Making the Right Moves to Reduce GHGs

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MTI research looks at climate action plans to assess strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from urban freight transportation
April 18, 2019
San José, CA

How can cities better incorporate innovative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from freight transport through climate action planning (CAPs)? New research from the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) answers that difficult question in the report “Urban Goods Movement and Local Climate Action Plans: Assessing Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Urban Freight Transportation.”

The report findings indicate a disconnect between local CAPs and freight planning efforts in most cities with only 6 out of 27 advanced local plans explicitly addressing freight transport in their GHG reduction strategies. As cities embrace urbanization and higher-density development, the demand for increased freight from urban businesses and residences also increases; however, improved strategies to move these goods are lacking.

Drs. Andrew R. Goetz and Serena Alexander analyzed 27 CAPs that had implemented a systematic framework for climate change mitigation (reaching levels 4 and 5) using the five milestones as outlined by the Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI):

  1. Inventory GHG emissions;
  2. Establish reduction targets;
  3. Develop CAP;
  4. Implement policies and measures; and
  5. Monitor and verify results.

While all of these plans had sections identifying goals to reduce GHGs from overall transportation, the emphasis was clearly in passenger transportation (i.e. automobiles, buses, etc.). Many of the CAPs did, however, target reducing emissions from city-owned vehicles, including trucks, through their conversion to alternative fuel sources. The researchers also analyzed freight transport plans relevant for the cities represented by the CAPs. Most of the plans that mention emission reduction focus on local air quality improvements through the reduction of pollutants such as particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides. Meanwhile, only five freight plans explicitly include projects related to their GHG reduction goal, including investment measures related to highway, rail, and port improvements among others.

The report concludes with the following recommendations for cities seeking to include or improve GHG emission reductions in their CAPs:

  • All CAPs should explicitly discuss GHG emissions from freight transport specifically and develop targeted strategies and actions for reducing freight emissions;
  • Planners working on CAPs should coordinate more closely with planners working on city, regional, and state freight plans to identify and include freight initiatives that will have the effect of reducing GHG emissions; and
  • Planners working on city, regional, and state freight plans should develop a coordinated approach with planners working on CAPs to identify strategies and actions for reducing GHG emissions from freight transport.


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nation's’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.


Andrew R. Goetz is an MTI Research Associate and professor in the Department of Geography & the Environment as well as a faculty associate in the Transportation Institute and the Urban Studies program at the University of Denver. Serena Alexander is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at San José State University and a Research Associate at MTI.



Irma Garcia, MTI Communications & Workforce Development Coordinator



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