Going off the rails: The railway sector pledges to take climate action

Train speeding through station
ShutterstockDenis Belitsky
Training for climate action.

In 2015, the transport sector contributed 25.8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union. In fact, transportation is one of the few sectors where greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. If the global community is to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius (while seeking to limit it to below 1.5), the transport sector must make a major contribution.

Railsponsible is a collaborative initiative of railway companies focused on sustainable procurement. Current members are leading railway operators and rail manufacturers: Alstom, Bombardier, CAF, Deutsche Bahn, Knorr-Bremse, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, NMBS, RFI, SBB, SKF and SNCF. To help the railway industry reduce its overall climate impact, the members of Railsponsible have developed a position paper on climate, setting out possible commitments and activities for both Railsponsible members and for their business partners in the sector.

When measured by the emissions generated during the "use phase," rail is one of the most climate-friendly modes of transport: It contributes less than 2 percent (PDF) of EU emissions despite having more than 8 percent of market share. However, the rail industry supply chain includes energy-intensive raw materials, infrastructure development, manufacturing and maintenance/overhaul, as well as end-of-life/recycling, all of which have significant impacts. Serious effort is needed to address the full climate impacts of the rail supply chain.

Making effective climate commitments for members

Railsponsible has identified three key climate commitments that are relevant to and supported or adopted by most Railsponsible members, who recommend that these be incorporated into railway sector companies’ climate strategies and sustainable sourcing approaches.

The three commitments cover both manufacturing and transportation (following the life cycle of rail sector products):

  1. Adopt an ambitious renewable energy target
  2. Create an ambitious energy productivity target
  3. Make climate change information available

Given the above, in designing their strategies, companies should consider their size and position in the rail supply chain. Where relevant, organizations may wish to translate these commitments into award criteria for tenders in their individual procurement processes.

Walking the talk

These suggested commitments are based on and reflect existing commitments from Railsponsible members, which are divided into two categories: absolute targets and relative targets.

An absolute reduction refers to a decrease in the total quantity of greenhouse gas emissions.

Absolute targets set by Railsponsible members include the following:

  • Zero emissions for mobility (train, bus, car) and buildings by 2020 (Nederlandse Spoorwegen).
  • 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 (Deutsche Bahn).
  • Transparent reporting on emission performance data and targets (all members).

A relative reduction refers to the amount of emissions per unit of economic output. In this case, emissions might be reduced relative to the company’s total profits, units of a good produced (for suppliers) or passenger kilometers (for railway operators).

Relative targets set by Railsponsible members include the following:

  • Reduction of products’ energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 2014 [Watt hour/passenger kilometer] (Alstom).
  • No increase of carbon emissions until 2020 compared to 2015, while increasing production (Knorr-Bremse).
  • 40 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from manufacturing per tonne of products sold (SKF).
  • 20 percent increase in energy efficiency for passenger and freight traffic by 2025, compared to 2015 (SNCF).

Hopefully, Railsponsible’s three key climate commitments will help further advance the growing movement toward climate mitigation in the railway sector. While the examples presented above may provide inspiration to rail operators and to their suppliers, their applicability to individual companies will vary. We recommend careful deliberation and assessment before adopting a commitment.

Railsponsible members believe that the best way to set, implement and advance climate objectives is through collaboration. Since its launch in 2015, Railsponsible has grown significantly and has provided an assessment platform for over 800 suppliers. The initiative provides a forum for both rail operator and system houses and their suppliers to discuss challenges, devise solutions and work together on coherent implementation.

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