Logistics and transportation in the fight against climate change

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Logistics efforts are increasingly focused on ensuring that products reach the consumer in the most effective and least damaging way for the environment, since it is a latent problem that transport and logistics must put as a priority.

Climate change and greenhouse gas effects rage year after year around the world, and each sector of the economy must do its bit to reduce the pollutants generated by economic activity.

According to the International Energy Agency, in 2017 global CO2 emissions were distributed as follows: 41% electricity and heating, 24% industry, 14% private transport, 10% freight transport, 8% construction and 2 ” others”. In the field of logistics, CO2 is generated during the transport and storage processes. Of the 10% of emissions corresponding to freight transport, truck traffic clearly accounts for the largest share (more than ¾).

In this earth month we will talk about the role that logistics and transport play in the fight against climate change.


Maritime transport and its ecological footprint

The global shipping industry generates more than one billion tons of carbon emissions each year, almost 3% of the world total, a similar amount to that of aviation. To reduce these greenhouse gas emissions, new fuels and alternative energy sources are needed: wind is one of them, and historically it boosted the maritime sector. The UN agency that regulates shipping, predicts that the shipping industry will produce up to 17% of global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

But despite the role of industry in producing carbon emissions, progress in reducing those emissions has been slow. The International Maritime Organization has established a series of objectives for the industry:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gases by 50% below 2008 levels by 2050.
  • Reduction of carbon intensity of emissions by 40% by 2030 and by 70% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels

Last year, the IMO began requiring that all fuels used on ships contain no more than 0.5% sulfur, thereby lowering the previously existing limit of 3.5%

While the UN agency cannot enforce the new rules, which depends on the countries in which the ship is registered, there are fines for trapped ships that violate the rules.

On the other hand, the wind is a renewable energy that shipping companies could use, after all, it is how all world maritime transport was promoted before, but only a small fraction of maritime transport is being moved by the so-called sailing cargo ships, where boats (be it sailboats, modernized motor boats or new construction) are completely driven by the wind. Kite boats use a kite (along with an engine) to reduce emissions, while the Japanese shipping company NYK is developing a boat that will use blades, similar to a wind turbine, which the company says will reduce carbon emissions by 69%.


Globalization versus regionalization

Experts assure that the distribution of goods should be moderate and propose a new concept called regionalization instead of globalization. It is the vision of once again having smaller, energy efficient production plants, close to their markets and using local products and with a nearby workforce, in the face of delocalization and excessive globalization.

In developing countries and emerging countries that are still “cheap”, wages increase exponentially along with welfare and economic growth. Therefore, regionalization is sought in response to the little egalitarian development in developing countries.

Many fashion and consumer goods companies have turned to regional sourcing to gain speed and flexibility. Agility and “Time to Market” gain greater relevance compared to manufacturing costs. This regionalization entails a clear reduction of CO2 emissions in supply chains.


CO2 reduction

The best option is always to use vehicles that do not use fossil fuels and that do not emit CO2. This can be achieved by promoting the delivery of products on bicycles that can travel through cities in a clean and environmentally friendly way. Another alternative is to use low-emission vehicles such as cars, trucks or electric motorcycles, however, the number of vehicles with these characteristics is still limited, especially in developing countries. Having said the above, we see the need to continue using transport with high emission of C02, so we will have to resort to artificial intelligence to create routes designed to reduce distances and times of use of transport. That is, to change the analogous decision-making by the operators to a planned design of land transport routes, with which it is possible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 21% simply by incorporating technology into the process.


Global supply chains, including production plant locations, need to be thoroughly reviewed. Logistics plays a very important role in the economy, in which we must optimize resources for the distribution of world merchandise. The changes that have been made have not been enough to guarantee the reduction of pollution and the care of the environment, which leaves a very large task to be done for the sector.