Expert Voices Vol 25, No. 11 - November 2021

Sustainable transport – where do we go from here?

Responsible for over a quarter of all direct greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, transport is a key element of the climate action puzzle. As we transition to a zero-emissions future, can we decarbonize our transport in a way that leaves no one behind? We ask Julie Powell, Sustainable Development Officer at UN DESA.

The landmark second Global Sustainable Transport Conference just wrapped up in Beijing. What did it achieve?

“Sustainable transport—with its objectives of universal access, enhanced safety, reduced environmental and climate impact, improved resilience, and greater efficiency—is central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement but has yet to deliver on its full potential.

The Global Sustainable Transport Conference provided a great opportunity to focus attention on the opportunities, challenges, and solutions towards achieving sustainable transport worldwide, bringing together approximately 1,000 participants representing over 130 governments, UN system and other stakeholders.

The Beijing Statement, presented by the Minister of Transport of China at the closing ceremony, contains recommendations to guide implementation for accelerating progress towards sustainable transport worldwide.”

As the COP 26 climate conference kicks off, how can we reduce carbon emissions from global transport without disrupting this vital lifeline for trade and development? Can we have the cake and eat it too? 

“In his opening statement at the Conference, UN Secretary-General Guterres stated that transport, which accounts for more than one quarter of global greenhouse gases, is key to getting on track to mitigate climate change. He emphasized that ‘we must decarbonize all means of transport, in order to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.’

Efforts to improve the energy efficiency of all modes of transport and to increase the use of zero-carbon fuels must be deepened and extended without delay over the next decade, as waiting to act would prevent us from reaching climate targets. Technological advances, such as electric vehicles, alternative fuels, as well as increased use of public transport, walking and cycling, are expected to play a major role in reducing overall road transport–related emissions. Relevant approaches, technologies and commitments by various stakeholders exist, but we must now urgently put them into action. Various noteworthy examples were presented at the Conference, including the Air Transport Action Group’s commitment to net-zero aviation by 2050 and the International Road Transport Union’s pledge to decarbonize commercial road transport by 2050.”

What’s the next stop for sustainable transport? What actions should we expect from countries, businesses, and the UN in the near future? 

“Sustainable transport has been gaining increasing momentum in global discussions and international forums and we expect this trend to continue, including at COP26 and the high-level meeting on road safety expected next year. The UN will continue to work closely with all partners to come up with sustainable solutions which can accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, including building resilience to future crises and shocks.”

What can our readers do in their daily lives to support sustainable transport?

“We would of course hope and encourage that all users try to use public transport, such as buses and subways, as well as walk and cycle as much as possible. We are aware of the lack of adequate transport systems in many countries and that transport safety, among others, remains a major issue and we are working together with all our UN or non- UN partners to change this situation so that all people can benefit from sustainable transport in the future.”

Learn more about the UN Sustainable Transport Conference here.

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