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In the Pacific, climate change means trying to expect the unexpected

Chris Bennett's picture

I was reflecting on the saying that “ignorance is bliss” as our plane was landing in Tuvalu, a small island nation in the South Pacific. We had been advised that portions of the recent runway resealing was failing in a number of locations, but it was the video below—showing the runway ‘floating’ under the weight of someone walking on it—that was particularly disconcerting.  Runways are supposed to be solid!

Tuvalu has regularly been called the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to climate change. The country is comprised of three reef islands and six coral atolls.  With the maximum elevation of 3-4 m, and sea level rise of some 5 mm/year, it is already at a risk of a range of climate change challenges. Now we have a new one: runway failure from beneath caused by what appears to be a combination of very high (‘king’) tides and increased rainfall.

What El Niño has taught us about infrastructure resilience

Irene Portabales González's picture
Also available in: Español
Photo: Ministerio de Defensa del Perú/Flickr
The rains in northern Peru have been 10 times stronger than usual this year, leading to floods, landslides and a declaration of a state of emergency in 10 regions in the country. Together with the human and economic toll, these downpours have inflicted tremendous damage to transport infrastructure with added and serious consequences on people’s lives.

These heavy rains are blamed on El Niño, a natural phenomenon characterized by an unusual warming of the sea surface temperature in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon occurs every two to seven years, and lasts about 18 months at a time. El Niño significantly disrupts precipitation and wind patterns, giving rise to extreme weather events around the planet.

In Peru, this translates into rising temperatures along the north coast and intense rainfall, typically shortly before Christmas. That’s also when “huaicos” appear. “Huaico,” a word that comes from the Quechua language (wayq’u), refers to the enormous masses of mud and rocks carried by torrential rains from the Andes into rivers, causing them to overflow. These mudslides result from a combination of several natural factors including heavy rains, steep slopes, scarce vegetation, to name a few. But human factors also come into play and exacerbate their impact. That includes, in particular, the construction of human settlements in flood-prone basins or the absence of a comprehensive approach to disaster risk management.

This year’s floods are said to be comparable to those caused by El Niño in 1997-1998, one of the largest natural disasters in recent history, which claimed the lives of 374 people and caused US$1.2 billion worth of damages (data provided by the Peruvian National Institute of Civil Defense).

Motorization and its discontents

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Sarah Farat/World Bank
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  While visiting the World Bank library the other day, I was struck by how many development publications featured pictures of motor vehicles on their covers, even though most of them covered topics that had little to do with transport.  The setting and tone of the pictures varied – sometimes they showed a lone car on a rural highway, sometimes congested vehicles in urban traffic, and sometimes a car displayed proudly as a status symbol – but the prevalence of motorized vehicles as a visual metaphor for development was unmistakable to me: in the public imagination, consciously or otherwise, many people associate development with more use of motorized vehicles.

Indeed, motorization – the process of adopting and using motor vehicles as a core part of economic and daily life – is closely linked with other dimensions of development such as urbanization and industrialization.

Motorization, however, is a double-edged sword.

For many households, being able to afford their own vehicle is often perceived as the key to accessing more jobs, more services, more opportunities—not to mention a status symbol. Likewise, vehicles can unlock possibilities for firms and individual entrepreneurs such as the young man from Uganda pictured on the right, proudly showing off his brand new boda boda (motorcycle taxi). 

But motorization also comes with a serious downside, in terms of challenges that many governments have difficulty managing.  Motor vehicles can undermine the livability of cities by cluttering up roads and open spaces—the scene of chaos and gridlock in the picture below, from Accra, is a telling example. In addition, vehicles create significant safety hazards for occupants and bystanders alike… in many developing countries, road deaths have effectively reached epidemic proportions. From an environmental standpoint, motorized transport is, of course, a major contributor to urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, motorization contributes to countries' hard currency challenges by exacerbating their long-term demand for petroleum products.

Given these challenges, how are developing countries going to align their motorization trajectories with their development goals?  What should the World Bank advise our clients about how to manage this process?

Sustainable mobility: can the world speak with one voice?

Nancy Vandycke's picture

 
The transport sector is changing at breakneck speed.
 
By 2030, global passenger traffic is set to rise by 50%, and freight volume by 70%. By 2050, we will have twice as many vehicles on the road, with most of the increase coming from emerging markets, where steady economic expansion is creating new lifestyle expectations and mobility aspirations. Mega-projects like China’s One Belt, One Road could connect more than half of the world’s population, and roughly a quarter of the goods that move around the globe by land and sea.
 
These transformations create a unique opportunity to improve the lives and livelihoods of billions of people by facilitating access to jobs, markets, and essential services such as healthcare or education.
 
But the growth of the transport sector could also come at the cost of higher fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, increasing air and noise pollution, a growing number of road fatalities, and worsening inequities in access.
 
Although these are, of course, global challenges, developing countries are disproportionately affected.
 
The vast majority of the one billion people who still don’t have access to an all-weather road live in the developing world. Although low and middle-income countries are home to only 54% of the world’s vehicles, they account for 90% of the 1.25 million road deaths occurring every year. If we don’t take action now, transport emissions from emerging markets could triple by 2050, and would make up 75% of the global total.
 
While the case for sustainable mobility is evident, the sector still lacks coherence and clear objectives. There is a way forward, but it requires pro-active cooperation between all stakeholders.
 
That’s what motivated the creation of Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All), a partnership between a wide range of global actors determined to speak with one voice and steer mobility in the right direction.
 
SuM4All partners include Multilateral Development Banks, United Nations Agencies, bilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and is open to other important entities such as national governments and private companies. Together, these organizations can pool their capacity and experience to orient policymaking, turn ideas into action, and mobilize financing.

Climate change is forcing us to reinvent rural transport for the better

Ashok Kumar's picture
Photo: Ravisankar Pandian/Flickr
India is in the midst of implementing PMGSY, a $35-billion national level Rural Road Program designed to provide basic road access to rural communities. The World Bank is supporting PMGSY through a series of lending operations ($1.8 billion in Bank funding) and significant knowledge support. A key element of the Bank’s support has been to integrate a “climate and green growth lens” into these efforts in cost-effective ways.

How is “green growth” benefiting India? One important dimension of that effort has been  the use of environmentally optimized road designs, which has resulted in quality infrastructure using local and marginal materials, providing both economic and environmental benefits. Where available, sand deposits accumulated from frequent floods, industrial by-products, and certain types of plastic, mining, and construction waste have been used to good effect. Designs that use such materials have been about 25% cheaper to build, on average, than those requiring commonly used rock aggregates. The environmental benefits of using the above materials, in terms of addressing the big disposal problem of such materials and reducing the consumption of scarce natural stone aggregates, are as significant as the cost savings.

A second “green growth” dimension has been focusing investments on the “core” network, i.e. the network India needs to develop in order to provide access to all villages. Relative to a total rural road network of about 3.3 million kilometers, the core network that falls under PMGSY stretches over only 1.1 million kilometers. Prioritizing construction and maintenance on those critical road links will bring down costs as well as the associated carbon footprint.

Traffic jams, pollution, road crashes: Can technology end the woes of urban transport?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Photo: Noeltock/Flickr
Will technology be the savior of urban mobility?
 
Urbanization and rising incomes have been driving rapid motorization across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While cities are currently home to 50% of the global population, that proportion is expected to increase to 70% by 2050. At the same time, business-as-usual trends suggest we could see an additional 1 billon cars by 2050, most of which will have to squeeze into the already crowded streets of Indian, Chinese, and African cities.
 
If no action is taken, these cars threaten literally to choke tomorrow’s cities, bringing with them a host of negative consequences that would seriously undermine the overall benefits of urbanization: lowered productivity from constant congestion; local pollution and rising carbon emissions; road traffic deaths and injuries; rising inequity and social division.
 
However, after a century of relatively small incremental progress, disruptive changes in the world of automotive technology could have fundamental implications for sustainability.
 
What are these megatrends, and how can they reshape the future of urban mobility?

Getting a global initiative off the ground: What can transport learn from energy?

Nancy Vandycke's picture

In May last year, key stakeholders joined the World Bank Group in calling for global and more concerted action to address the climate impact of transport while ensuring mobility for everyone. More recently, the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport noted, in its final recommendations to Ban Ki-Moon, emphasized the need for “coalitions or partnership networks” to “strengthen coherence” for scaling up sustainable transport, as well as establishing monitoring and evaluation frameworks. These issues have been raised at Habitat III, COP22 and at the Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Ashgabat.
 
As the global community readies itself to move from commitments to implementation, what can transport learn from similar initiatives in other sectors, such as Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All)?

Transforming Transportation: Toward Sustainable Mobility for All

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture


To learn more about the future of sustainable mobility, don't miss Transforming Transportation 2017 on January 12-13. Click here to watch the event live and submit your questions to our experts.

 
From taxi apps to car sharing, from buses to the metro, from bike sharing to walking, not to mention personal cars, there are more transportation choices than ever before for that staple of modern life: the daily commute. The same goes for the transport of goods, which can get from A to B by road, air, rail, waterways and soon drones. There are currently more than 12,600 km (nearly 8000 miles) of metro or urban rail and 5,400 km (3,300 miles) of bus rapid transit (BRT), collectively providing 154 million trips a day in 250 cities. Increased access to transport and enhanced connectivity decreases travel time and generates higher rates of direct employment, keys to elevating overall economic opportunity. 

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the increase in mobility options comes at a high price. The challenges associated with growing traffic, especially in cities, are significant and threaten to become insurmountable. And despite the wide range of ways to get around, there have never been so many people who lack access to transportation or the means to use transportation.

Follow the moving carbon: A strategy to mitigate emissions from transport

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture


To learn more about the future of sustainable mobility, don't miss Transforming Transportation 2017 on January 12-13. Click here to watch the event live and submit your questions to our experts.

 
Transport currently accounts for 23% of energy-related carbon emissions--equivalent to 7.3 gigatons of CO2 globally in 2013—and, unfortunately, ranks among the fastest growing sources of such emissions.

If we’re serious about bucking the trend and reducing the environmental footprint of the sector, we first need to understand where transport emissions come from, and how they will evolve. If you take out the 1 GT of CO2 emissions released by the aviation and maritime industry for international transport, about 6 GT of transport emissions are classified as “domestically generated.” Today, the share of domestically generated emissions is split pretty much evenly between developed and developing countries: high-income OECD countries account for about 3 GT, while non-OECD countries are responsible for another 3 GT.

However, under a business-as-usual scenario, this breakdown is expected to change dramatically. Without bold action to make transport greener, emissions from emerging markets are poised to grow threefold by 2050, and would then make some 75% of the global total. Domestically generated emissions from OECD countries, in comparison, should rise by a more modest 17%.

The share of each mode in overall transport emissions also differs depending on which part of the world you’re looking at: while 2/3 of emissions in OECD countries are from cars, freight and particularly trucking is currently more important in the context of emerging markets.  Trucks actually generate over 40% of transport emissions in China, India Latin America and Africa.

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

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture

Also available in: Español | Français | 中文

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 there 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.

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