Expert voices Vol 24, No. 02 - February 2020

Shifting gears toward sustainable transport

Trains, bike paths, ships, roads – we all rely on transport to get to school or work, and to get the food and products we need to live. But we could be moving people and goods in a smarter, greener and more inclusive way. To help us get there, the second Global Sustainable Transport Conference this May in Beijing will bring together governments, the private sector, academia and civil society to rethink the way we move people and goods and consider innovative ways to improve our transport systems. We spoke with Julie Powell, a Sustainable Development Officer in UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development Goals about what to expect.

What do we mean when we say sustainable transport?

“Transport enables the mobility of people and goods. It enhances economic growth and livelihoods while improving access to services, such as health, education and finance. It strengthens connectivity at all levels, helping integrate economies, improving social equity, enhancing rural-urban linkages and building resilience.

At the same time, transport can have negative environmental, social and health impacts, such as road crashes and contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the transport sector accounts for around a quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions.

Sustainable transport seeks to alleviate these negative impacts and provide services and infrastructure for the mobility of people and goods in a manner that is inclusive, safe, affordable, accessible, efficient and resilient. UN DESA is part of the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative (SuM4All), which defines four main objectives of sustainable transport: universal access, efficiency, safety and green mobility. As you can see, sustainable transport is not an end in itself, but rather a means to help all people achieve a better life, both for this generation and the next.”

What are the major obstacles in achieving sustainable transport, and some good ways for working around them?

“The challenges related to achieving sustainable transport are multiple and can differ from country to country. Global megatrends, such as population growth and increased urbanization, will exacerbate these challenges and pose many new ones. This is also true for climate change, which increases challenges related to resilience.

At the same time, we need to be proactive in ensuring access for all. In order to meet the increasing and changing transport demands, while preserving the planet for current and future generations, we will have to change the way we see, plan, develop and use our transport systems. This will ideally not only affect our own behavior, but also the way we establish policies, develop technologies and design our cities, supply chains and overall transport systems.”

How can sustainable transport accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate action?

“Advances in sustainable transport are crucial for reaching many of the SDGs and will give a significant boost to climate action, given the sector’s contribution to climate change. Some SDGs are directly connected to sustainable transport through targets and indicators, such as SDG target 3.6 on road safety, SDG 9.1 on infrastructure and SDG 11.2 on providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all and expanding public transport.

Many others are also connected through the enabling role of sustainable transport across the 2030 Agenda. Progress can only be accelerated if the systems that connect across the goals and targets of the SDGs are transformed in ways that resolve trade-offs and deliver on the potential synergies, as recently emphasized in the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019. Only continued collaboration by all stakeholders can move the sustainable transport agenda forward.”

How will the second Sustainable Transport Conference move us in the right direction?

“The second United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference is a unique opportunity to underscore the importance of sustainable transport for the SDGs and climate action. As a Secretary-General’s Conference, it will bring together key stakeholders from governments, the UN system and other international organizations, the private sector, and civil society. This will reflect the diversity and complexity of the transport sector and offer an occasion for vivid exchange of ideas and solutions.

The Conference will be an opportunity for policy dialogue as well as forging partnerships and initiatives to advance sustainable transport worldwide, especially in the context of the Decade of Action. It will shine a spotlight on the needs and challenges of vulnerable groups and developing countries, including least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states.

Apart from plenary sessions and parallel thematic sessions, the Conference programme will also comprise a Minister’s Forum, Business Forum and a Science, Engineering and Technology Forum. All stakeholders will be encouraged to register measurable, bold commitments toward building the sustainable transport systems we need. We expect participants to scale up the existing partnerships for sustainable transport and build new, durable partnerships.

For more information:

Second Global Sustainable Transport Conference

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