(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are
By John Kemp
LONDON Jan 23 Rapidly growing populations and
rising incomes will drive an enormous rise in car use and
greenhouse gas emissions across Latin America, Africa, the
Middle East and Asia by 2050.
But deliberate policy choices about urban planning, road
building and the provision of public transport will determine
whether the increase is manageable or becomes a nightmare for
congestion and climate change.
Car use in the developed economies of North America, Europe,
Japan and Australasia appears to have decoupled from economic
growth and in some may have slowed down.
But in fast-growing emerging markets, car use will develop
in line with GDP unless policymakers provide a strong steer in
the opposite direction, according to the OECD's International
Transport Forum (ITF).
By 2050, car use in the developed economies is predicted to
be around 55 percent higher than in 2010. Economic growth, fuel
prices and planning policy are unlikely to affect the outcome
In emerging markets, however, car use is projected to rise
between 4.0 and 6.5 times. The outcome is critically dependent
on oil prices as well as choices about land use, public
transport and road building, according to the ITF's "Transport
The United Nations forecasts that the world's population
will rise to around 9 billion by 2050, from 6.8 billion in 2010.
The share living in cities will climb from 50 percent to 70
Most of this rural-urban shift will occur in the developing
world; of 2.7 billion additional urban dwellers by 2050, more
than 90 percent will live in developing countries.
More and more of those city dwellers will be enjoying
middle-income status. After adjusting for inflation, the world's
income per head is projected to increase from around $10,000 in
2010 to between $20,000 and $28,000 by 2050.
With middle-income status comes a sharp increase in demand
for travel to work as well as for leisure and to visit friends
and family. So the rising population, coupled with a big
increase in the number of middle-income individuals, is set to
drive an enormous increase in transport demand.
But car use in future is not something policymakers have to
accept passively. It will also be determined actively by the
choices they make about land use and transport funding.
"High concentration of population allows urban
agglomerations to offer transport alternatives to private
vehicles," the ITF explains. "Providing public transport
services tends to slow down the increase in car ownership and
use as incomes grow."
"Cities hence have the potential to embark on a less private
ownership-oriented pathway and rely more on other modes to meet
growing mobility demands."
The ITF therefore concludes global passenger trends will be
defined by the modes of transport used in urban areas,
especially in developing countries.
Energy analysts often assume car use and fuel consumption in
emerging markets such as China and India must take the same
course as in developed countries like the United States, Britain
But that ignores huge differences in the level of
urbanisation, population density and car use among developed
countries and even within them.
There is no single model of car use and fuel consumption in
the advanced economies. Even in the United States, where car
ownership is sometimes portrayed as a matter of personal
freedom, enormous variations exist.
More than 56 percent of households in New York City did not
own a car in 2012. Roughly a third of households were carless in
Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Baltimore,
and about 20-25 percent in Chicago and Detroit.
But car ownership was over 90 percent in Houston, Dallas,
Fort Worth, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Austin, Nashville, Charlotte
and San Diego, according to a series of research papers
published by Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan's
Transportation Research Institute ("Has motorisation in the U.S.
peaked?", 2013 and 2014).
Even in the United States, some cities have a strong public
transport system while others are dominated by the private car.
TO SPRAWL, OR NOT
Patterns of land use and transportation are partly a matter
of public policy as well as private choice. The ITF explores the
consequences for future transport demand in a case study about
Latin America is already highly urbanised. Four-fifths of
the region's population lives in urban centres, which is
comparable to the United States and a higher share than in
Europe. Urbanisation is expected to hit 90 percent by 2050.
Rapid rural-urban migration between 1950 and 1990 was
characterised by a strong concentration of population and
economic activity in capital cities.
As a result, the region's economy is dominated by its
cities. Urban centres with a population of half a million or
more account for 60 percent of Latin America's GDP.
The four megacities with populations of 10 million or more
(Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro)
account for 23 percent of regional GDP.
But not all cities are alike. ITF contrasts the low-density
urban sprawl of Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina with
the much higher population density and lower sprawl of cities in
Deliberate policy choices about land use, as well as road
construction and public transport provision could therefore have
a significant impact on future car use, fuel consumption and
Depending on whether policymakers choose the low-sprawl,
low-car-use, higher-quality public transport option (Colombia),
or the high-sprawl, high-car, poorer-quality public transport
one (Buenos Aires), the distance travelled by private cars in
Latin America could rise by as little as 350 percent or as much
as 600 percent in the next 35 years.
Policy could affect car use in Latin America in 2050 by a
factor of two. In Africa, policy could affect future car use by
a factor of three.
In India, China and the rest of Asia, the policy impact is
smaller, but it could still affect car use by a factor of around
0.5. Given how large these economies are, and how many potential
future drivers they have, the impact on fuel consumption and
emissions is enormous.
"The scope for relying on public transport to meet mobility
needs is broader in cities than elsewhere," the ITF concludes.
"Urbanisation can result in a lower share of cars meeting
transport demand even if urban incomes are higher. However,
realising this potential requires supporting policy."
Pessimists often assume higher fuel demand and emissions are
essentially unavoidable if developing economies are to converge
with per-capita incomes in the developed world. But the ITF's
analysis shows future car use and fuel consumption levels are in
big part a matter of choice, too.
(Editing by Dale Hudson)