Connecting the dots between transport, food, water, and energy for a more sustainable future

Connecting the dots between transport, food, water, and energy for a more sustainable future Connecting the dots between transport, food, water, and energy for a more sustainable future

In November 2022, the Egyptian Presidency will host the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). As more countries and communities come to realize the significance of the impending climate crisis, the stakes—and the expectations—have never been higher. This year’s COP is expected to make advances on several fronts, including adaptation, the just transition toward decarbonization, and climate finance. One also expects several announcements and launches of new initiatives and programs, such as the Sustainable Transport Initiative. 

Other new initiatives looking at the nexus between water, food, and energy investments that are under discussion for COP look promising because they consider one important reality: when dealing with a challenge as complex as climate change, we cannot just focus on one issue in isolation and need to find effective ways of investing across sectoral lines. Working together is the only realistic option we have if we want to make fast and meaningful progress on the climate agenda. 

As these conversations shape up, we will also have to give priority to Africa—a region that is particularly vulnerable to climate risk despite its small share in global GHG emissions. According to the WEF Global Climate Risk Index, five of the ten countries most affected by climate change in 2019 are in Africa. 

From a thematic standpoint, focusing on the nexus between climate, water, food, and energy makes a lot of sense, including in the African context. COP27 comes at a time when one in three people globally cannot access safe drinking water and adequate food, with the climate crisis putting increasing pressure on water supply and agriculture. 

In this equation, transport plays a critical role in enabling those sectors to achieve better outcomes. For example, the war in Ukraine led to shipment blockages at Black Sea ports, leading to an acute food crisis in the Middle East and North Africa. This rippled to the Horn of Africa, as tens of millions of people who are dependent on grains imported from Ukraine and Russia faced extreme hunger in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Over in South Asia, transport systems’ breakdowns in Bangladesh led to perishable food product dumping and dramatic price reductions at the farm gate. This affected food security for rural producers.   

How transport can support other sectors

From agriculture to water and energy supply, there are many sectors and industries that could gain from higher, smarter investment in sustainable transport.  As an example, evidence shows that transport systems that are efficient, safe, and green lower transport costs and thereby food prices. This is a critical element in reducing food wastage and ensuring food security.   

Often, there are missed opportunities in joint action. Many major transport corridors have been constructed side-by-side with water and electricity distribution systems. Collaborative planning across these sectors could have lowered the costs and optimized economic and social benefits. 

There is a lot of room for improvement if we want to build more sustainable transport systems and optimize their contributions to other sectors, as evidenced by the recent Mobility Performance at a Glance: Country Dashboards 2022 report. This report compiles the profiles of transport and mobility systems of 183 countries, using the latest data available for 60 transport indicators, and ranks these countries based on their system performances. 

The benefits of integrated policymaking

The energy, food, and water sectors cannot achieve their overall development objectives without complementary policies in the transport sector. For example, investing in agriculture and water security is not sufficient to achieve food security. Complementary policies in logistics networks and supply chains are needed. 

Similarly, it is now widely recognized that the decarbonization of economies will go through complementary investments and policies in energy and transport. For example, an electrification policy for vehicle fleets could only meet its objective of GHG reductions to the extent that renewable energies can be harnessed and leveraged. 
Despite this interrelationship, most governments and international agencies historically adopted a siloed approach. Separate agencies are making policies, investment plans, and development choices for the various sectors with little or no cross-sectoral considerations. By designing policy mixes that are coherent among sectors, we will have a better chance to achieve the SDGs and meet the Paris targets.  

Pooling resources and investments

Low-income countries face significant funding shortages in each sector, growing external indebtedness, and often compete for the same limited domestic fiscal resources. Here again, working across sectors could help ease the pressure by allowing government agencies to pool financing and use scarce resources more efficiently.

In that context, several innovative cross-sectoral programs are gaining attention, such as projects that look to desalinate water with renewable energy or generate electricity from wastewater and biofuels. Likewise, joint investments by the transport and energy sectors for sustainable electromobility—where the transport sector would benefit through lessons learned in access to finance—are also under consideration.  Under this business model, utilities have the potential to be both partners and investors in e-mobility. Project bundling could diversify project-related risks, notably the revenue risk. 

All these topics will be discussed at the 13th Consortium Meeting on October 5th, 2022. “Bringing Transport to COP27” will focus on the key contributions that the 56 Member organizations of the Sustainable Mobility for All partnership will bring to COP27, including cost and fairness in the transition to e-mobility in African low-income countries.  Participants will also learn about a new tool to guide decision-making on e-mobility, explore synergies with investments in renewable energy, and discuss how we can reimagine public transport for economic development post-COVID. The event is open to all, so we encourage you to sign up and join the conversation!



Nancy Vandycke

Program Manager, Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) and Lead Economist, World Bank

Isabella Rolz Sandoval

Communications Officer, World Bank

Gurpreet Singh Sehmi

Economist, Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All), World Bank

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