Learning in motion part 2: whole world challenges

Posted in: Department of Mechanical Engineering, Opinion, postgraduate courses

Author: Dr Daniel Coren CEng MIMechE FHEA, Director of Studies for Automotive MSc Courses

In this second post in the series, Daniel discusses how the automotive sector has the power to make a real difference in tackling climate change.

One positive outcome that can happen when global challenges arise is the growth and strengthening of worldwide communities. Motivated by a desire, or indeed need to find practical and sustainable solutions, they're brought together by mutual concerns to collaborate on issues. Can the fast-paced automotive sector help accelerate the potential benefits of connected and sustainable cities, mobility networks, and lifestyles?

Man driving in a car shot from the side.

Currently, around 1.4 billion road vehicles contribute to around 16% of all worldwide CO2 emissions associated with human industrial activity (anthropogenic). At the same time, the overall level of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is intrinsically linked to the climate characteristics that we experience throughout our lives. The international automotive industry has an important role to play in tackling CO2 emissions, along with wider mitigating strategies, and in harmony with policymakers such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which aims to advance knowledge related to climate change resulting from human activity.

The tailpipes of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines emit airborne pollution in the form of particulates. As do the brakes and tyres of all vehicles to varying extents. We can treat this separately to the problem of CO2 emissions but as a human health issue, it still poses significant concern. That the automotive sector has an estimated financial worth of $2 trillion a year indicates how many lives are affected by vehicles and road transport. It also suggests that options for action are within financial reach.

What to do? 

Ongoing research is finding ways to accurately reveal which aspects of CO2 emission-driven climate characteristics are related to anthropogenic activity, and which are related to natural mechanisms. But this will take time and while it does there is an opportunity for the automotive industry to do what it's good at – adapting to deliver measurably improved and affordable outcomes.

New research and development in propulsion systems technologies could have real potential for reduction in CO2 emissions. And it aligns with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and their three-pillar definition of sustainability (environmental, societal, economic).  It also provides a route to reimagined industry, delivering new transport and mobility technologies and services.

The highways and byways of the story of the car shows potential exists for the fast-moving automotive sector to pave the way for technological advancements. Could this also help navigate routes along which other sectors can join or follow, bringing benefits to society more widely? If these efforts lead to developing sustainable low-carbon mobility practices, or low entropy lifestyles, and are in tune with public interest, then do we have the means and impetus to move more swiftly towards a cleaner future? 

Posted in: Department of Mechanical Engineering, Opinion, postgraduate courses


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