Africa: Sustainable Transport Key to Green Energy Shift - UN Secretary-General

14 October 2021

With global transport at a crossroads, government leaders, industry experts, and civil society groups are meeting in Beijing, China, for a UN conference to chart the way forward to a more sustainable future for the sector, and greater climate action overall.

The two-day UN Sustainable Transport Conference, which opened on Thursday, will examine how transportation can contribute to climate response, economic growth and sustainable development.

It is taking place just weeks before the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

In remarks to the opening, UN Secretary-General António Guterres underlined what is at stake.

"The next nine years must see a global shift towards renewable energy. Sustainable transport is central to that transformation," he said.

The move to sustainable transport could deliver savings of $70 trillion by 2050, according to the World Bank.

Better access to roads could help Africa to become self-sufficient in food, and create a regional food market worth $1 trillion by the end of the decade.

Net-zero goal

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how transport is "far more than a means of getting people and goods from A to B", the UN chief said.

Rather, transport is fundamental to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, both of which were "badly off-track" even before the crisis.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but the door for action is closing, he warned.

"Transport, which accounts for more than one quarter of global greenhouse gases, is key to getting on track. We must decarbonize all means of transport, in order to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 globally."

A role for everyone

Decarbonizing transportation requires countries to address emissions from shipping and aviation because current commitments are not aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Priorities here include phasing out the production of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040, while zero emission vessels "must be the default choice" for the shipping sector.

"All stakeholders have a role to play, from individuals changing their travel habits, to businesses transforming their carbon footprint," the Secretary-General said.

He urged governments to incentivize clean transport, for example through regulatory standards and taxation, and to impose stricter regulation of infrastructure and procurement.

Safer transport for all

The issues of safety and access must also be addressed, the Secretary-General continued.

"This means helping more than one billion people to access paved roads, with designated space for pedestrians and bicycles, and providing convenient public transit options," he said.

"It means providing safe conditions for all on public transport by ending harassment and violence against women and girls, and reducing deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents."

Making transport resilient

Post-pandemic recovery must also lead to resilient transport systems, with investments going towards sustainable transport, and generating decent jobs and opportunities for isolated communities.

"Public transport should be the foundation for urban mobility," he said. "Per dollar invested, it creates three times more jobs than building new highways."

With much existing transport infrastructure, such as ports, vulnerable to extreme climate events, better risk analysis and planning are needed, along with increased financing for climate adaptation, particularly in developing countries.

Mr. Guterres stressed the need for effective partnerships, including with the private sector, so that countries can work together more coherently.

"The transformative potential of sustainable transport can only be unleashed if improvements translate into poverty eradication, decent jobs better health and education, and increased opportunities for women and girls. Countries have much to learn from each other," he said.

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