Bringing sustainable logistics onto the radar

Low-carbon freight for sustainable cities; Photo: © ICLEI World Secretariat

Low-carbon freight for sustainable cities; Photo: © ICLEI World Secretariat

Tsu-Jui Cheng is Programme Manager and Global Coordinator of the Sustainable Urban Mobility and EcoMobility Team at the ICLEI World Secretariat in Bonn and Himanshu Raj works as an officer at the EcoMobility Team and is the Project Officer for the ‘EcoLogistics: Low-carbon freight for sustainable cities’ project. Together, they work on strategies and policies, and ways to promote low-carbon urban logistics in India, Colombia and Argentina.

What are the challenges in the field of urban logistics?

Cheng: Urban logistics is a world that often goes unnoticed by city residents, but it is a key source of air pollution, energy consumption and traffic congestion in our everyday life. In cities, transport concepts are often focused on passenger transport alone. Urban freight can no longer be an afterthought on achieving aggressive climate goals.

Why did you choose Argentina, Colombia and India as project countries?

Himanshu Raj, Officer, EcoMobility, ICLEI World Secretariat; Photo: © ICLEI World SecretariatRaj: By signing the Paris Agreement at COP 2015 and formulating their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), Argentina, Colombia and India committed to reducing their GHG emissions by between 20 and 30 percent by 2030. A key criterion why we chose these countries was the fact that they mentioned the transport sector as one of the growing factors in their emissions problem and as the field that they wanted to work on.

Cheng: Argentina, Colombia and India are emerging economies. Their cities have quite a fast pace and urban logistics have grown to a striking degree in the past few years. Cities in Colombia, such as Bogotá, have started tackling urban logistics and freight transport issues in city areas by regulating them through consolidation platforms and non-motorised freight policies. Apart from these more advanced cities, we also want to work with other cities in these emerging markets to see how urban sustainability approaches can be implemented there.

What are the differences between the countries and which particular challenges does each pose?

Tsu-Jui Cheng, Programme Manager and Global Coordinator of Sustainability Urban Mobility/EcoMobility at ICLEI World Secretariat; Photo: © ICLEI World SecretariatCheng: Argentina, Colombia and India are vastly different in terms of characteristics and contexts. India has a huge number of informal sectors for food, freight and transport. That is what makes Indian cities stand out from the logistics point of view. Colombia is a bit more experimental in urban logistics. Argentina is just now coming to terms with the problems caused by freight transport. They are trying different things. These three countries all have different situations. One thing the project does is to foster learning exchange between cities within each country.

One of your main goals is to foster learning exchange. What is your approach on networking among the countries and cities?

Raj: The project’s kick-off was at last year’s COP in Bonn. After that, we had an opportunity to bring all the cities and their representatives together at our ICLEI World Congress in Montreal in June 2018 to show them what the project is about, how we would like to work with them and what they have in common. There are national kick-off meetings planned in each country. Currently I am in Colombia where I met with representatives from all the project cities, Bogotá, Medellín (Vale del Aburrá), and Manizales, at the kick-off meeting in Cali. Since Argentina is relatively close, we also invited representatives from Argentinian cities to be part of this meeting to promote better networking and enable them to understand more about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. All of these cities are facing more or less similar transport-related issues such as congestion, air pollution, and traffic delays. In the course of the project, we will have a number of opportunities to bring these cities together. The next opportunities will be during the COP in Poland, Resilient Cities 2019 and the EcoMobility World Festival. We plan to bring these cities together from time to time to demonstrate the progress of the project as well as what is happening in the cities so that they have an opportunity to update themselves.

EcoLogistics national kick-off meeting in Colombia; Photo: © Himanshu Raj/ ICLEI SAMS

Your project approach seems to be two-pronged. It has a theoretical part that raises awareness and compiles and develops policy recommendations and action plans, and another part that guides pioneering cities towards exemplary action. What is the idea behind that?

Raj: The project is designed that way to enable us to analyse the current situation in the cities and get a picture of what is happening in the freight sector. Then we make a road map for the cities to show them how they can achieve the goals they have set for themselves. For example, we work together to show cities how to do that based on information collected about the share of emissions accounted for by the freight sector. There would be different projects within the roadmap. We will also implement and monitor pilots to demonstrate the effects in the next stages of the project. Once we are in the implementation stage, we will have some time to monitor and explain the benefit for the city. After the pilots have been completed, the cities will become more involved and take things forward, building on the roadmaps and implementing all the projects we suggested.

How can you transfer the approach of this project to other countries?

Cheng: The EcoLogistics project is scalable: it can be adapted for other regions because of the self-assessment tool developed by this project, which cities can use to assess their sustainable urban freight performance. It can be applied universally, and other cities and countries can also refer to the national frameworks for guidance.

What have been your personal highlights during the year the project has been running?

Cheng: I am really impressed by the experts and the cities that are quite passionate about logistics. One of the reasons for this is that sustainable logistics is still an area that is beneath the radar. We see the fire – I mean the passion – among experts, universities and research institutes. It is quite an exciting pathway for ICLEI's EcoLogistics project to follow.

Raj: In the sector of EcoMobility, we work mostly with passenger transport. The freight sector is totally untouched. Everybody talks about public transportation and cycling. They focus more on how to move passengers. There are not many projects or initiatives that focus on how to move goods in a city, which is equally important. If people are there, they need things such as food, clothes and building materials. So goods also have to be moved. The cities’ populations are growing and the urbanisation level is increasing, which means that the total amount of goods is also increasing. Think about online shopping and everything that goes with it. It has put a lot of pressure on infrastructure in cities, causing considerable congestion. GHG emissions are, of course, also a major consideration. Around 40 to 50% of transport emissions come from the freight sector. That is why we need to focus strongly on the freight sector, not just on passenger transport. It is great that this project has initiated a dialogue in this sector for these countries, which are emerging economies and still struggling to make their infrastructure better.

EcoLogistics national kick-off meeting in Colombia; Photo: © Himanshu Raj/ ICLEI SAMS

What´s happening next?

Cheng: The next step for ICLEI will be to bring all the partners together, make logistics have an impact on the cities and countries’ NDCs, and further raise awareness in the public and private sectors, encouraging them to work with the cities to reduce their GHG emissions.

Raj: In this kick-off, the idea is also to talk more closely with the cities and gain an understanding of their immediate needs. Most of them are interested in a kind of quick fix, but we are looking for a long-term solution, not just at tomorrow’s or next year's target. We are talking to them very intensively in an effort to understand their needs. What exactly are they thinking? We are also analysing ongoing projects in the cities run by different stakeholders or agencies and making recommendations on how to align these projects so that they have a better impact on the city in the longer term. This analysis is ongoing. By the end of the year, we will have a comprehensive profile of the cities that will tell us what is going on in the freight sector and what volume of goods are coming into and going out of the city.

Thank you very much for this interview.