Transport in Nationally Determined Contributions

In this time of global emergency, we are reminded that it is more important than ever for countries to set ambitious goals and roadmaps to tackle global warming, working together to keep global temperature rise to below 1.5 °C, reducing and avoiding some of the most devastating impacts to our planet and people.

The transport sector’s global emissions are heading in the wrong direction, accounting for the fastest-growing source of emissions around the world. We must change this trend now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underlines that a pathway for transport which contributes to maintaining global temperature rise below 1.5ºC is possible. However, the transformation of our mobility and transport systems for an equitable 1.5ºC Planet must be prioritised in policy, regulatory and fiscal frameworks.

As we collectively work to update and raise ambition in the next generation of Nationally Determined Contributions (or NDCs – efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), we would like to share a set of key recommendations for ways countries can scale up transport ambition in their NDCs

Let’s use this moment to alter business as usual for good, and create new pathways to an equitable, climate-friendly and resilient present and future!


2015 was the first year countries submitted their NDCs. Of the 166 NDC submissions representing 193 countries, 76% highlighted the transport sector as a mitigation source, but only 8% included transport-specific greenhouse gas mitigation targets.

In terms of Avoid-Shift-Improve strategies, the majority (65%) of mitigation measures mentioned in NDCs represented ‘Improve’ strategies, while only 28% represented ‘Shift’ and 7% represented ‘Avoid’. Only 16% of NDCs included transport adaptation. NDCs also tended to focus more on passenger transport, and less than a quarter referenced freight transport. Read more about transport in the first generation of NDCs here.

The level of ambition for transport needs to drastically increase in this second generation of NDCs.

Download our infographic with the messages here.

Ten Recommendations to Raise Ambition for Transport in Nationally Determined Contributions

Setting specific targets to mitigate carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) from the transport sector can unleash the sector’s large potential to contribute to climate mitigation and the achievement of the objectives of the Paris Agreement. It may be helpful to set goals for specific sub-sectors of transport, such as cars, road freight, and aviation. 

Sustainable transport measures support the achievement of these climate mitigation targets, while simultaneously addressing climate adaptation, as well as the health, equity, and social cohesion goals of the global sustainable development agenda. They are also generally easy to communicate and understand.

Some examples include:

  • setting targets to increase the fleet size of electric bicycles,
  • expanding km/mi of mass transit,
  • replacing domestic flights with high-speed rail,
  • phasing out the sale and use of internal combustion engines,
  • increasing the share of walking to X% by 2025.  

Engage relevant stakeholders in a transparent, inclusive, and meaningful process to co-define knowledge-based targets and implementation frameworks in your NDC. Take into account the different capacities of each sector, and ensure the inclusion of the informal transport sector. 

Cities and regions are where the majority of low carbon and sustainable transport measures are implemented, delivering key services and direct emissions reductions, while influencing more ambitious climate action by other actors. Regions play an important connecting role between national and city-level policy making. Ensure that your NDC includes institutional, legal and financial frameworks that enable and empower subnational transport action; as well as coordination of efforts across different levels of government. 

Many countries are now setting economy-wide, net zero carbon targets for 2050, specifically including plans to decarbonise transport in order to achieve these goals. Use your NDC as an opportunity to reiterate the link between sustainable transport and climate action, and catalyse coordination and collaboration across different ministries and departments.

Sustainable, low carbon transport is crucial to the realisation of sustainable development, including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Safe, efficient, affordable and low carbon mobility can accelerate the path to meet our shared health, clean energy, sustainable cities, and biodiversity goals (SDGs 3, 7, 11, 15), while significantly increasing equitable access to jobs and socio-economic opportunities for women and girls, and people of all ages and abilities (SDGs 5, 8,9,10). 

Finally, behavioural change and social innovation must be incentivised by all levels of government, including through economic and financial policy instruments, without unduly burdening the most vulnerable and those most often left behind.  

Include strategies and policies which primarily focus on avoiding unnecessary transport, while shifting to low carbon modes, and improving vehicle design, fuel efficiency and energy sources. Improve measures can deliver defined reductions in the short-term – but in the longer-term, an estimated 50% of emission reductions will come from avoid and shift policies, which must be implemented as soon as possible. 

Consider including holistic, systems-thinking solutions in your NDC, such as parking standards, reduced packaging to reduce freight volume, and online and in-home services to avoid transport demand.

A modal shift to public transport can serve multiple benefits, such as reducing daily travel emissions, improving air quality, and reducing productivity and economic losses caused by road congestion from private passenger vehicles. Shifting to active mobility by supporting improvements in walking and cycling infrastructure can significantly reduce emissions and increase equity in access to mobility, especially for the most vulnerable, while supporting healthy lifestyles.  

Find out more about the Avoid-Shift-Improve strategies here.

Investments in low carbon and resilient mobility systems offer financial savings and quality of life benefits beyond the scale and budget of the investments themselves. To enable delivery, ensure that your NDC contains specific measures to finance sustainable and resilient low carbon transport; including plans to shift investment away from high carbon transport towards lower carbon measures, such as rail, freight, public transport, walking, and cycling. Negative externalities must be included in transport prices, starting with the most polluting modes. Meaningful carbon pricing and tax exemptions can be impactful approaches.

Until now, public subsidies for fossil fuels have largely locked society into carbon-intensive road transport. Moving towards decarbonised transport systems will require the reform of transport subsidies in a manner that is socially, environmentally and economically responsible. The elimination of fossil fuel subsidies enables the acceleration of clean mobility and releases the resources needed to implement low carbon solutions. 

Good urban, transport, and land use planning, such as Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), can incentivise shifts to lower carbon modes, significantly mitigating emissions from the transport sector. Prioritising planning for lower carbon modes of transport, such as high-speed rail systems, has made it possible to better connect urban centres with each other, thus reducing urban sprawl. Including and coordinating planning measures in your NDC can also support a number of other goals related to: public transport, logistics, walking and cycling, safety and accessibility, improved access to goods and services, and wider socio-economic objectives such as place-making and social cohesion.

While many NDCs focus largely on mitigation measures, specific goals and plans for adaptation and resilience to climate change are equally important. Transport systems are extremely vulnerable to extreme weather events and sea-level rise, so planning for adaptation and resilience is essential and increases long-term returns on investment. 

Electric vehicles (EVs) are cheaper to run than conventional vehicles, thanks to lower fuel and maintenance costs. The higher the vehicle utilisation rate, the stronger the economic case. Setting electrification sub-targets for specific use cases, such as public and private sector fleets, helps drive market momentum, especially captive fleets with predictable driving and refueling patterns. The shortfall of EV supply from manufacturers and the lack of charging infrastructure are commonly cited barriers to electrification, so policy measures should aim to stimulate EV supply and deployment of charge points.

Given that global freight demand could triple by 2050, it is crucial that all NDCs set targets to reduce emissions from this source. While it may seem difficult, clean fuels and improved freight logistics are becoming increasingly more viable, and can provide direct savings for operators and consumers. Investing in sustainable rail, waterway, and multimodal hubs, enhancing system efficiency in freight and logistics, and incentivising low carbon last mile delivery are key measures to include.

It is essential for countries to use a full range of Avoid-Shift-Improve strategies to address fast-growing aviation and maritime transport emissions, aiming for ambition in line with the Paris Agreement. Some examples include “avoiding” through support for aviation taxes and charges and teleworking arrangements, “shifting” to high speed rail services, and “improving” with new fuels, better operations and more efficient vessels and aircraft design. Countries should propose and support goals on international aviation and maritime transport in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). 


Supporting case studies and resources by recommendation – continuously updated, please feel free to contribute!

GIZ – Enhancing Climate Ambition in Transport: Six Action Recommendations for Policymakers to Align Transport with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Agenda

WRI – Enhancing NDCs: Opportunities in Transport

Supporting Organisations

The recommendations have been compiled by the SLOCAT Partnership in collaboration with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)‘s Changing Transport, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), and the World Resources Institute (WRI), following an open consultation with additional contributions from: Alstom, the Climate Group, IDDRI, the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), the International Union of Railways (UIC), and Walk 21.

In collaboration with:

With contributions from: