Four ways high-quality regional connectivity has greater climate benefits in South Asia

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inland waterway inland waterway

Countries across the world are stepping up to tackle the impending calamity of global warming through interventions in a range of sectors such as renewable energy, carbon markets, and sustainable agriculture. There is one sector in particular that requires urgent and joint action for climate benefits—transport.  
With the world population projected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, annual passenger traffic is expected to grow by 50% and global freight volume by 70%.  Transport emits about 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is expected to increase by 60% by 2050 if no action is taken. Decarbonizing transport can contribute substantially to lowering these emissions and to achieving the 1.5-degree climate goal .  

Connectivity is strong on the agenda of South Asian countries although it continues to be one of the least integrated regions of the world. High-quality regional connectivity will not only boost intraregional trade and economic integration, but also support greater climate resilience and lower carbon emissions . Here is how we are supporting South Asia’s regional connectivity priorities with greater climate benefits: 

1.  The GRID approach— leaving no one behind 

The World Bank introduced the Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development (GRID) approach in 2021 to promote economic growth that goes hand in hand with environmental goals and inclusion. The approach sets a path toward achieving lasting economic progress that is shared across the population, providing a robust recovery, and restoring momentum on the Sustainable Development Goals. In South Asia, under this approach, regional connectivity projects are supporting transitions to low carbon ecosystems in four ways – avoiding unnecessary motorized travel; shifting to cleaner transport solutions; improving the efficiency of transport infrastructure and services; and strengthening transport systems to enhance resilience. Nepal has adopted a GRID approach and a Strategic Action Plan to support its implementation is under preparation.

2.    Rejuvenating waterways as green, inclusive connectors   

Infographic, World Bank

In eastern South Asia, rivers were the oldest means of transport and a dense lattice of waterways in the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta once carried over 70% of goods and passengers. These days less than 2% of goods are transported by water and 75% of intra-regional trade is via roads. Most roads are crowded two-lane thoroughfares where trucks travel at less than 30 kmph. The narrow roads are also often incapable of accommodating larger vehicles or containers. Switching to rail or waterways, particularly for freight transport, can make transportation efficient and affordable, and offer significant decarbonization benefits. For example, it is estimated that transporting bulk goods by water in India costs about 40% less than road and consumes 75-80 % less fuel. 

To consolidate several individual investments into waterways, the Bank is supporting a comprehensive Eastern Waterways Grid between India and Bangladesh by interlinking their rivers and connecting them with roads and rail to reach the last mile. With approved investments of USD 1.7 billion, it will connect 3,500 km of waterways in the BBIN region through Indo-Bangladesh Protocol routes and provide last mile land connectivity to landlocked Nepal and Bhutan from designated ports. Connecting inland waterways with coastal shipping is also being envisaged. 

3. Creating Rail Freight Corridors for green transport connectivity 

The India Rail Logistics Project is supporting the modernization of rail freight and logistics infrastructure, with an aim to shift passenger traffic and freight from road to rail, making it more efficient and green. This complements the World Bank’s  $1.8 billion support for India’s Eastern Dedicated Rail Freight Corridor, a freight-only railway line that is part of India’s most ambitious railway project since independence.  The Indian Railways is the world’s fourth-largest rail network. It transported 1.2 billion tons of freight in 2019 and 2020, which is about 17% of India’s total freight. Roads, on the other hand, carry the bulk of India’s freight and account for 95% of emissions from the freight sector. In comparison, rail emits about 20% of trucks’ GHG emissions, making it a clear climate winner.  

freight corridor
Rail emits about 20% of trucks’ GHG emissions, making it a clear climate winner. Credit: Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited

India has ramped up its infrastructure investment in railways with a focus on improving freight connectivity with its Northeast, and with Bangladesh and Nepal. With the Indian Railways planning to become a net-zero carbon emitter by 2030, there is potential to eliminate 7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide and other GHGs each year  through the modernization of rail freight and logistics infrastructure, and by strengthening connectivity with neighboring South Asian countries. The Bank is supporting areas including the development of multimodal hubs, container terminals and integrated transport services in India’s North Eastern Region, and also providing complementary investments in Bangladesh Railways. A Regional Railway Agreement is being discussed to support regional rail services. 

4. An integrated approach to transport decarbonization 

The Global Facility to Decarbonize Transport (GFDT)  was launched by the World Bank in 2021 and aims to accelerate investments and innovation toward climate-smart transport so that countries do not have to choose between development and climate action. For South Asian countries, GFDT provides opportunity to conduct research and analytical work to help prepare high-impact regional and national projects, and pilot a new generation of climate-smart transport programs with a focus on innovative solutions. 

The transport sector has the potential to contribute significantly to robust economic recovery in South Asia by improving the quality of life and livelihood of people through green mobility.  This relies on solutions that are innovative and co-created, making it a critical moment for all stakeholders to join hands for a green, resilient, inclusive and a connected future. 


Mandakini Kaul

Regional Coordinator, South Asia Regional Integration and Engagement

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