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Outrage + Optimism

Sep 11, 2020

It all started one cold night in Paris in December 2008. Two American friends visiting the city couldn’t get a taxi and this frustration inspired them to ask ‘what if’? What if it were possible to order a car ride with a simple tap on your mobile? Since both came from successful San Francisco tech backgrounds, it wasn’t surprising that this personal experience led to the creation of the company that is today the global tech on-demand transportation platform, Uber. 

Now Uber is all grown up. It’s a publicly listed company, known for fuelling the gig economy – and has become embedded in our language and culture. The company operates in over 10,000 cities in 69 countries with a variety of services beyond personal rides including UberEats, cycle share schemes and more. Uber however has not stopped asking ‘what if’ and has chosen this crucial decade to set itself the challenge of integrating global climate targets with a seamless user experience.  

Outrage + Optimism hosts, Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac and Paul Dickinson talked to Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi about the company’s announcement this week of its commitment to meet the goal of net zero by 2040, a bold and necessary step to tackle the climate crisis. We are fascinated by the potential this has for changing the culture of the 5 million active drivers and for millions of Uber riders taking 18 million trips between them every day. To fuel the greener electrified system, app users will have the option to favour drivers of hybrid and electric cars through Uber Green, and in future, can select from different forms of mobility based on their priorities at any given moment – cost, time, or carbon. Uber says they will literally put the power on our fingertips to contribute to the greening of our cities. You can listen to the whole episode here.

Why does Uber’s announcement this week really matter to people who live in cities around the world?

The Paris Agreement, signed by 195 counties in 2015, calls for a unifying goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This is based on the global scientific consensus that doing so will allow us to stay below 1.5C of global warming, beyond which it becomes more economically and socially disruptive to live with the effects of climate change.

According to the EPA transportation accounts for 28.2% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States of America. Most of this comes from the emissions of cars, trucks, ships and other forms of transportation. Over 90% of the fuels used in transportation are from fossil fuels, mainly oil (or petroleum) sources. These not only cause damage to the environment, they cause the air pollution around the world that results in the premature deaths of 7 million people every year, according to the World Health Organisation. During the COVID-19 crisis, people with underlying respiratory health issues have been more likely to die when they contract the virus, so we need to converge the solutions to the climate change, inequality, health and economic crises. 

Cities, where the vast majority of Uber rides take place, account for 70% of global carbon emissions and are home to more than half of  all people on earth. As the world continues to urbanise, making cities sustainable is one of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – that we have. We will need resilient cities that support a good quality of life for all. By 2050 there will be 9 billion of us on the planet and 68% of us will live in cities. This means the frontlines of climate change are the cities of the world and moves like Uber’s will make cities more liveable and critically enable  urban populations to survive and thrive in a new co-created urban economy. 

By committing to net zero by 2040, Uber plans to play its part in tackling the most pressing issues facing humanity in this, the most decisive decade in human history. Dara Khosrowshahi’s letter explaining the company’s commitment is available to read here:


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