From Defining to Implementing Sustainable Transport

By Cornie Huizenga, Secretary General, Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT)

Millions of people around the world lack proper access to jobs, markets, schools, hospitals and other essential services, and better transport is a crucial element to improve economic and social development. Yet, transport is responsible for 1.24 million traffic fatalities per year, as well as high levels of urban air pollution and congestion in many cities. 

These negative impacts weaken the very development processes transport aims to support and enable. Transport is also the second largest sector in terms of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and it is clear that without a substantive contribution from the transport sector, it will not be possible to limit global warming to a maximum two-degree Celsius temperature increase. 

The challenge ahead of us is therefore to improve rural, urban and national transport systems in support of inclusive economic and social development by reworking these systems in a more sustainable manner. 

The following are three broad strategies, tested at scale in both developed and developing countries, that can improve accessibility of passenger and freight transport, while reducing GHG emissions, air pollution, road fatalities and congestion: 

• Avoid travel or reduce travel distance by motorized modes of transport through regional development policies, land use planning and travel demand management;

• Shift to more environmentally- and socially-sustainable modes, such as public transport, walking and cycling (in the case of passenger transport), and railways or inland waterways (in the case of freight transport); and

• Improve the energy efficiency of transport modes through advanced fuel and vehicle technologies, increased vehicle load factors, and better managed transport networks, with non-petroleum fuels playing a more significant role, particularly after 2030.

An increasing number of national and local governments are embracing the ‘avoid-shift-improve’ approach and are including it in transport policies and investment plans. Because of this, many more people in rural areas have improved access to transport services, many cities have new or improved public transport services, and billions of people breathe cleaner air with the introduction of cleaner fuels and vehicles.

The transport sector responded to the call for bold action on climate change by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at his Climate Summit in September 2014 by announcing five major transport commitments. These actions on transport will result in scaling up urban public transport and doubling global mode share; greater use of more efficient passenger and freight rail transport; accelerated introduction of urban electric vehicles; more fuel efficient passenger vehicles; and renewed action plans on green freight. Collectively, these actions can reduce the carbon footprint of at least half of all passenger and freight trips made by 2025. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that these actions, if implemented at a global scale, can result in cumulative savings of US$70 trillion by 2050, due to reduced investment needs for vehicles, fuel and transport infrastructure.

It is clear that the discussion on sustainable transport has evolved from discussing the need for sustainable transport and defining what constitutes sustainable transport, to determining the best strategies to implement sustainable transport. With this evolution, the discussion is decreasingly one that is specific to the transport community and increasingly one that needs to be addressed by the wider development community.

2015 is a key year in setting the course for sustainable development. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) will finalize and approve a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are intended to inspire and guide the global development community in its actions to promote sustainable development. In addition, a more ambitious global climate change agreement is to be adopted in December 2015 in Paris, France. Thus it is crunch time for the SLoCaT Partnership, which was established with the specific aim to promote the integration of sustainable transport in global policies on sustainable development and climate change.

To facilitate transport’s integration in the post-2015 development agenda on sustainable development and climate change, the SLoCaT Partnership has developed a Results Framework on Sustainable Transport, which describes the potential contribution of land transport to sustainable development goals by bringing together three targets on improving rural, urban and national access and connectivity, and three targets on reducing road fatalities and serious injuries, air pollution and GHGs.

Making sustainable transport an integral part of global policies on sustainable development and climate change needs to go hand-in-hand with the development of effective funding and financing frameworks for sustainable transport. Although the public sector will have to take the lead in increasing national and local funding, and defining long term strategic planning and investment frameworks, it is now widely acknowledged that greater private sector involvement is required to provide both financing and technical expertise. Official development assistance and international climate finance also have important roles to play in redirecting transport funding from car-centric development models to more sustainable transport models. 

The scaling up of sustainable transport will be discussed at Transport Day 2014 on December 7th at COP 20 in Lima, Peru, which this year has the motto: ‘Transport Tackles Climate Change.’ These discussions will help further the evolution of sustainable transport from definition to implementation.