Climate-smart transport is a key piece of the sustainable development puzzle

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The modern tramway system in Rabat Salé, Morocco. Photo: LukaKikina/Shutterstock
When it comes to climate change, the transport sector is both a victim and a perpetrator . On the one hand, transport infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change  such as higher temperatures, increased precipitations, and flooding. At the same time, transport is responsible for 23% of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions , and is one of the sectors where emissions are rising the fastest. This statistic alone makes it pretty clear that t here will be no significant progress on climate action without greener, more sustainable mobility .

Yet, before COP21, the transport sector was conspicuously absent from climate talks. The strong, structured presence we saw last year in Paris and this year in Marrakech is finally commensurate with the urgency needed to address the transport-related issues on the climate agenda.

The rising importance of transport in the global conversation is reflected in major commitments  like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. As an example, over 70% of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that countries have proposed to implement the Paris Agreement include transport commitments, ranging from increasing public transport in cities to shifting freight from roads to railways and waterways.

At the national level, more and more countries are now pro-actively seeking opportunities to move toward cleaner and smarter mobility . As host of this year’s COP, Morocco is leading by example through initiatives like the forthcoming Association for Sustainable Road Transport, as well as a number of climate-friendly public transport projects. Further south, Mozambique is looking into a variety of scenarios to move people and freight more efficiently, while keeping transport-related emissions in check. In India, transport will play a key part in decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions  and meeting the country’s NDCs. More specifically, the government intends to promote climate-smart transport through three major shifts: private to public transport in cities; roads to rail and waterways for freight; and fossil to non-fossil fuels.

At the World Bank, we are working to help our clients fulfil these commitments, with a focus on three major areas:
To keep the momentum going, we now need to articulate a clear, coherent vision for sustainable mobility, matched with adequate climate financing. To that end, the World Bank is supporting Sustainable Mobility for All (SM4A), a coordination mechanism that will help both public and private players in the transport sector get organized around a common platform. With SM4A, the transport community will speak with one comprehensive and cohesive voice, and will be able to help governments integrate climate considerations into their transport plans more effectively.

But what exactly is the driving force behind these initiatives? Ultimately, it’s not just about reducing the carbon footprint of transport or protecting the sector against the effects of climate change. By boosting economic growth and expanding access to jobs and services, investment in climate-smart transport has the potential to become a true development win-win  that positively impacts all aspects of sustainability: environmental, of course, but also social and economic. This is exactly the kind of co-benefits we need to pursue if we are serious about building a greener, inclusive, and prosperous future.


Jose Luis Irigoyen

Senior Director, Transport and ICT Global Practice

Shomik Mehndiratta

Practice Manager for Transport in Europe and Central Asia, World Bank

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