From electric cars and buses to zero-carbon producing energy sources, new and emerging technologies along with innovative policy changes, are critical for combating climate change. But to be effective, they must ensure that transport strategies benefit everyone, including the poorest, according to a new UN multi-agency report launched on Tuesday.
The “clock is ticking on our 2030 timeline” to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the head of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), Liu Zhenmin, said in the foreword of Sustainable Transport, Sustainable Development.
‘Focused, global effort’
In preparation for the second Global Sustainable Transport Conference, kicking off on Thursday in the Chinese capital of Beijing and online, the new report charts a forward course to an integrated, sustainable approach towards making cities safe and resilient, as outlined in SDG 11 .
“Two years into the UN Decade of Action for the SDGs, we must recognize that accelerated progress is needed simultaneously across multiple goals and targets”, Mr. Liu said.
As such, it is necessary to make “a focused, global effort” in areas where there are deep, systemic links across the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, he said, describing sustainable transport as “one of these crucial areas”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has set back years of progress towards eradicating poverty, ending hunger, empowering women, strengthening education and improving public health.
However, climate change has continued inexorably.
“Global average temperatures in 2020 were 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, inching perilously close to the desired limit of 1.5°C”, said the DESA chief.
The pandemic also delayed the Transport Conference a year and a half later than originally planned.
Recovery from the pandemic will give everyone a chance to rethink passenger and freight transport along with integrated solutions toward achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to the report.
Since the first Transport Conference, held five years ago in Turkmenistan, there has been an increasing appreciation of the importance of sustainable transport in a world linked ever closer by globalization and digitalization.
“Transport is vital for promoting connectivity, trade, economic growth and employment. Yet it is also implicated as a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions”, reminded Mr. Liu.
“Resolving these trade-offs are essential to achieving sustainable transport and, through that, sustainable development”.
The Sustainable Transport report upholds that, when appropriately applied, new and emerging technologies are key to solving many pressing challenges by accelerating existing solutions, such as low-/zero-carbon vehicles and intelligent transport systems and creating new fuel, power and digital infrastructures that mitigate harmful consequences.
“Innovations, driven by new technologies, evolving consumer preferences and supportive policymaking, are changing the transport landscape”, acknowledged Mr. Liu.
A shifting scene
While science holds tremendous potential for transforming to sustainability, some new technologies also risk further entrenching inequalities, imposing constraints specific countries or presenting additional challenges for the environment.
Therefore, they must be accompanied by measures to maintain and expand equitable access to transport services as well as those that mitigate environmental impacts across vehicles’ entire product cycle.
The report encourages Governments and international bodies to regulate the development and deployment of all new transport technologies.
Describing the upcoming Conference as “a landmark moment for stakeholders from across the world”, the head of DESA described it as an opportunity “to discuss challenges and opportunities, good practices and solutions”.
The report was prepared by DESA in collaboration with an extensive network of UN agencies, will present substantive background to discussions and options for the way forward.