Cities around the world could soon be tapping shipping giant FedEx’s logistical expertise as they develop more sustainable transportation systems. The company is joining forces with EMBARQ, The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport, and will spend $500,000 over the next two years to help support the program’s efforts in Mexico.
Why Mexico? There are a few reasons. First, EMBARQ launched there, and its work in Mexico City over the past eight years has helped inform work done by its other centers throughout the world. It also has strong partnerships with government and private agencies throughout the country.
Mexico’s role as the host of the next big global climate summit starting in late November may have attracted FedEx’s attention, as well. In addition to its work in the country’s capital, EMBARQ is currently working with officials in Cancun, where the next major climate summit is rumored to be planned for 2010. Last year, EMBARQ helped Cancun officials craft a roadmap for sustainable transportation, and they’re now looking at ways to quickly improve the city’s transportation system if the UNFCCC Conference of Parties meeting is held there.
Mexico was EMBARQ’s first target because it had great challenges to address and the EMBARQ team had the local connections and understanding needed to address those challenges, said Nancy Kete, director of EMBARQ.
The program’s Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico (CTS-México) was the first of several such centers that now form a global network of sustainable transport centers, of which EMBARQ is the hub.
From 2002 to 2005, EMBARQ and CTS-México conducted several studies and projects in Mexico City, including a pilot demonstration of the potential of low-sulfur fuels to reduce pollution in the city, and a major bus rapid transit (BRT) study that culminated in the unveiling in June 2005 of a 28-kilometer high-capacity Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the city. Operating in a dedicated lane on rubber wheels, the BRT buses carry about 800,000 passengers a day on average. Perhaps more importantly, according to Kete, those passengers come from every socio-economic class in the city.
The BRT system and low-sulfur fuels have resulted in significant reductions in particulate matter, carbon dioxide emissions, and local air pollutants such as benzene and carbon monoxide. According to Kete, Mexico City residents who were tested for exposure to pollutants before and after the launch of the BRT system are now exposed to 50 to 60 percent fewer air pollutants on average than they were prior to the launch of the system.
The success of EMBARQ’s work in Mexico City has led to similar projects in other Mexican cities. With EMBARQ’s help, the city of Guadalajara launched a BRT system in March 2009 and is now working on a second BRT corridor. The program is now looking at taking lessons learned in Mexico City to other cities and towns in Mexico and that’s where FedEx and not only its money but also its expertise will come into play. With talk of the next COP meeting happening in Cancun now instead of Mexico City, EMBARQ is talking to city officials there about quickly improving its transportation system.
FedEx isn’t the only private company involved in EMBARQ. Equipment manufacturer Caterpillar is a global sponsor of the program, and founding donor The Shell Foundation is related to Royal Dutch Shell, the energy company.
“It’s not a trivial thing for a nonprofit to work with a corporate foundation or a corporation — you have to be very careful,” Kete says.
In the case of FedEx, in addition to funds the company will be sharing its experience.
“FedEx is one of the global leaders in logistics — they know how to move things around with the least amount of time, cost and fuel,” Kete says. “So they might be able to help advise bus-company operators on that — and that would probably be a big breakthrough because that kind of expertise is very expensive and it’s not used in bus operations now.
“They’re also pretty experienced with different vehicle technologies, so they’ll be able to bring in experts on that to talk with some of our public sector and private sector partners, and that always helps — having people who have done it talk with people who want to do it.”
It’s this ability to bring multiple stakeholders together that helped EMBARQ win the Harvard Kennedy School’s Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnerships this year.
“We have a saying around here that we don’t only work with the white hats, we work with the black hats, the grey hats, and so on,” Kete says. “You can’t just talk to the people who agree with you — have to deal with the people who don’t agree with you, or who have different ideas, to get a successful final outcome. The whole model of working in partnership with cities and the private sector and nonprofits — it’s cumbersome, but the payoff is much more robust solutions, and by that I mean solutions that truly work and that last.”
In addition to its work in Mexico, EMBARQ has helped local governments throughout the world to develop sustainable transportation solutions.
In Istanbul, while the program didn’t work as closely with officials as it had in Mexico City, it provided advice and recommendations related to BRT, which proved to be a far better option for the city than lightrail, in part due to the area’s archaeological significance. Istanbul now has a BRT corridor that crosses the Bosphorous and transports close to 800,000 passengers a day.
In Brazil the program has been working to bring BRT to Puerto Allegre, and that system is due to break ground next year. And in India, Kete says a small EMBARQ team is helping cities address transportation issues, and the program is now scaling up in the country. Lessons learned from all of the programs’ work are being compiled into informational toolkits and will eventually be shared via a Web-based social networking-style portal as well.
The program’s next challenge is to help push national leaders around the world to consider transportation when putting together Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), the low-carbon, sustainable development plans written by developing nations to receive funding under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“Transportation has been left out of climate discussions over the years, and a group of us have been working to change that,” Kete says.
“NAMAs are a good opportunity, and we’re trying to get countries to look at transportation in their NAMAS — we’re doing that in Mexico and some of what we’ll be working with on with cities moving forward is to draft NAMAs that include transportation solutions. You can get significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions if you do right thing in the transportation sector. And on the other side of that, if you do nothing in your transportation sector and have the majority of your population living in cities, you can’t really manage carbon.”
But while Kete stresses the importance of including transportation in any discussion of climate change, she notes that emissions reductions can’t be the driving force behind changes to mobility in cities.
“We won’t really be able to convince cities and citizens to tackle transport only from a climate point of view,” she says. “You have to understand what it is that people want from transport — they want service; they want to get someplace on time and feel safe and not get sick. That’s why coming at it from a transport services or urban quality of life point of view lets you see what you can do in a city and when you approach it that way then you also get carbon dioxide reductions.”