By Sampo Hietanen, CEO and Founder of MaaS Global

Why is it that the only carbon emissions we don’t seem to have any control over are those from transportation? Globally the only sector that has grown its CO₂ output since 1990 is transport (ground + air). It is now 25% of all of the world’s carbon emissions and will, if the current trend continues, be 40% by 2030. Most of this is road traffic, and majority of that is passenger cars. So, if we are to take IPCC’s 1,5 degree target seriously, we should focus on cars.

From where I am standing I’d say the challenges are the price of entry to the world of transportation, the power of incumbents and the toolbox of the authorities. Mobility is expensive: cars, car factories, roads, parking facilities and public transportation infrastructure don’t come cheap. Disrupting this is very different than moving news from paper to digital or banking from brick and mortar to web.

And it is not just about the money that is needed to enter these markets, it is about what incumbent car makers and transportation operators are afraid of losing: volume, market share and power. For the last century car companies have been a major supplier of wealth, work and taxes. Any serious decrease in cars sold will hurt them severely. Transportation operators are local power houses built over decades and tend to focus on holding onto their current market. Authorities, on the other hand, are good at detailed planning and tendering but not at having a vision and bending the world to it. The result is a world that sits in endless seminars, finds new things to research and avoids conflicts while carbon levels in the atmosphere keep on rising.

I see two things that must, and I believe will, happen simultaneously to break the deadlock. The first is that the leading cities of the world will start leading the world. The second is that we must become innovators in how to pass world-changing regulation.

We are currently experiencing a new era of city states. The world’s population is moving into cities, the cities are today’s sources of wealth and more governable than countries. In a globalized and digitalized world New York, Singapore, Barcelona and Helsinki have more in common than they have with many of their domestic counterparts. Leading cities will increase their cooperation, benchmarking and world-changing efforts despite of what happens on the country level. This development can be seen both as a remedy and a cause to the world’s ills, and is therefore often contested and raises endless prestige conflicts. The leading cities shouldn’t be seen as the only answer but they will be a vanguard leading us towards a smarter world.

Parallel to the cities’ joint efforts we need smart regulation. By this I mean regulation that redefines the roles of the cities and companies in them. Disruptive new companies should not be seen as enemies of the, often city-owned, transportation providers, but rather as companions in building the future. Also when systemic changes are attempted, and the old channels get stuck, it may be a smart move to try a different route.

In 2010 Finland was the first country in the world to introduce universal broadband service. This meant that everyone in Finland was entitled to a 1MB service for a moderate price and the telecommunications companies had to deliver that. This would benefit the customer and fast track the markets towards digital, but was not in the short term interest of the incumbent telecoms.

The lawmakers did not want to see the process being dragged down by the telecoms lawyers, and made an, at the time audacious claim that broadband was a subjective right of the citizens, comparable to human rights. The law was passed. Since 2010 the amount megabytes people are entitled to has risen, and what’s more important, the idea has been passed as a European directive and is an important stepping stone towards a digital single market.

Why not treat access to modern low emission transportation as a human right? Where there is a will, there must be a smart way.