First-ever Global Conference on Sustainable Transport: What is at stake?

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On November 26, 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon will convene the first-ever Global Conference on Sustainable Transport, in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. What is at stake in this capstone two-day event? What fresh developments might it yield, and how might it change the dynamics for transport?
The new transport agenda. A number of earlier high-level events—including the UN Climate Action Summit, the OECD/International Transport Forum, and the Habitat III Conference—helped give a long-needed boost to the visibility of transport in the international arena in 2016. The events also helped position transport within the current set of global commitments that include the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris climate agreement, the Decade of Action on Road Safety, and the Habitat III New Urban Agenda. The forthcoming Ashgabat event will put front and center one simple notion: for the next 15 years, the transport agenda will be framed by that set of global commitments. The commitments define the space within which governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society will have to act on transport. And they will dictate the future size and direction of transport funding.
This is a paradigm shift. Previously, the transport agenda was defined by the goal of providing access to transport infrastructure. Under the new framework, the international community has committed itself to much more. First, the issue is no longer simply access but equitable access for all. Second, other, equally important objectives have been added, including the efficiency and reliability of mobility services, transport safety, and decarbonization. In sum, the internationally accepted transport agenda concerns more than economic and social development; it is also about being part of the climate change solution.

Time for action and accountability. As this new global, goal-centric vision gains traction, the discussion on implementation is rapidly evolving. Focused recommendations have come from the recent report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group (H-LAG) on Sustainable Transport.  It shows how the transport sector can advance sustainable development with poverty reduction at its core, promote economic growth, and bolster the fight against climate change.
Effective, timely implementation of the H-LAG’s recommendations for sustainable transport depends on leadership and concerted, coordinated action from all actors, public and private. But what will be the mechanism to strengthen coherence and accelerate action in support of transformative change?
Common vision. One of the H-LAG recommendations is “establishment of monitoring and evaluation frameworks” to track progress toward implementing the transport-related global commitments, including the SDGs. The World Bank fully embraces this recommendation. With the UK’s DfID, the Bank has convened a multistakeholder partnership to develop a “global tracking framework” that will bring together global goals and country-level performance monitoring on a common platform.
The Ashgabat event will include a consultative workshop to (1) discuss a “zero draft” that proposes the global tracking framework and (2) agree on a way forward. The zero draft articulates a vision for transport and sustainable mobility in the form of 4 goals—access for all, efficiency, safety, and green. By uniting all actors in the transport sector around a set of common and clear objectives, the sector will be on a stronger footing and better equipped to address gaps—in action, coordination, and funding—and to generate the transformational changes required for sustainable mobility.
The World Bank strongly supports the 2030 global sustainable development agenda and is integrating SDGs into its engagement with client countries and partners.  Both the public and private sector will have a critical role to play in achieving these goals and targets. Private sector investment will be indispensable to a more sustainably mobile world.
We hope that Ashgabat will bring us one step further toward creating the mobility system that we all want.


Nancy Vandycke

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

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