What you need to know:
- Transport contributes about a quarter of direct carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.
- Improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of low- or zero-carbon energy sources must be extended.
Early last year, as economies and societies the world over began to shut down in a bid to reduce the spread of Covid-19, I was, like many of us, reminded of how closely we are interlinked through transport. The mobility of people and goods — the lifeblood of many livelihoods and trade; the bridge for people to access health, education, food and finance — suddenly ground to a near-halt.
Fast forward to today. Under the shadow of the pandemic, we have lost years, if not decades, of progress towards poverty eradication. Inequalities have widened. Economic growth prospects are uneven and uncertain. Climate change has continued inexorably, with its disastrous effects ever more evident.
But we can still achieve a better future by following the roadmaps of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change — if we ramp up our collective effort. Let us direct our attention towards areas with deep, systemic links across the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
One of these crucial areas is sustainable transport. It aims to boost greener economic growth, secure universal access for people, enhance road safety, improve resilience and greater efficiency and reduce the environmental impact on air. Achieving that can reverse many of the sustainable development setbacks while setting the course more firmly towards a sustainable and equitable future for all.
But we still have quite a distance to go: Over a billion people lack access to an all-weather road and only half the urban population has convenient access to public transport. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among youth aged 15-29 and transport systems are not resilient enough amid frequent and more intense extreme weather events. Transport contributes about a quarter of direct carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Safe and affordable transport
The United Nations Second Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Beijing from yesterday, ending tomorrow, is an opportunity for the kind of knowledge-sharing, collaboration and dialogue necessary to advance progress in sustainable transport.
I see three main priorities. First, we have to make sure that transport is accessible, safe and affordable for everyone, everywhere. Land-locked developing countries, least-developed countries and small island developing states need support to leapfrog toward sustainable, resilient connections with global and regional networks. Also ensure transport safety and accessibility for people who face the most difficulties in availing of mobility services.
Secondly, more need to be done — and faster — in mobilising transport for climate action. Improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of low- or zero-carbon energy sources must be extended. Also, invest in more resilient infrastructure. Let us also not create inequality or environmental damage.
Thirdly, we must work cohesively within countries and through international cooperation. Solutions exist for many of our interconnected challenges and others are being developed. But we must overcome our historic fragmentation for the common goal.
Let us make sustainable transport a force for the SDGs and climate action. lest we miss the 2030 boat.
Mr Liu is the Under-Secretary-General for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.