Why sustainable mobility matters

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Photo: Mariana Gil/WRI
In the 1960s, the vision of future mobility was people with jet packs and flying cars – we believed these innovations wouldn’t be far off after the moon landing in 1969. Obviously, the reality in 2017 is somewhat different.

Today, we have congestion in cities, rural areas cut off from the rest of the world, and too many people without access to safe, efficient, and green transport. This stifles markets and hinders people from the jobs that will help them escape poverty.  Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And perhaps the most tragic reality is this: that approximately 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents. Young people, those between the ages of 15-29, are the most affected by road crashes. This heartbreaking and preventable loss of life should be a clear signal that road safety matters.

At the same time, how we change transport is vitally important and will impact generations to come.

The explosion of new cars on the road in countries like India, China, and Brazil has provided an ease of mobility to hundreds of millions more people, but at what cost? Both greenhouse gas emissions and road crashes continue to grow, while poor and rural areas of the world have been left largely unconnected.

Building new schools in rural areas won’t accomplish much if children can’t get there safely. Wider distribution of cell phones has improved farmers’ access to information about crop prices and regional markets – but poor transport conditions still cause significant losses of crops that never make it to market. Around the world women are making gains in the job market – but lack of access to secure and affordable transportation options has hampered their ability to take advantage of these opportunities. 

At the World Bank Group, we believe road safety and sustainable mobility for all are keystone issues in the development agenda, and that investment that enables physical and virtual mobility spurs the kind of economic growth from which everyone benefits. Total infrastructure commitments amount to US$21.5 million in 2017, addressing both public and private sector projects. And the Global Mobility Report was launched last week—the first-ever baseline of how countries around the world perform in terms of inclusive, safe, efficient and environmentally friendly transport, will help map out investments and policy reforms where they will have the biggest impact. 

More than 60% of the infrastructure we need has yet to be built. This is a huge opportunity to grow the sector, harnessing green technologies, in a way that facilitates inclusive growth, so that we can build the world we want.

If we are to deliver on the promises of the SDGs and the global development agenda, we must make access to safe and sustainable mobility for all a priority now.


Hartwig Schafer

Former Vice President, South Asia Region, World Bank

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