Despite recent woes in the global auto industry, an international project is studying the environmental effects of a transportation sector projected to grow long term as the developing world becomes richer and more mobile.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the International Energy Agency, the International Transport Forum and the FIA Foundation this month launch the “50 by 50 Global Fuel Economy Initiative” that looks beyond the current economic downturn.

“The world’s car fleet is expected to triple by 2050, with 80% of the growth in rapidly developing economies,” the initiative says in a study.

“The car-manufacturing industry is facing huge difficulties in the economic recession,” but needs to “find ways to reconcile legitimate aspirations for mobility, an ambitious reduction in (carbon dioxide) from cars worldwide and global economic recovery.”

The initiative has drafted detailed blueprints on how this should be achieved, with a goal of a global new-vehicle fleet that runs on 50% less fuel by 2050.

By 2020, the project aims for a 20% improvement in global new-car emissions, which the initiative believes can be achieved via improvements in fuel economy and additional measures such as eco-driving, enhanced aftermarket service and better vehicle maintenance.

For a 30% average reduction in emissions from new cars by 2030, the report suggests “incremental improvements and full hybridization of most models of vehicles.”

The study stresses a wholesale move to plug-in hybrids, electric and fuel-cell vehicles would not be essential, but rather beneficial. If this 2030 goal is met, the natural replacement of old vehicles should fulfill the 2050 target, effectively “front loading” the necessary change in the first two decades of the plan.

David Ward, FIA Foundation director general, says the partners plan to push for tax incentives and conduct informational campaigns to “help encourage consumer demand for more fuel-efficient cars.”

An early step to be taken this year will be the establishment of a fuel-economy information database for fleets and private motorists.

“We would urge the world’s car and component makers to get on board to prove that they, too, are part of the solution,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner says.