SDGs, Climate Agreement and Transport: From global commitments to accountability

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Sustainable Development Goals

In September last year, the world community came together in New York and called for bold, ambitious action to save the planet and its people. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the North and South alike acknowledge the key role of transport in building a sustainable future. In November, the high-level Ministerial Conference in Brasília called for accelerated action on road safety.  And in December, the Twenty-First Conference of the Parties (COP21) laid the ground for an unprecedented climate agreement, with ambitious targets to stabilize global warming at less than 2 degrees Celsius.   

Taken together, these global commitments—all relevant to transport—set a high bar for success in transforming the world’s mobility in the next 10 to 15 years; they are also diverse and complex.  For example, nine targets in the SDG framework relate directly to transport.  Some targets are straightforward—for instance, the SDG target 3.6 sets a goal of halving global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020.   Others are less—including the SDG target 9.1 of “developing quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and trans-border infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all” which does not specify a clear quantitative target to be achieved by 2030.

These global commitments vary greatly —some relate to accessibility, others to safety, or decarbonisation. How do they add up to a comprehensive approach on mobility? Are these goals sufficient, or should others be added—for example, where does resilience fit into this framework? And transport system efficiency? Should these dimensions be excluded from action on mobility because they have not been part of a recent global agreement?  These questions show the urgency of establishing a common vision in the form of an umbrella framework for the transport. The vision would be linked to global commitments and ensure the coherence of actions in the transport space.

This vision should be backed by a rigorous global tracking framework (GTF) to ensure transparency and accountability. The energy sector developed such a global tracking to support Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) . Tracking was built around three energy goals for 2030: universal access to modern energy, doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, and doubling the rate of improvement of energy efficiency over time. A tracking system was included because effective monitoring of progress was considered essential to sustaining political commitment on the global energy agenda over the next 15 years. It became instrumental in mainstreaming energy into global discussions on sustainable development and supplied the credibility and reliability required to attract private and development finance partners.

For transport, a global tracking framework should consist of a set of goals, indicators, and data:
  • A set of Goals that capture the various dimensions of the sustainable mobility agenda. These goals should draw on existing global commitments. For road safety, for example, the SDG road safety target should be used to define the goal.  Whenever global commitments and targets do not exist, a global target could be set in consultation with relevant stakeholders. For example, on “universal access”, there should be an agreement on one or two global targets for rural and urban accessibility.
  • Indicators that measure progress toward these goals at the country level. Efforts are underway at the UN Statistical Commission to specify the right metrics for measuring the SDGs.  Although the proposed global tracking framework should go beyond the SDGs, it should capitalize on these efforts.   A prerequisite will be clearing up the technical ambiguity surrounding the measurement of dimensions such as accessibility, inclusivity, efficiency, resilience and low-carbon.
  • Data that cover both advanced economies and developing countries to reflect the global nature of the goals. A number of existing and credible global transport databases with country-level data should be adapted to track progress. New tools with real-time data may also be needed.
Transport now has a unique opportunity to buttress its vision with accountability and thereby, like the energy sector, elevate itself in global discussions on sustainable development.  Success in setting in establishing a tracking framework will require bringing together all interested parties that are active in this space and deliver a truly multi-stakeholder initiative.


Nancy Vandycke

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

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