivery, while decarbonizing transport and promoting more optimized and efficient distribution and cargo service models. (C40 / Polis 2020).

The Environmental Defense Fund Mexico (EDF), with support from the Urban South Institute (SUR), is undertaking a new project to partner with a group of Mexican companies and other key stakeholders to design and implement the first voluntary corporate initiative to catalyze zero-emission solutions, such as the implementation of ZEDZFs. The first phase of this corporate model is the establishment of an initiative, aimed at facilitating the sharing of information and participation of companies jointly in the design, implementation and testing of zero-emissions urban delivery solutions in their supply chains, reducing emissions while achieving more sustainable and efficient mobility.

Rotterdam, Shenzhen, London, and Santa Monica are examples of cities where the authorities and companies are already implementing ZEDZFs based on diagnostic and information analysis involving different solutions and stakeholder interests, allowing the creation of "Living Logistics Laboratories," where all stakeholders (authorities, companies, academia, and industry) work together to optimize tests in real-life operations, collecting and analyzing data to model, design, and pilot different solutions from electrical, shared fleet vehicles to logistics micro hubs, cycle logistics by cargo bikes, priority loading and unloading curbside bays and parking management. The goal of these collaborations is to co-create and test effective sustainable solutions in urban logistics as a continuous, cyclical, and iterative process.

International experience demonstrates the key role that public and private collaboration can play in leadership to successfully address climate change and environmental challenges while representing an opportunity to achieve multiple internal and local benefits:

  • Economic activation and growth of the implementation areas.
  • Enabling businesses and new employment.
  • Better availability of products and merchandise for end customers.
  • Enabling public policies and programs that promote new collaboration schemes between the public and private sectors.

Sustainable urban logistics require more than a change of fleet from fossil fuel to e-mobility; it requires multiple strategies and actions, but mainly it takes bold leadership from all stakeholders to come together and generate new forms of cooperation, to share information and experience, to test and experiment toward scalable and replicable solutions and, especially, to build back better for all, once and for all.

In Mexico, EDF, Urban South Institute and other stakeholders will seek to implement the first voluntary project that fosters collaboration through incentives such as access to mobility data and shared innovations and solutions, allowing participating companies to form new partnerships with other stakeholders as well as providing a roadmap for other cases to adopt Zero-Emission Delivery Zones, providing advance learning and best practices as member companies achieve optimization of their operations.

Photo by:   Ivan de la Lanza

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