OECD Climate Change

Systems innovation for net-zero

A process to design transformational climate strategies that work for people and the planet


Report: Transport strategies for net-zero systems by design

Efforts that primarily focus on incremental change in systems that are unsustainable by design are one of the main barriers to scaling up climate action. This report applies the OECD systems innovation for net-zero process (previously known as the Well-being lens process) to the transport sector. It identifies three dynamics at the source of car dependency and high emissions: induced demand, urban sprawl and the erosion of active and shared transport modes. The report also provides policy recommendations to reverse such dynamics and reduce emissions while improving well-being.

What is Systems innovation for net-zero?

While governments across the globe are making efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, climate action is not ambitious enough. To achieve net-zero goals and limit global warming to well-below 2°C, as envisioned in the Paris Agreement, systemic transformations are needed.

The OECD has developed a process - systems innovation for net-zero - to help governments achieve the transformational change needed to reach international climate goals while improving wider well-being outcomes.

Systems innovation for net-zero is a process which allows governments to think innovatively and design climate strategies with the potential to accelerate climate change mitigation while improving wider well-being outcomes.

Building on systems thinking, the process allows to unleash emission reduction opportunities through policies targeted at redesigning systems, often absent or at the margin of current climate strategies.

By defining outcomes in terms of well-being (e.g. health, affordability, equity, biodiversity) and making these outcomes central criteria guiding systems’ redesign, it mainstreams well-being considerations into the decision-making process of climate strategies from the onset.

Why is it important?

Climate action could be more efficient and effective if focused on systems as a whole, so that – by design – systems require less energy and materials, and produce less emissions, while achieving wider well-being outcomes, such as improving our health and safety, and subsequently better lives.

How does the process work?

An example from the transport sector

A well-functioning transport system fosters accessibility and privileges healthy, safe and sustainable transport modes like walking, cycling and public transport.

Three vicious cycles – induced demand, urban sprawl, and the erosion of shared and active modes of transport – are observed in most transport systems. These vicious cycles are key drivers of car-dependency and high emissions, as well as other undesirable results (e.g. unequal access to opportunities, poor air quality, and limited physical activity).


Examples of policies and actions with the potential to reverse the dynamics identified in the previous step include wide-scale re-allocation and redesign of streets, like in the case of Superblocks; rethinking urban regeneration and new development through the 15' city framework, and mainstreaming on-demand shared services to complement public transport.

Current climate strategies for the transport sector place today an overriding focus on vehicle electrification, leaving car-dependency unaddressed. From a well-being lens, electrification of vehicles will be key, but its power to achieve net-zero goals and contribute to wider well-being objectives depends on embedding the improvement of vehicle technologies in a wider process of systemic redesign leading to better systems for better lives.

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