New Carbon Credit Program Can Benefit Infrastructures in Developing Countries

The United Nations recently achieved a new milestone in its innovative environmental policy by approving a New Delhi metro system for carbon credit issuance. The metro in the capital of India was first launched in 2002. According to the UN, during its nine-year run, it has contributed to the annual reduction of 630,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the city with 14 million residents.

The passenger rail system, which runs partly underground and party on elevated tracks, is one of the most successful public transportation projects carried out by the Indian government to date. It is estimated that, thanks to the metro, about 90,000 carbon-emitting vehicle trips are kept off the roads.

The rail system is able to achieve its emission reductions by employing an innovative regenerative braking technology, which cuts energy use by almost 30 per cent. Over the next seven years, the new UN carbon credit program will earn $9.5 million for the New Delhi metro. The initiative is part of the UN goal to encourage developing countries to invest funds in transportation networks, which help reduce greenhouse gas emission.

"No other Metro in the world could get the carbon credit because of the very stringent requirement to provide conclusive documentary proof of reduction in emissions," according to the official statement issued by the UN. The international organisation further claims that each passenger, who, instead of jumping into their car or on the bus, chooses to hop on the metro, can help save about 100gm of carbon dioxide for every trip of 10km.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, subways have been the most commuter-friendly means for public transportation in metropolitan cities for years. In Tokyo, for example, more than 3.1 billion people use the metro system each year. In New York City, that number is over 1.6 billion, and in London, 1.1 billion take advantage of the convenient tube network annually. The more the passengers, who opt for the metro, the higher the amount of GHG emissions that are being prevented from entering into the atmosphere.

Typically running underground, metros are a time-saving alternative to buses and on-road rail cars, which, just like regular vehicles, often fall victims of grueling morning and after-work traffic. Underground rail systems, on the other hand, run independent of traffic jams caused by long waits at traffic lights and, in some cases, car accidents. Being underground, their operation is also relatively unaffected by severe weather conditions such as snowstorms and heavy rains, which can seriously impair above-ground traffic.

Metro systems are probably the most expensive transportation systems to build and maintain. As a result, many developing countries are falling behind in establishing solid underground rail infrastructure. According to Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, professor at the Department of Economics and Geography at Hofstra University, only about 80 large urban agglomerations have built a subway system, and the majority of them are located in developed countries.

Recognising metro systems for their capacity to keep city environments clean and city roads less congested, and rewarding them accordingly, can benefit local economies and commuters alike. Financial incentives such as carbon credit issuance can make it possible for governments to build additional tracks and expand the underground infrastructure in places where such tracks wouldn't be financially viable in the absence of a carbon credit incentive. It will also encourage innovation in the area of transportation, while cost effectiveness and energy efficiency climb up on the list of priorities.

But the responsibility should not fall exclusively on the international community to make financial incentives available. It is ultimately up to the metro systems to take responsibility in proving their effectiveness in GHG emission reductions, so that they can qualify for carbon credits. As the UN points out in their statement, only the New Delhi system has so far provided documented proof of its energy efficiency. Local governments have to establish verification entities, which monitor and report emission reductions by their metro systems. The process can take time and resources, but the benefits should potentially outweigh the expenditure.