Transport at COP20: Despite Limited Leaps, Lima Limps

The joint report* of the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT Partnership) and the Bridging the Gap (BtG) Initiative assesses the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima, Peru in December 2014, as viewed through the lens of sustainable transport.  

The principal achievement of COP20 is the Lima Call for Climate Action (LCCA), an agreement among nearly 200 countries that for the first time establishes ground rules for all Parties to submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in 2015 to form the basis of post-2020 mitigation actions.  Key outcomes of the LCCA as highlighted by the UNFCCC include progress on pre-2020 ambition, technology, finance, transparency, and adaptation.  A number of follow-up reports from COP20 observers take more critical views of the LCCA, highlighting a lack of resolution, guidance, and clarity on key issues, and the significant effort required to clear stumbling blocks and narrow options in the draft negotiating text by May 2015. 

At COP20, a SLoCaT Partnership-BtG Initiative tracking team for the first time monitored five negotiating streams with particular relevance to transport, which included pre-2020 ambition, INDCs, nationally-appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs), technology transfer, and climate finance (a sixth area, adaptation, is also included among the areas of analysis in this document). 

During the course of COP20, a scorecard was established to mark progress through a lens of sustainable transport, which determined whether “Lima limped,” “maintained status quo,” or “Lima leaped” in each of these areas.  Progress for transport at COP20 in these six areas was decidedly mixed.  Pre-2020 mitigation commitments continue to fall short of modeled potential and lack detail on transport contributions, and INDCs for defining post-2020 mitigation actions must include significant detail under a tight timeline.  While NAMAs must shift from a project to policy focus to achieve transformational change, only few transport NAMAs have received funding and transport NAMAs are constrained by limited measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) capacities.  Although the UNFCCC is forging stronger linkages between its Technology and Financial Mechanisms, the bulk of attention is focused on other sectors, which risks locking transport investments into high-carbon pathways, and the amount of climate finance currently available from UNFCCC sources falls far short of projected investments required to facilitate a global shift to low-carbon transport.  Finally, while transport systems must become more resilient to climate change to achieve full mitigation potential, public funding for adaptation strategies remains limited. 

Therefore, despite minor leaps in each of the above areas, the overall conclusion is that COP20 Lima limped with regard to sustainable low carbon transport.  This reinforces the need for the sustainable transport community to converge around key messages and activities on transport and climate change linked to the UNFCCC process in the year ahead.  

Five key messages on mitigation potential and financing strategies for low-carbon land transport were developed in a recent SLoCaT Partnership-BtG Initiative report to define sustainable pathways for transport in the post-2020 process.  These include: (a)decoupling development ambitions and transport choices to shape low carbon transport pathways;(b) using Avoid- Shift-Improve strategies as a framework for sustainable transport policies and measures; (c) increasing the role of sub-national and non-state entities in the UNFCCC process; (d) leveraging opportunities for transport development and financial and technical support via UNFCCC mechanisms; and (e) linking comprehensive climate and development planning. 

The SLoCaT Partnership’s workstream on Transport and Climate Change represents one of five workstreams in the Partnership’s 2015-2016 strategic work program.  Key priorities in the workstream include: (a) demonstrating the mitigation potential of transport in the UNFCCC (and specifically INDC) processes; (b) communicating transport related mitigation efforts in the SG Climate Summit to Parties under the UNFCCC; (c) promoting transport perspectives in relevant UNFCCC processes; (d) promoting the integration of sustainable low carbon transport in financial mechanisms under the UNFCCC; and (e) increasing the visibility of transport sector contributions through a substantive presence at COP21. 

To complement the negotiations in Lima, the SLoCaT Partnership and BtG Initiative organized several activities and outreach efforts at COP20 to raise the profile of transport’s contributions to pre- and post-2020 mitigation ambition.  These efforts included Transport Day 2014, consisting of dedicated strategy sessions on sustainable transport and climate change; official COP20 side events focused on sustainable transport in the context of INDCs, NAMAs, and climate finance; daily “Transport at COP20” postings distributed through the SLoCaT Partnership and BtG Initiative websites; feature articles on sustainable transport by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Climate Action Network, and Outreach magazine; and an ongoing presence at the SLoCaT Partnership-BtG Initiative information booth at the COP20 venue. 

Building on the modest momentum established at COP20 Lima, planning for COP21 Paris is in full swing, with French national, regional and municipal government officials participating at Transport Day 2014, and joint efforts of the Peruvian and French governments to galvanize national, city and private sector action through the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.  A number of “Trains to Paris” are poised to pick up negotiators in European cities to begin discussions of transport’s role in tackling climate change en route to COP21, and a possible Transport Pavilion at the COP20 venue will increase the visibility of existing and potential transport contributions throughout the negotiations. 

The past year has brought many positive developments for sustainable transport and climate change, with the formation of the SG’s High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport as a channel for bold action, the inclusion of transport among the UN (United Nation)’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and increased interest from UNFCCC in engaging with non-state entities.  Yet, if we are to reduce GHG emissions 80% by 2050 to keep global climate change from exceeding the two degree Celsius scenario (2DS), the transport sector must certainly be a core competitor throughout UNFCCC’s self-described climate change marathon.  The analysis of transport-relevant areas at COP20 and the key messages and priority actions detailed in this report provide a roadmap for the sustainable transport community to advance the critical role that transport must play in carrying the modest momentum established at COP20 toward a strong finish.


*This paper has been produced with support by: (a) the supporters of the SLoCaT Foundation (/supporters-slocat-foundation); (b) the members of the BtG Initiative (; and (c) GIZ (TRANSfer Project) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). The TRANSfer Project is part of the International Climate Initiative. The BMUB supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.