Weathering the storm: 3 priorities to enhance resilience in transport


This page in:

A couple of women riding bikes in the avenue next to the metrobus in Mexico City
Women ride in a Mexico City bike lane. | Image: Bruno Doinel, Shutterstock

We are witnessing an increasingly volatile world with compounding crises. Firstly, the COVID-19 pandemic and initial and ongoing impact on the supply chain; Secondly, and sadly, the impact of conflict with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Yet, decision makers are also drawing lessons: The third decade of the 21st century presents us with ever more disruptive changes that make provisioning and planning both more complex and complicated.

The transport sector, as we have clearly seen in recent months, is especially susceptible to adverse shocks and stresses. The recent IPCC reports make a compelling case for baking resilience into our actions to make transport sustainable and able to and resist and recover. We are already experiencing the effects of climate change in the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and things will only get worse without adequate interventions and investment in both mitigation and adaptation.

To bake in resilience means to understand the key drivers shaping the future of transport. Much like the electricity system which started its key transformation to net-zero a couple of decades ago, transport is now on a fundamental path of change. That change has three key drivers, which together are shaping the future of the sector:

First, transport is going electric. While some sectors will be harder to convert than others, and some less suitable (maritime and aviation), the majority of the transport system is moving toward electrification, which will fundamentally change the economics of transport, and with it the planning, provisioning, and managing of its infrastructure. The transition toward electrified transport coupled with electricity from renewables offers strong potential to reduce carbon emissions.

Second, digitalization is transforming transport beyond ride sharing, the digitalization of global trade will result in a step change in efficiency and cost, and integrated fare systems across modes will make the payment for and use of an integrated transport  easier for all. Governments can also leverage the power of data to build safer, more resilient transport infrastructure, improve enforcement and introduce effective charging options, and are increasingly using digital tools to deliver more sustainable, equitable and safer transport networks.

Third, shrinking human geography is shaping transport. More than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities – bringing people closer together. Leveraging this megatrend presents an opportunity to release a 1.5C future: Infrastructure for walking and cycling, as well as public transport needs to play a stronger role whilst ensuring sufficient space for urban logistical systems, so planning and investment need to be earmarked accordingly. Beyond cities, transport corridors have a key role in shrinking physical and economic distance, promoting growth through competitiveness, and stimulating wider economic development.

Experiences of the World Bank in recent decades show that the resilience of transport often lies at the heart of healthy communities. Transport disruptions show an outsized impact on connectivity, economic productivity, and access to opportunities. Further, damage to transport infrastructure can seriously impede recovery in the aftermath of a disaster. Despite the urgency to act and impact of transport on climate change, the sector has been overlooked by policymakers due to the scale and diversity of the challenges involved.  Transport, as many other sectors, is a very complex system with responsibilities distributed across many different stakeholders. This situation makes integrated adaptation approaches challenging to achieve and requires appropriate governance approaches.

To address this, the World Bank has recently launched the Global Facility to Decarbonize Transport (GFDT), an ambitious development platform that will pool and scale up resources across the development community to achieve tangible results. It is the first global umbrella trust fund that looks at all transport sectors with a whole-of-system approach, leveraging synergies across knowledge generation, World Bank project preparation, co-financing for innovative pilot projects, and advocacy. A core element of the GFDT is to integrate action on resilience and mitigation across the board.

The important message here is that money invested in transport resilience is money well spent. The incremental cost of building resilient transport infrastructure can be fairly reasonable, while the return (in terms of losses being avoided) are far greater. Each $1 invested in climate and disaster-resilient infrastructure in low and middle-income countries yields $5.2 in economic benefit. The extra cost of building resilience into these systems is 3% of overall investment needs. Thanks to fewer disruptions and reduced economic impacts, the overall net benefit of investing in the resilience of infrastructure in developing countries would be $4.2 trillion over the lifetime of new infrastructure.

In the run-up to COP27 there is a need for global donors and the international philanthropic community to invest in facilitating great collaboration and strategic alignment for more resilience. The climate community can respond to shifting priorities, capitalize on new opportunities, and head off new threats. Here are three priorities for enhancing resilience across the transport sector:

  1. If we are serious about resilience, we need to address climate risk head-on: Understanding the risks we are facing, from climate change, to pandemics, wars, cyberattacks, and many others is crucial to build momentum for action. Better understanding the costs of building resilience into transport systems means that we can plan accordingly to cushion the risks for society. We need to learn how to prepare for risks even when they are not in the spotlight. As global donors we can initiate and keep alive the necessary dialogues within our respective communities as well as with governments, civil society and the private sector. Coordination of global donor efforts can go a long way in leveraging these opportunities powerfully and effectively for impact.
  2. Build capacity across the global South. The latest IPCC reports state that average investment flows in transport must increase at least sevenfold until 2030 to decarbonize transport.  The investment needs are greatest in developing countries, which often have limited resources to protect their transport infrastructure from growing disaster risk. Direct damage to transport infrastructure from disasters costs about $15 billion annually, with low- and middle-income countries shouldering about 60 percent of the total amount. At the same time, the global South is facing a large share of climate change related risks. To create a livable future for all, building capacity for climate-friendly, resilient transport infrastructure in the global South is key. One of the contributions in this field is a World Bank guidance note on “Nature-Based Solutions for the Road Sector in Haiti. The goal of the note is to deepen the understanding of interventions that would protect Haiti’s precious natural capital while increasing resilience of transport infrastructure and communities.
  3. Understand the crucial role transport infrastructure can play in supporting the recovery from COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, investments in transport infrastructure were falling short of what was needed to meet development goals, undermining access to jobs, education and public services for millions of people. Many SDGs cannot be implemented without sustainable mobility. Investment in sustainable transport infrastructure can support the post-pandemic recovery and lay the longer-term foundations for green, resilient, and inclusive development.  A growing body of evidence highlights the contribution of physical infrastructure to a wide range of development indicators, including employment, productivity, income, inequality, trade, and human capital formation. Yet, across much of the developing world, infrastructure remains woefully inadequate. Some one billion people live more than a mile from an all-season road.

Understanding the importance of resilience is crucial toward delivering a 1.5C future in the 90 months until 2030.  Identifying the shocks transport Infrastructure is facing and acting together will help us build the reliable, resistant, and redundant transport systems that we need to recover quickly from future crises. Together, global donors and the international philanthropic community can share best practices and build collaboration, momentum and new opportunities on adaptation and resilience, help amplify messages globally on resilience and adaptation at key moments in 2022 and help set the direction for future action on adaptation and resilience.

This blog post was originally published on


Daniel E. Moser

Senior Transport Specialist

Join the Conversation