A farmer carrying her produce to the local market, a ship being loaded with medical supplies, a child seated on a school bus – the movement of people and goods from point A to point B, whether going from a village to a town or across a continent or ocean, shapes sustainable development.

Sustainable transport – with its objectives of universal access, enhanced safety, reduced environmental and climate impact, improved resilience, and greater efficiency – is the focus of the 2nd Global Sustainable Transport Conference to be held in Beijing, China from 14 to 16 October.

The Conference will shine a light on the critical role of transport as more than just a provider of services and infrastructure for the mobility of people and goods. Think of sustainable transport as an accelerator pedal. Pushing it can trigger much faster progress across the (dash)board of many other Sustainable Development Goals, such as eradicating poverty in all its dimensions, reducing inequality, empowering women, and combatting climate change.

On a global level, sustainable transport can take us from A to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. And on a human level, it can connect those who currently face the largest difficulties in accessing and benefitting from mobility services.

All of these are well-known facts and yet we are not moving fast enough on sustainable transport. Over a billion people still lack access to an all-weather road, only about half the world’s urban population have convenient access to public transport, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29, and transport systems and infrastructure are not resilient enough to face the more frequent and more intense extreme weather events brought by climate change. On the flip side, transport is also responsible for about a quarter of direct carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

Over the last eighteen months, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the uneven patterns of recovery, have thrown into sharp focus the many ways in which transport and sustainable development are intertwined. At the same time, government and business commitments towards carbon neutrality, the falling prices of renewables, and pandemic-induced behaviour changes such as increased telecommuting or a greater reliance on walking and cycling, have all helped to bring closer the prospect of a massive transformation towards sustainability.

Efforts to improve the energy efficiency of all modes of transport and to increase the use of low-carbon fuels must shift into a higher gear over the next decade, as waiting to act would noticeably increase the cost of reaching climate targets. At the same time we have to make sure that in our race with time on climate, we do not leave anyone behind and that these transitions are accompanied by the expansion of access to transport services for all.

We have an opportunity now, a chance for all actors to supercharge the transition to sustainable transport and to leverage the lessons learned during the pandemic. Sustainable transport is achievable, but it requires stakeholders collaborating at all levels to overcome the historical fragmentation within the sector.