Opening Perspectives

As the COP 20 process takes a Sunday break, the race to COP 21 takes a breather…or does it? At the second Transport Day event organized by the SLoCaT Partnership and the Bridging the Gap initiative, roughly 200 advocates of sustainable transport from a broad range of sectors and regions gathered to define strategies to increase transport’s momentum within and without the UNFCCC process on the road from Lima to Paris.

Sustainable transport is clearly in a more favorable position than it was during the inaugural Transport Day at COP 19 Warsaw, and Lima is a critical step toward a planned global agreement at COP 21.  But as the planning process for Paris gathers steam, we must ask ourselves, is the transport glass half empty or half full?

Tackling Climate Change in Transport

Transport produces seven Gt of CO2 annually, and this figure is poised to double by 2050 without concerted action.  While transport has strong mitigation potential through ASI strategies, a lack of sound data hinders progress, and additional financial and policy support are required. Current levels of ambition are inadequate to meet sustainable development goals, and progress to date in the ADP workstream is insufficient to meet the 2DC target, as science beckons with increasing urgency.  Under this somber scenario, can transport make an earnest effort to scale up and deliver solid reductions?

Panelists from a number of subsectors converged to reflect upon this question along with recent transport-focused messages from UN agencies and their relevance for policymaking on transport and climate change. Among efforts highlighted were national policies from Ethiopia to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, and from Mexico to create more human-scaled cities; municipal plans from Lima to expand transit options, and from Paris to increase transit and NMT mode shares; and industry initiatives from Michelin to fund innovative mobility solutions, and from BSR to explore new transport fuels.

The sentiments of the discussion are summed up in a common theme: we need better linkages between processes, additional efforts to close the ambition gap, accelerated efforts on technology transfer, and rationalized land use and housing patterns to ensure that transport makes an effective contribution to keep emissions on a 2DC track. 

Streams of Convergence

Transport Day participants, united to tackle climate change, took the opportunity to divide and conquer by strategizing solutions in the following four streams: mitigation potential of transport; NAMAs and MRV; finance; and adaptation. Discussion addressed how to improve the fit of transport within the UNFCCC framework, how to better link transport with SDG processes, and how to broaden actions on transport within the five SG Climate Summit commitments to scale up mitigation ambition and impact.

The mitigation stream expressed a need to evolve current global efforts to model   mitigation potential of transport, to gain more relevance within the UNFCCC process, and to improve MRV data gathering in transport sector projects to build momentum towards NAMAs and INDCs. The stream suggested developing indicators for sustainable transport to clear a path in the post-2015 process, and to increase access of local governments to national funding, noting that strong partnerships are needed to link sources of finance and means of implementation from global levels to local initiatives. 

Key issues identified for NAMAs include improving MRV methodologies, financing institutional frameworks, and supporting preparedness, design and implementation, especially in Africa and Asia.  NAMAs should incorporate sustainable development benefits by integrating activities within a wider domestic framework, since co-benefits are key drivers of NAMA development.  NAMAs support SG Climate Summit commitments related to rail in Bangladesh, urban transport in Indonesia, and fuel economy in Peru.

The finance stream offered several recommendations, including increased national and local government capacity to access climate finance and to monitor projects, enhanced quality of project preparation and feasibility studies, and strengthened regulatory frameworks to enable investments, stressing that proposals for climate finance should monetize the social, environmental, and poverty alleviation benefits of transport projects.

The adaptation stream acknowledged that there is a need to better understand incremental impacts of climate change on transport infrastructure, and that climate finance must provide resources to both improve infrastructure and build capacity, noting that adaptation should be a dynamic process which incorporates sustainable development goals. IDB’s goal to allocate 25% of lending to climate change, renewables and sustainability by 2015 is seen a potential opportunity to build transport resilience.

Commitments from the United Nation Secretary General’s Climate Summit and Relevance for the UNFCCC

Breakout streams were followed by further discussion of the SG’s Climate Summit land transport commitments, which include ambitious targets in five transport sub-sectors.

A recent key development is the formation of the SG’s High Level Advisory Group, whose initial meeting yielded three main objectives: to develop coherent messaging for sustainable transport to speak with one voice on common issues; to oversee a global transport outlook report in 2016, and to assist the SG in convening an international conference on sustainable transport.  In this context, sustainable transport can be viewed as a means to transformative change via strong links to COP 21, SDG goals, and the post-2015 development agenda.

Outside the UN process, it was stressed that sustainable transport solutions are being widely implemented at national and local levels (e.g. hybrid vehicles in Sri Lanka and e-mobility in Bhutan), and thus the job of transport advocates is not to tell governments what to do, but to work with them to scale up and accelerate low carbon transport.  If the transport glass is half full, it is so far due to the action of national and local governments. 

The session generated many keen insights, observing that while cars promise freedom, speed, and adventure, in most cases they deliver none of these things; that investing in cycling is one of the best ways to improve the economy, and that it is critical to underscore the jobs, growth and development benefits of sustainable transport.

From Lima to Paris

To wind down the day, panelists reflected on a set of suggestions offered by participants to allow transport to better tackle climate change, which included a suggestion to declare a full year of connecting transport with climate change, en route from Lima to Paris. Other audience suggestions included engaging in broader outreach and campaign activities, aggregating municipal demand to accelerate a transition to electric buses, and more widely proliferating the number of cities with car free days in the coming year.

One strategy offered by the panel is for sustainable transport to see itself as part of a “great alliance to combat climate change,” to join a community of global action, and to drive ambition to tackle climate change, both pre- and post-2020. Putting transport in a broader frame can give confidence to political leaders and negotiators to provide a surge of action to help boost ambitions for NAMAs and national commitments through INDCs. 

Another highlighted strategy was fuel subsidy reform, noting that subsidies pose significant opportunity costs to governments, consuming up to 20% of national budgets. Subsidies distort markets by encouraging the use of cars and locking in high-carbon infrastructure.  Successful fuel subsidy reform should be gradual, clearly explained, and coupled with other means of support (e.g. fuel switching), to increase political salience.  

Finally, it was noted that several of the above strategies can be combined to maximize impact (e.g. implementing t-NAMAs in concert with fuel subsidy reform to increase mode shift options).   And focusing on non-climate goals and city commitments along with mitigation targets can facilitate the development of INDCs by national governments. 

Closing Thoughts

Planning for Paris is in full swing, with French government representatives participating at Transport Day, and a number of trains poised to pick up negotiators in European cities to begin discussion of transport’s role in tackling climate change en route to COP 21.

Ideally, Paris will also deliver a car-free day and increased use of electric buses during the negotiations to signal that the proceedings inside the convention halls are real.

The past year has brought many positive signs with the inclusion of transport in the SDGs and bold transport commitments at the SG Climate Summit; the SG Working Group as a channel to inspire bold action, and increased interest from UNFCCC in engaging with groups outside the Convention.  Certainly, if we are to reduce GHGs 80% by 2050, transport must carry the last mile of UNFCCC’s self-described marathon.

The sustainable transport’s glass is quite clearly half full, and it must continue to fill as we approach Paris.  As COP 20 rolls forward, we raise a toast to efforts by the sustainable transport community to date, and we take a healthy gulp from the glass to fortify us for the long road ahead.  And let’s not wait for tomorrow…let’s do it today!

Upcoming Transport Events at COP 20

Please visit the Transport Day website for a full listing of COP 20 transport events.