The Second UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference, which brought together more than 100 countries along with thousands of experts, activists and business leaders, concluded today with a call to accelerate progress towards achieving sustainable transport that would result in major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and in improving the lives of millions of people.
The Conference participants agreed that without a profound shift to sustainable mobility, achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals — already off-track — would be impossible.
The 3-day conference, hosted by the People’s Republic of China, came at a critical juncture, just over two weeks before COP26 in Glasgow where the world will address the climate emergency, and as the world stands on the cusp of a transport revolution — driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic —that requires sound direction.
Speaking at the opening of the Conference by video message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted, “COVID-19 has pushed an estimated 120 million people into extreme poverty, 160 million into hunger, and set back education for around 100 million children. We are further from realizing the Sustainable Development Goals on climate, ocean, and biodiversity than we were when they were agreed six years ago.”
Warning that the door on climate action was closing, he called for the decarbonization of all means of transport, in order to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 globally.
More specifically, the Secretary-General specifically called for phasing out the production of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 for leading manufacturing countries, and by 2040 for developing countries; for zero emission ships to become the default choice, and commercially available for all by 2030, in order to achieve zero emissions in the shipping sector by 2050; and that companies start using sustainable aviation fuels now, in order to cut carbon emissions per passenger by 65 per cent by 2050.
The Conference concluded with the Beijing Statement, which called for adopting integrated, interdisciplinary, and cross-sectoral approaches, supported by greater international cooperation.
In his remarks to the Conference, China’s President Xi Jinping committed to establishing a Global Innovation and Knowledge Center for Sustainable Transport as a contribution to global transport development.
Countries participating in the Conference said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the important role that the transport sector plays in building communities and supporting livelihoods, impacting the movement of both freight and people. The pandemic caused job losses and a disruption to global supply chains. As a result, communities and countries that depend on tourism experienced huge losses in revenue.
Connectivity is also an issue. Over 1 billion people worldwide still lack adequate access to an all-weather road, especially in developing countries, including countries in special situations. In Africa, 450 million people, more than 70 per cent of the total rural population, remain unconnected to transport infrastructure and systems. Transport tailpipe emissions alone are linked to almost 400,000 deaths and in addition to human loss and suffering, road traffic accidents cause billions of dollars of associated costs which amounts, in many countries, to 3 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The positive impact of technological change
The transition to e-mobility — transport that is resilient, safe, affordable and green — can improve lives and have a positive impact on the environment. From bike sharing and carpooling to improved public transit and the increased use of electric vehicles and buses powered by renewable energy, countries, businesses and communities are stepping up efforts to transition to more environmentally friendly modes.
“We have the opportunity now to capture the innovation and technology that can revolutionize transport,” said Conference Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. “But these new technologies have to work for everyone. We have the solutions, and now we need the global cooperation to ensure that sustainable transport will be the engine that powers our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of the Paris Agreement.”
Progress is insufficient
However, challenges remain. While some member states have made some initial steps to address emissions from shipping and aviation, for example, current commitments are not enough to meet the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement.
Countries in special situations, remote rural communities and vulnerable groups, risk being left behind as the number of new and emerging transport-related technologies increase. More than $2 trillion of transport infrastructure investments will be needed each year until 2040 to fuel economic development. There is also a need for stronger policies on road safety measures and regulations on the import of new and used vehicles.
Learn more about the UN Sustainable Transport Conference: https://www.un.org/transport2021
Commitments on sustainable transport: https://www.un.org/en/conferences/transport2021/commitments
Interagency report on sustainable transport - ’Sustainable Transport, Sustainable Development’: bit.ly/transportreportUN