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sustainable development goals

Why sustainable mobility matters

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Photo: Mariana Gil/WRI
In the 1960s, the vision of future mobility was people with jet packs and flying cars – we believed these innovations wouldn’t be far off after the moon landing in 1969. Obviously, the reality in 2017 is somewhat different.

Today, we have congestion in cities, rural areas cut off from the rest of the world, and too many people without access to safe, efficient, and green transport. This stifles markets and hinders people from the jobs that will help them escape poverty. Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And perhaps the most tragic reality is this: that approximately 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents. Young people, those between the ages of 15-29, are the most affected by road crashes. This heartbreaking and preventable loss of life should be a clear signal that road safety matters.

At the same time, how we change transport is vitally important and will impact generations to come.

Sustainable mobility: Who's who and who does what?

Shokraneh Minovi's picture


Some might call it an existential question. Some may be surprised that the answer is not clear. When it comes to sustainable mobility initiatives and stakeholders, who is who, and who does what? Addressing these questions is a key pre-requisite to the transformation of the transport sector and the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs, the Global Decade of Action for Road Safety, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the Vienna Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries, over 100 different organizations and initiatives… It’s enough to make your head spin! As the world increasingly recognizes the importance of mobility to the overall sustainable development agenda, the number of stakeholders in this arena has been growing steadily. Although many established groups have been warning us for years about the role of transport in the fight against climate change—the sector accounts for some 23% of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions—many newer players are now adding their voice to the global conversation.

From public transport agencies to car companies and ride-sharing platforms, clean fuel advocates, maritime transport groups, and electric vehicle proponents, a dizzying array of sector-specific initiatives have emerged over the last few years. Newer city-specific coalitions, such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Compact of Mayors, have played a critical role in relaying these concerns at the local level. However, global initiatives have been the ones that have seen the most impressive growth. Also in the mix are globally minded, from UN entities to smaller NGOS, as well as region-specific organizations such as regional development banks.

What’s the solution to untangling this web of stakeholders? Over the past six months, the World Bank, with support from the World Economic Forum, has mapped out major transport initiatives and organizations as comprehensively and systematically as possible.

How far are we on the road to sustainable mobility?

Nancy Vandycke's picture
You can now download the full report and explore the main findings on sum4all.org
The answer, unfortunately, is not very. The world is off track to achieving sustainable mobility. The demand for moving people and goods across the globe is increasingly met at the expense of future generations.
 
That is the verdict of the Global Mobility Report (GMR)—the first ever assessment of the global transport sector and the progress made toward achieving sustainable mobility.
 
This is the first major output of the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative (SuM4All), a global, multi-stakeholder partnership proposed last year at the United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit with the purpose of realizing a future where mobility is sustainable. The release of this study puts a sector often overlooked by the international community squarely on the map as essential to address inclusion, health, climate change and global integration.
 
The report defines sustainable mobility in terms of four goals: universal access, efficiency, safety, and green mobility. If sustainable mobility is to be achieved, these four goals need to be pursued simultaneously.

Sustainable mobility: can the world speak with one voice?

Nancy Vandycke's picture

 
The transport sector is changing at breakneck speed.
 
By 2030, global passenger traffic is set to rise by 50%, and freight volume by 70%. By 2050, we will have twice as many vehicles on the road, with most of the increase coming from emerging markets, where steady economic expansion is creating new lifestyle expectations and mobility aspirations. Mega-projects like China’s One Belt, One Road could connect more than half of the world’s population, and roughly a quarter of the goods that move around the globe by land and sea.
 
These transformations create a unique opportunity to improve the lives and livelihoods of billions of people by facilitating access to jobs, markets, and essential services such as healthcare or education.
 
But the growth of the transport sector could also come at the cost of higher fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, increasing air and noise pollution, a growing number of road fatalities, and worsening inequities in access.
 
Although these are, of course, global challenges, developing countries are disproportionately affected.
 
The vast majority of the one billion people who still don’t have access to an all-weather road live in the developing world. Although low and middle-income countries are home to only 54% of the world’s vehicles, they account for 90% of the 1.25 million road deaths occurring every year. If we don’t take action now, transport emissions from emerging markets could triple by 2050, and would make up 75% of the global total.
 
While the case for sustainable mobility is evident, the sector still lacks coherence and clear objectives. There is a way forward, but it requires pro-active cooperation between all stakeholders.
 
That’s what motivated the creation of Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All), a partnership between a wide range of global actors determined to speak with one voice and steer mobility in the right direction.
 
SuM4All partners include Multilateral Development Banks, United Nations Agencies, bilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and is open to other important entities such as national governments and private companies. Together, these organizations can pool their capacity and experience to orient policymaking, turn ideas into action, and mobilize financing.

Is it too early to agree on SDG indicators for transport?

Muneeza Mehmood Alam's picture

 
In March, the international community of statisticians will gather in New York and Ottawa to discuss and agree on a global indicator framework for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the 169 targets of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The task at hand is ambitious. In 2015, heads of state from around the world committed to do nothing less than “transform our world”. Monitoring progress towards this ambition is essential, but technically and politically challenging: it will require endorsement from all UN Member States on how to measure progress. In March, it will be the second attempt at getting this endorsement.

Why is it important? “What gets measured, gets done”. Measuring progress is essential for transparency and accountability. It allows us to understand our accomplishments and failures along the way, and identify corrective measures and actions—in short, it allows us to get things done.

What is the issue? Politically, the SDG process has been country led. This means that countries—and not international agencies, as in the case of the Millennium Development Goals—have guided the whole SDG process, including leading discussions and the selection of goals, targets and indicators.   Technically, the development of a robust and high-quality indicator framework is highly complex: the indicator should align closely with each target, have an agreed-upon methodology, and have global coverage. In reality, many indicators do not. For example, the indicator proposed to measure the 11.2 SDG target (“By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all”) is the “proportion of population that has convenient access to public transport”. Data is not yet available for this indicator. Additional indicators may be needed to cover all aspects of the target.

Getting a global initiative off the ground: What can transport learn from energy?

Nancy Vandycke's picture

In May last year, key stakeholders joined the World Bank Group in calling for global and more concerted action to address the climate impact of transport while ensuring mobility for everyone. More recently, the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport noted, in its final recommendations to Ban Ki-Moon, emphasized the need for “coalitions or partnership networks” to “strengthen coherence” for scaling up sustainable transport, as well as establishing monitoring and evaluation frameworks. These issues have been raised at Habitat III, COP22 and at the Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Ashgabat.
 
As the global community readies itself to move from commitments to implementation, what can transport learn from similar initiatives in other sectors, such as Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All)?

Halving road deaths

Pierre Guislain's picture
Road traffic fatalities per 100,000 population
Roads are the dominant means of transportation worldwide. They connect people, communities, and markets together—bringing opportunities to the poor and enabling broad-based economic growth. Yet every year, millions of tragic and preventable deaths and serious injuries result from road safety failings. Although solutions are available and progress has been made, efforts to reduce traffic fatalities remain insufficient, especially in low and middle income countries. Urgent action is needed if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development target 3.6 of cutting the number of road fatalities in half.
 
As things stand, every 30 seconds a person is killed in a road crash. To see how many road deaths there are in your country each year, click here. And that’s not all: for every death in a road crash, there are generally at least 20 times as many injuries.
 
In many countries, school children have to gamble their lives to get an education, crossing against speeding traffic to get to school. Approximately 500 children die every day in road crashes, with many of these deaths occurring when children try to cross the road on their way to and from school. Click here to see Luc Besson’s striking 3-minute film on this situation.
 
Over 90% of road fatalities and injuries occur in low and middle income countries. Rapid motorization in developing countries, when it takes place without effective road safety management and infrastructure, contributes to the epidemic of road deaths.

Marching towards tomorrow, and onwards for safety

Marc Shotten's picture

Blink and you may have missed that the beginning of May was the third United Nations Road Safety Week.  As with everything omnipresent in our lives, the steady drumbeat of the nightly local news reporting a fatal wreck or injury may only cause a passing glance. Yet, a number of recent actions have focused international institutions, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and others together to take on the number one killer of young people worldwide: road crashes.

GRSF’s Marc Shotten at the UN SDG Briefing
The end of April saw the United Nations Secretary General announced the creation of a Special Envoy for Road Safety, signaling a new level of growing attention to the topic. While this year’s UN Road Safety Week was dedicated to the theme of protecting children, it’s really about ensuring the safety of all ages, especially in the developing world, where 90 percent of road crashes occur each year.


The United Kingdom, Netherlands and Sweden consistently occupy the top of the road safety league table. As the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 hits its mid-point, practitioners are working on transferring these countries’ (and others) lessons more quickly across the developing world. In the meantime, the overall cost of fatal and serious injuries in just the 80 lowest-income countries is estimated to be a staggering $220 billion per year and a global average equivalent to 3-5% of GDP loss.

Action is needed now, to avoid the forecasted rise of road fatalities to be the fifth-overall leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.

There will likely not be a single breakthrough moment to get this topic into the realm of more mainstreamed development issues, but rather a series of sustained pushes across spheres of activity at the country, regional and global level. The month of March 2015 saw three telling activities play out with global aspirations.

Transforming Transportation 2015: Turning momentum into action

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture
What will the city of the future look like? How can we unlock the potential of urbanization to create safe, accessible and prosperous societies? At Transforming Transportation 2015 – the annual conference co-organized by the World Resources Institute and the World Bank– we learned about the role of urban mobility in creating smart, sustainable cities and boosting shared prosperity.
 
Felipe Calderón addresses the 
audience at
Transforming Transportation 2015

With 75 percent of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 yet to be built, actions taken right now will shape urbanization patterns and quality of life for decades. It is urgent that global leaders concentrate now on ensuring that cities are sustainable, inclusive and prosperous.  
 
The year 2015 provides three big opportunities to build global momentum around the course for change. These are the potential for a binding international climate agreement coming out of COP21, a new development agenda set forth by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and a platform for prioritizing safe, equitable cities through the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. The coming year raises the stakes, with the 2016 Habitat III conference expected to be one of the most influential gatherings in history focusing on making cities more livable and sustainable.

Five Opportunities for 21st-Century Transport

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture
The world is in the midst of unprecedented urbanization, with cities expected to hold 5.2 billion residents by 2050. One of the major challenges of the 21st century, therefore, is achieving a sustainable future for our cities. And transport – which connects people to economic opportunities, education, health services, and more – can make or break “The Future We Want.”

Decisions made at international summits this year and next will establish the framework for global action for decades to come. The transport sector’s future impact on mobility, congestion, economic opportunity, human health, and climate change will be determined by the choices we make today. To ensure transport contributes to poverty reduction and shared prosperity, a shift is needed in the way urban mobility systems are planned and designed. Building a sustainable transport future will require an integrated approach with the cooperation of multiple stakeholders: transport and city leaders, as well as the development and business communities.

In this spirit, the team of co-organizers and partner organizations behind Transforming Transportation – a two-day conference beginning today that convenes business leaders, policymakers, and city and transport officials – has identified five opportunities to move human society toward transport of the 21st century. These areas for action include: road safety, mid-sized cities, regional and local governments, finance, and data and technology.

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