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CEC report sets out North American plan for change and investment to achieve sustainable freight transportation

Principal North American trade corridors. Click to enlarge.

Cross-border cooperation to improve environmental performance of the North American freight system is urgently needed not just to enhance environmental sustainability, but to safeguard regional economic competitiveness, according to a new report from the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

The report, Destination Sustainability: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freight Transportation in North America, looks at the continental freight transportation network, a key component of the transportation sector, which is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in North America, after electricity generation. The report, which focuses on road and rail transport, finds that while emissions from light-duty vehicles are expected to drop by 12% by 2030, freight truck emissions are projected to increase by 20%.

The report also considers the efficiency (and inefficiencies) in the current system, as well as considering the aggressive investments that other trade blocs are making in new infrastructure and lower-carbon transportation—investments that may be outpacing efforts in North America.

The Secretariat of the CEC—a trinational commission established as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—examines environmental matters arising as part of continental trade and makes occasional recommendations to the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States through the CEC Council of cabinet-level (or equivalent) environmental authorities.

This report is something of a roadmap to both sustainability and prosperity. It turns out that, in the freight transportation sector, the best policies and investments for reducing freight-related greenhouse gas emissions are also some of the most effective measures for driving improvements to efficiency and competitiveness.

—CEC Advisory Group Chair Bruce Agnew

Reducing the environmental impact of freight transportation in the face of increasing trade and economic growth in North America requires much more than continued progress on fuel economy and transport technology. This report calls on our three governments to adopt a vision of an integrated, intelligent freight transportation system for North America. Without such a vision, and the transformational investments that go with it, GHG emissions from freight transportation will continue to increase and the NAFTA countries will risk losing their competitive edge. But, the report identifies clear opportunities, especially in light of infrastructure-related stimulus investment, to get this right.

—CEC Executive Director Evan Lloyd

Prepared under the guidance of an Advisory Group including stakeholders from industry, academia, the environmental sector and government, Destination Sustainability focuses on North-South (and equally, South-North) freight transportation between Canada, Mexico and the United States. The principal environmental goal examined was to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions, which account for 95% or more of all freight transportation–related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

It is estimated that the North American economy will grow by 70–130% between the years 2005 and 2030. Throughout this period, the transportation sector is expected to maintain its position as a dominant end-user of energy. To avoid a corresponding increase in freight-related GHG emissions, we will need not only continued progress in developing fuel economy, technologies, and alternative fuels, but also the vision and will to create an integrated, intelligent, freight transportation system in North America. Ensuring that the freight system is environmentally sustainable in the future also requires implementing a broad set of cooperative policies and actions to optimize demand, invest in infrastructure, set a price for carbon, ensure an optimal modal mix (e.g., truck/rail/marine), and manage our borders in the most secure and efficient manner possible.

—“Destination Sustainability”

The report identifies seven challenges to achieving more–environmentally sustainable freight transportation in North America:

  1. Lack of internalization of external costs of freight transportation
  2. Inadequate coordination among North American transportation agencies
  3. Lack of integrated land-use and freight transportation planning
  4. Extensive delays in truck freight movement across borders
  5. Time needed for turnover of inefficient “legacy” truck fleet
  6. Inadequate funding of transportation infrastructure
  7. Lack of essential transportation data

The study also identifies eleven action areas in which progress at a North American scale is required. Only two of these are directly related to fuel content and transportation technologies:

  1. Pricing carbon
  2. Reducing border delays and enhancing security
  3. Integrating transportation and land-use planning
  4. Shifting to more-efficient transportation modes
  5. Shifting to lower-carbon fuels
  6. Increasing the efficiency of transportation technologies
  7. Funding transportation infrastructure and pricing its use
  8. Greening supply chains and implementing best practices
  9. Acquiring data and developing performance metrics
  10. Reducing demand for inefficient freight transportation
  11. Improving freight transportation governance and stakeholder networking

The report also makes six recommendations to help Canada, Mexico, and the United States to foster a more efficient, competitive, secure, and environmentally sustainable freight transportation system in North America:

  1. Coordination and Networking. The NAFTA partners should consider forming a ministerial-level North American Transportation Forum that will work in cooperation with an industry, expert and stakeholder group to foster an integrated, intelligent freight transportation system, a more seamless and efficient set of linkages that bring the three countries—functionally if not literally—closer together.

  2. Carbon Pricing and System Efficiency Strategies. Canada, Mexico and the United States should consider putting a price on carbon to give everyone a clear signal that they should be investing in efficiency and in low-carbon fuel alternatives.

  3. Investments to Improve the Efficiency of the Freight Transportation System. The three countries should re-invest in the transportation system itself – in road, rail and waterway infrastructure that is, in many places, congested and deteriorating. The countries should provide meaningful incentives for advanced fuel-saving technologies and the adoption of intelligent transportation systems.

  4. Supply Chain Management. Transportation agencies, and businesses operating nationally and across international borders, could reduce costs and GHG emissions by managing the transportation system more efficiently. For example, emissions go down (and profits up) if fewer long-haul trucks return empty or travel over routes that are better served by more carbon-efficient rail.

  5. Training Eco-drivers. Each jurisdiction can improve the training and equipping of drivers to optimize their environmental and economic performance by driving in ways that conserve energy.

  6. Gathering and Sharing Data. Transportation, environmental and statistical agencies in all three countries should work through the North American Transportation Statistics Interchange (NATS-Interchange) to enhance the quality and comparability of freight data, including the measurement of environmental impacts, to better manage freight transportation as a continent-wide system.

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation was established by the United States, Canada and Mexico in 1994 as part of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, a side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The CEC’s mission is to facilitate collaboration among the parties and the public to ensure that North American free trade is conducted in a way that protects and preserves the environment for future generations.

CEC Advisory Group Chair Bruce Agnew is the executive director of the Cascadia Trade Corridor, which promotes a balanced, seamless, and expanded transportation system between Washington, Oregon and British Columbia through public-private partnerships and innovative financing.



Henry Gibson

The use of more and more lorries on motorways in the US is a sign of transportation inefficiency. Many distribution systems including that of Walmart purposely avoid the rail systems of the US.

Electricfication of the rails in the US and the world is now much easier with the robust Sodium-nickel batteries of the ZEBRA or DURATHON type. Continuous electrification is not needed. ..HG..


Batteries plus partial charging system is already in use in Switzerland for some tramway lines. It could work for regular electrified railroads. However, due to the high energy required, you would either have to have tonnes and tonnes of batteries or charging lines for a high percentage of the railroads.

Larges Buses and Trucks by the millions is not the most efficient nor the cleanest way to move passengers and cargo. EU, Japan, China and many other countries are using another approach.

We will learn too.


The irony is the trains hauling coal long distance to coal fired power plants. Add all that carbon up and you end up with quite a bit.

Stan Peterson

Typical paper bilge not worth the paper its printed on, by people who know nothing, do nothing, and produce nothing for which they purport to speak authoritatively.

Transport efficiencies have been continuously improved from time immemorial. Shipping goods is an externalized cost obvious to all. Only clumsy bureaucrats who know less than nothing, think that they know better.

All of North America's rail system has been electrified to the point where the benefits outweigh the costs by the simple computation of IR losses on catenaries. Electrification only makes sense where the benefit outweigh the inefficiencies. As these fools work to raise electric rates, it only reduces the valid electrification grid range.

Even the further hybridization of the original hybrids, which are locomotives with diesel-electric power, is now being made available in the marketplace with rechargeable PHEV diesel-electric locomotive implementations. (See GE locomotives). Smaller diesels can be specified, and are all that is necessary, when there is spare electric power from batteries to supplement the power needed for climbing of grades.

Containerized movement of freight has reduced the cost of packing and repacking to change shipping modes, thus promoting such mixed-modal use. The need for long haul trucking has been reduced; and that is reflected in the growth of such bi-modal or tri-modal freight movement.

Ocean going Shipping by containers, then by long haul trains, and finally the flexibility of short haul trucking as a third mode, is so far unsurpassed for reducing costs. Each leg in such tri-modal shipping, is continuously being improved and addressed by engineers, since at least Robert Fulton and James Watts time on an scientific basis; and since the time of the Pharaohs by trial and error learning.

Ocean shipping rates are in continuous decline, as are train long-haul shipment charges. Local trucking is still the most expensive, as the added cost of clean diesel combustion and the willful interference of know-nothing bureaucrats and eco-chondriacs, drive up fuel costs, and add massive amounts to the tax burden of various shipping concerns.

Still the proof of the continuous improvement in reducing shipping charges is the worldwide increase in movement of goods, while Trade expands.


We can always count on you for a positive assessment.

Stan Peterson


Thank you. But YOU should know that the growth of my profession of Engineering was based on reducing the cost of moving goods, as much as any other activity.

So a bunch of ignorant bureaucrats without any technical training, should be regarded with the humorous chuckles that obvious foolish statements merit.

Was it Lincoln who advised a fool that it was preferable to stand silent, rather than to open his mouth and remove all doubt.

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