ITF Transport Outlook 2019

ITF Transport Outlook 2019 looks at trends and near-term prospects for the global transport sector, and presents long-term projections for the transport demand to 2050. It analyses freight (maritime, air, surface) and passenger transport (car, train, air), as well as related CO2 emissions.

This edition centres on potential disruptions to transport systems and looks at how disruptive developments may impact future demand, modal shares and transport-related CO2 emissions. Five key factors influence such changes:

  • Cost: new technologies and processes make old ones uncompetitive due to lower production costs
  • Quality: new technologies and processes increase the quality of products and old ones becomes uncompetitive
  • Consumers: consumer or business customer preferences may change significantly, and old products may become undesirable
  • Regulation: new laws and regulations prohibit old ways of working, e.g. stricter environmental requirements
  • Access to resources

A combination of all five factors can lead to disruptive developments. The report states that e-commerce, 3D printing, electrification, autonomous vehicles and changing trade routes could have profound implications on the future transport systems.

Maritime transport will remain the backbone of international trade

Global freight demand is expected to triple between 2015 and 2050. In 2015, sea transport accounted for 70 % of all global freight transport, followed by road (18 %), rail (9 %) and air (0.25 %). Air freight is expected to have the highest compound annual growth rate of all modes through 2050 but will still represent a marginal share of total freight tonne-kilometres. Ships will carry out more than three-quarters of all freights in 2050, and will continue to cover the majority of the movements of good over long distances. Maritime freight transport is expected to have a compound annual growth of 3.6 % through 2050, which will almost triple maritime trade volumes.

Approximately one third of all maritime freight movements in 2050 will take place in the North Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the economic value of freight flows in these two regions will increase four-fold between 2015 and 2050. The North Atlantic Ocean will remain the third-busiest maritime corridor, accounting for about 15 % of maritime freight movements in 2050. The melting of the Artic sea ice will also shorten distances from Asia to both Europe and North America, which could lead to new opportunities for commercial shipping.

Transport CO2 emissions remain a major challenge

Technological advances alone will not lead to reduced emissions, and the report says that if current and announced mitigation policies are implemented, global CO2 emissions could increase by 60 % by 2050. This will mainly be a result of increased demand for freight and non-urban passenger transport, both of which are projected to rise by 225 % by 2050. If more ambitious decarbonisation policies are implemented, carbon emissions from freight transport would be 50 % lower in 2050 relative to a current ambition scenario. However, this would still not be sufficient to achieve the objectives in the Paris agreement.

A wide range of ambitious policy measures and behavioural changes are therefore necessary to prevent an increase of transport CO2 emissions. The strongest emissions reductions can be achieved with policies in place to guide the disruptions, and good planning tools are needed to improve the adaptability to uncertainties. Policies to increase logistical efficiency could for instance reduce freight CO2 emissions by 60 %. Developments of the energy sector and a transition towards alternative fuels will also lower emissions.

ITF stresses that the scenarios presented in the report should not be taken as forecasts for the coming decades. Instead they describe a set of possible futures based on extreme assumptions.

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