“Sustainable Transport matters when it comes to improving people’s lives”. This together with: “The transport sector is taking important action to address the two key global policy processes of 2015: sustainable development and climate change” are major findings of the 2015 SLoCaT Transport Commitments Report.
The commitment process began with the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012, when SLoCaT helped to develop the first set of voluntary transport commitments to complement the formal negotiated outcome of the conference. This was followed by a second set of commitments in 2013 focusing largely on the measurement of sustainable transport initiatives. In 2014, SLoCaT helped to convene key members of the global transport community in support of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit, which triggered a new set of climate change-focused voluntary transport commitments. Now, in the lead up to the COP21 conference in December 2015, SLoCaT (at the invitation of the Lima Paris Action Agenda) is helping to advance a group of emerging commitments on low carbon transport.
The 2015 report, Contribution of Transport Commitments to the Global Goals on Sustainable Development, analyzes the contribution that voluntary transport commitments are making to the Global Goals on Sustainable Development that will guide global action on development in the next 15 years. This analysis shows strong linkages between the transport commitments and the post-2015 development agenda, which can provide further impetus to the transport sector to further implement these commitments.
Sustainable Transport in the SDG Framework
Sustainable transport plays a critical, cross-cutting role to facilitate the achievement of a wide range of economic, social and environment-oriented SDGs; furthermore, any attempt to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are required to maintain a two-degree Celsius scenario (2DS) without active involvement from the transport sector is destined to fall short. Thus, it is clear that progress toward commitments made by the transport sector in the context of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) as well as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s 2014 Climate Summit will determine transport’s ability to contribute to sustainable development and climate change goals from now until 2030.
The transport sector is not represented by a single, standalone goal within the SDG framework, but rather is distributed across a number of separate goals related to health, energy, infrastructure, urban issues, and climate change, among others. A SLoCaT Partnership analysis has determined that the SDG framework includes at least five targets that are directly impacted by transport, and at least seven targets that are indirectly impacted by transport, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Transport Targets and Global Goals on Sustainable Development
The SLoCaT Partnership and the global sustainable transport community are continuing active efforts to promote the integration of sustainable transport in the context of the post-2015 development agenda, as it moves from the development to the implementation phase, and to build an enabling global institutional framework for sustainable transport, based on both the SLoCaT Results Framework on Sustainable Transport (i.e. to advance sustainable development goals) and the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate (PPMC) (i.e. to promote more ambitious action on transport and climate change).
Voluntary Transport Commitments
The voluntary commitments cover a range of sustainable transport topic areas including public and non-motorized transport; fuel and vehicle efficiency; roads and road safety; freight and logistics; urban planning and infrastructure; and policy and analysis. Recent and emerging climate change commitments have expanded the original scope of the commitments to new areas such as electric mobility, airports, inland shipping, and ITS, among others. An important observation is that, with the exception of one of the original Rio+20 commitments, all of the other 34 voluntary commitments are still active.
In addition to the ‘supply-side’ commitments (i.e. those defining and implementing strategies to achieve sustainable development and climate change objectives taken by the transport sector itself) described above, this report also considers ‘demand-side’ commitments from cities (through a number of cooperative initiatives) and countries (through the emergence of intended nationally-determined contributions (INDCs)). These city and country commitments, though different in nature from the Rio+20 and Climate Summit commitments, offer opportunities through the commitments initiated by the transport sector for accelerated action on sustainable transport at municipal and national levels.
A qualitative analysis shows that voluntary transport commitments contribute significantly to both the direct and indirect transport targets in the post-2015 SDG framework. A significant majority of commitments in each category contribute to the SDG direct transport targets in the areas of sustainable transport infrastructure (Target 9.1) and urban access (Target 11.2), and to a somewhat lesser extent, energy efficiency (Target 7.3). Among direct transport targets, road safety (Target 3.6) and fossil fuel subsidies (Target 12.c) have received relatively less attention than the direct transport targets mentioned in the previous point.
Among indirect transport targets, those focusing on reducing impacts to air quality (Target 3.9) and sustainable cities (11.6) are addressed by a significant majority of commitments. Rural transport issues are underrepresented among transport commitments, with relatively few commitments focused on agricultural productivity (Target 2.3), access to drinking water (Target 6.1), or reducing food waste (Target 12.3).
Climate Summit transport commitments from 2014 and 2015 are, as expected, strongly focused on climate change mitigation but give relatively less attention to climate change adaptation.
Significant in the case of both direct and indirect transport related targets is the contribution of climate change oriented commitments, which is almost as high as the contribution of sustainable development oriented commitments.
The transport commitments take a wide variety of implementation approaches to advancing sustainable transport infrastructure and services through the post-2015 development and climate change frameworks. There is an overall emphasis here on upstream activities (e.g. building partnerships, policy development, capacity building, collecting data and developing tool kits) with a somewhat lesser focus on implementation, especially in the area of financing.
Voluntary transport commitments have a role to play not only in establishing goals, but also in tracking progress toward a broad set of commitments within the global SDG and climate change frameworks. Voluntary transport commitments have the potential to help address these challenges through both (a) developing methodologies and indicators and (b) collecting information that contributes to the actual measurement of these indicators. Existing transport commitments are taking steps in both of these directions.
Together, the scope and coverage of these commitments address all transport sub-sectors in both developed and developing countries. Potential impacts from full implementation of the various commitments are significant. It is estimated that at least one out of two transport trips to be made in 2025 will be affected by these collective commitments if they are implemented successfully. Furthermore, the shift to low-carbon mobility, embodied in part by these commitments, could save up to $70 trillion in fuel costs, as estimated by the International Energy Agency.
While it is still too early to make an full assessment of the likelihood that these commitments will achieve their goals and targets (set, in most cases, for 2030), the report helps to establish a starting point for progress of the transport sector relative to the adoption of SDGs, and to establish the extent to which transport related commitments can help to achieve the SDGs and associated climate targets. Importantly, this report can help to build a foundation for work in the next several years to translate an aspirational global roadmap to more tangible national strategies to ensure success in achieving critical sustainable development goals and climate change targets.
Transport commitments have yielded measurable impacts in a short period of time, but it is possible to further increase ambition and maximize effectiveness of these initial commitments. The transport commitments approach, aided by a series of high-level global events from 2012-2015, has demonstrated the potential to accelerate much-needed actions on climate change and sustainable development by non-state actors in the transport sector, and to give transport a stronger voice in global processes on sustainable development and climate change. However, the current ad-hoc mechanism in developing the transport commitments has certain weaknesses. There is an obvious danger that organizations may enter into transport commitments in order to make a temporary impression, without giving proper consideration to the long-term implications of these commitments.
To increase the effectiveness of the current transport commitment approach, the following steps could be considered:
- Create a mechanism to identify gaps in sustainable development and climate change frameworks, and define cooperative commitments for the transport sector to address these gaps (e.g. a relatively weak focus on rural issues);
- Create supportive mechanisms to provide sufficient funding to allow transport commitments to maintain and increase ambition over time;
- Align transport commitments on a regular basis to create a consistent and predictable timeframe for review, renewal, and repackaging, and to increase the potential for increased coordination and cooperation;
- Increase attention to policy change in forthcoming commitments to ensure that they both drive and are driven by supportive policies; and
- Use ongoing political processes to highlight progress toward current and ongoing transport commitments, rather than as a primary forum to generate new commitments.
The full version of the 2015 Transport Commitment Report is available here.