• Bank's Transforming Transportation Forum focused on turning global transport commitments into action.
  • Investments in massive public transport can have transformational impact on development and climate challenges.
  • Participants discussed possibility of unified framework for public and private sector to track contributions to climate, SDG and road targets.

Source: World Bank Group




If you were at the Bank's main complex last Thursday or Friday, you probably noticed a buzz in the surroundings of the Preston auditorium. What was all the noise about? Transforming Transportation: the annual flagship event co-organized by the Transport & ICT global practice and the World Resources Institute's Embarq and Ross Center for Sustainable Cities programs.

This year's theme "From the Global Agenda to Local Action" generated particular hype amongst the almost thousand participants—policymakers, practitioners, academics, and private sector—given the global agreements on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), climate change, and road safety that marked the year 2015.

Several SDGs are directly or indirectly linked to urban mobility, cities, and access to markets and services like health and education where transport plays a fundamental role. More than 61 percent of countries' NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions, i.e. climate action plans) propose actions to mitigate emissions from the transport sector. And the November 2015 Brasilia Declaration on Road Safety reaffirmed the international community's commitment to SDG 3.6, which is to halve deaths from road crashes by 2020.

The transport sector is, therefore, at the heart of these global commitments and targets—not only because transport is part of the climate and development challenge, but also because it is a big part of the solution.

In their opening remarks, Vice President for Sustainable Development Laura Tuck, and President/CEO of WRI Andrew Steers coincided on the need for "disruptive action," going beyond incremental ones, to help countries meet ambitious global targets on sustainable development.

"After COP21, we need to be disruptive: designing cities around people not automobiles," noted Steers.

Tuck reminded participants that the Bank plans to increase its climate-friendly transport lending by almost 10 percent by 2020, from 26 to 35 percent, from $1.3 billion to about $2 billion.

"One of the crucial next steps for us will be to help governments translate their NDCs into tangible programs and investments, and get resources flowing on the ground to those countries and activities where action is needed most," she said.


Transport as a solution


Under a business-as-usual scenario, however, GHG emissions from transport are set to rise from 23 percent of the global total to 33 percent by 2050. Car ownership worldwide could triple to more than 2 billion privately owned cars by 2050, trucking activity could double, and air travel could increase four-fold. Furthermore, 1.25 million people die on the roads each year, with 90 percent of the total traffic fatality rates in low-income countries.

This is why Pierre Guislain, senior director for the Transport & ICT global practice, stressed the need for more radical action. "This is not the time for business as usual and incremental action—this will not suffice. We must help governments articulate and flesh out their targets and cascade them down to the local level," he said. "And we must help them create an enabling policy and regulatory environment for investments in sustainable transport." Guislain also called on bilateral donors to increase their participation in climate financing.

A comprehensive modal shift, for example, from roads toward railways and waterways, and toward metros, bus rapid transit (BRT) and community trains in large urban areas can have a huge, transformational impact. Massive public transport, in particular, can reduce GHG emissions, bring down energy use, reduce congestion and pollution, make roads safer and give the poor greater access to goods and services.


Immediate actions


It is in this context that participants at Transforming Transportation discussed over two days a variety of topics at the nexus of transport, climate and sustainable development: from the role of transport and cities as key drivers for meeting climate goals, to getting innovative in financing mobility, and designing cities for greater road safety.

Various actions or opportunities stand out in 2016. One is the upcoming Climate Action Summit to be held in Washington, DC in May. The summit will be instrumental in bringing together public and private actors in the transport sector. Another opportunity, as mentioned by Guislain, is to articulate a unified framework that will enable tracking of the various contributions to the climate, SDG and road targets, both by public and private actors. This framework can be essential for building momentum toward an effective "new urban agenda" at the UN Habitat's Habitat III later this year.


Shifting the paradigm


This year's Transforming Transportation indeed played a pivotal role in kick-starting a crucial conversation on how to most effectively and innovatively turn global transport commitments into real action. It became clear that disruptive change and a shift in paradigm are needed to seize the opportunities offered by the global targets on climate, SDGs and road safety.

The road towards sustainable transport modes is long and hard, but worth travelling. No doubt that transport and cities can play a transformational role in achieving sustainable growth.