Sustainable mobility: Can the world speak with one voice?

by Nancy Vandycke, World Bank

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.

Lack of coherence, lack of objectives

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_Logo_Final_TM

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 policy making, turn ideas into action, and mobilize financing.

Everyone around one table

There are three fundamental premises that guide the work of the Sum4All initiative. First, we need to get everyone around the same table. So far, global mobility has been managed by a multitude of actors—UN agencies, multilateral development banks, the manufacturing industry, civil society— who have all been working independently. In the absence of coherent governance, the sector has failed to bring action and financing to scale in order to transform itself. Better cohesion, however, is possible. The energy sector embarked on this journey in 2010 with great results. There is no reason why transport should not be able to do the same.

To be successful, we also have to set some clear goals. Despite its critical role in economic and social development, transport is the only major sector that didn’t manage to get its own Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). This is not good news, and will make it harder to get the global attention and financing needed to move the needle on sustainable mobility over the next 15 years. For the past six months, SuM4All partners have been working to fill the gap and agree on a set of global objectives for the sector, in line with recent international agreements like Habitat III, the Paris Agreement, and the SDGs. Specifically, the four priority goals identified by SuM4All are equitable access, safety, efficiency, and climate-responsiveness.

Taking it to the summit

Last but not least: Technology is changing our world. Let’s make the most of it! Technological innovation will go a long way in helping countries transition to more sustainable mobility. Advances in electric or autonomous vehicles promise to make transport greener, safer, and more efficient. Likewise, digital innovations such as ride sharing platforms, e-commerce, and telecommuting can significantly reduce demand and avoid unnecessary trips.

As transport ministers from around the world gather in Leipzig this week for their 2017 Summit to discuss “Governance of Transport” , we look forward to identifying influential policy makers who can join this global movement and champion the cause of sustainable mobility, not just in their own countries but around the world.


Nancy Vandycke leads the World Bank’s group of transport economists and spearheads the new global initiative on transport, Sustainable Mobility for All. She oversees strategic and analytical engagement on transport, including the climate action effort (with the United Nations), the Impact Evaluation program (with the World Bank’s Research Department), The Global Tracking Framework and the Knowledge Note series (Connections). 

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Why it pays for cities to fight road deaths – and how they can get better at it

By Alexandre Santacreu, International Transport Forum

Every minute of every day, someone loses their life in a traffic crash on a city street. With cities growing rapidly and urban motor traffic also increasing dramatically in many cities, the situation is likely to get worse, not better in years to come.

More and more city authorities are realising that dangerous traffic conditions on their streets have a toll that goes beyond the human tragedy and economic loss caused by road deaths and crash injuries. Dangerous traffic makes people feel unsafe, and people who feel unsafe will refrain from doing normal things – letting their children walk to school or cycling to work, for instance.

Four pedestrians waiiting to cross traffic
Waiting to cross traffic (Flickr/Serakatie)

Thus,  a high level of urban road safety is more and more seen as a critical component of a liveable city.  It improves citizens’ quality of life, it increases choices, it opens up opportunities. Ultimately, safer city streets are about enhanced personal freedom.

Safer streets equal more liveable cities

This was recognised in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2016. There, governments agreed (in goal number 11) to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” and as part of that committed to “improving road safety,… with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations”.

The link between the different objectives is easy to spot: improving road safety makes cities not only safer, but also more sustainable because it enables people to walk or cycle without having to fear for their lives. It also makes them more inclusive because those who cannot afford cars can be mobile without running lethal risks.

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But in practical terms, what can mayors and city authorities do to enhance traffic safety in their city? One obvious answer is: Do not reinvent the wheel – learn from what others are already doing. Many good practices for urban road safety exist around the world and only wait to be copied. A second, maybe less obvious answer is: Get your data in shape. Measure what is happening on your streets and how it changes, so you can base policy decisions on evidence, not assumptions.

When cities learn from each other

These two thoughts are the driving ideas behind Safer City Streets, the global traffic safety network for liveable cities. Little more than six months after its launch in October 2016, a total of 38 cities are working together in the Safer City Streets network, ranging  from Astana in Kazakhstan to Zürich in Switzerland and including global metropolises such as New York City, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, London,  Berlin, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Montreal and many others.

Safer City Streets brochure cover page w framThe Safer City Streets network, which holds its first meeting in Paris on 20 and 21 April (with more than 50 participants expected to attend),  provides the first global platform for cities and their road safety experts to exchange experiences and discuss ideas. At the heart of Safer City Streets activity will be efforts to improve the collection of data about urban road crashes to enable cities to compare themselves with others and base policy decisions on reliable evidence. A methodology for the database has already been developed and many of the cities have started feed it in their numbers.

The flying start has been helped by the fact that Safer City Streets itself is building on previous experience: It is modeled on the highly successful International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD), the International Transport Forum’s permanent working group on road safety, which brings together countries and national road safety stakeholders. Fittingly, the annual IRTAD meeting is held back-to-back with the inaugural meeting of Safer City Streets – which will also include a joint workshop with POLIS,  a network of European cities and regions, on how to bring cities from both networks together in order to find the best solutions for data collection.

Cities who are interested in finding out more about Safer City Streets are invited to contact the author. They should also know that membership of  Safer City Streets is currently free, thanks to a very generous grant from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

Alexandre Santacreu is a policy analyst for road safety at the International Transport Forum and the project manager of the Safer City Streets network. More information at http://itf-oecd.org/safer-city-streets. This post also appears on OECD Insights.

Decarbonising Transport

by José Viegas, ITF Secretary-General

Humans don’t enjoy being stuck somewhere. We like to move, go places. In fact, man values this mobility so much that he created extraordinary tools to get from A to B, starting with the wheel and not ending with the airplane.

We value our freedom of movement because it generates such incredible value for us. Imagine for a moment that all the means of transport you’re using have disappeared. Not that easy to get to work. No fresh groceries in the supermarket. You’ll need to walk to the doctor despite the sore knee.

Conjecture? For you. But for millions, lack of access to transport – and therefore to the things that transport provides access to – is a reality. There are still children that don’t go to school because they can’t get to school. It’s the same for health services and jobs.  And it’s true for the larger economy as well – well-connected countries tend to thrive; those that do not struggle to bring their goods to world (or indeed national) markets.

The freedom to hop in a car

We won’t be easily persuaded to give up the freedom to hop in a car or on a plane. On the contrary, billions of people in the emerging economies are discovering the advantages – and joys – of modern-day mobility. If anything, global demand for transport will grow.

In itself that is not a bad thing – but only if we manage to, among other improvements, decarbonise transport.  Today, our mobility is almost completely driven by fossil fuels. Even the electricity for electric cars or for trains often comes from coal or oil-powered plants. Compared with other sectors, transport emissions make up almost a quarter of all CO2 emissions from fuel combustion (pdf) – by 2035 it could reach 40%, which would make transport the world’s largest emitter.

The link between mobility and harmful CO2 emissions must be broken if we want to continue to remain as mobile as we are. If governments were forced to limit mobility in order to save the planet, the economic, political and human costs could be huge.

Back to the future

The better way is to provide carbon-free transport. In around 1900, the majority of cars in New York City were electric – let’s go back to the future. Improved or new technology alone will not solve the problem. To decarbonise transport over the next 35 years or so, all the levers we have at our disposal need to be aligned towards this goal, many of which are outside the transport sector: digital connectivity and 3D printing may make some passenger and freight transport superfluous in the future, and urban land use policies can be improved to reduce the need for urban motorised travel.

The International Transport Forum is launching a major initiative to help achieve this alignment. Anchored in the ITF’s Corporate Partnership Board (CPB), our Decarbonising Transport project will provide decision makers with an effective tool to develop a road map towards decarbonisation, and then help to navigate it. It will allow governments and enterprises to test and gauge the impact of individual actions in a highly complex and interdependent reality.

Quantitative and inclusive

There are three core elements on which the Decarbonising Transport project builds: First: COP21. The Paris agreement of December 2015 doesn’t actually mention transport. But it creates a framework in which countries will review their emissions reduction targets in five-year cycles, starting in 2020. Others, like the transport sector could follow this lead, creating synchronicity with countries.

Second: the data. The Decarbonising Transport project will evolve around in-depth quantitative analysis. Our ambition is to federate existing data and knowledge on transport to create the most comprehensive model of global transport activity to date.  ITF has strong in-house modelling, and we are already reaching out to potential partners to link up existing models and leverage their collective power to become more than the sum of the parts. Decision makers will be able to use the simulations to calibrate their emissions reduction actions.

The third characteristic of the Decarbonising Transport project is that it will be inclusive. The modelling will serve dialogue and mutual learning among a broad set of partners who are joining forces to design the roadmap towards carbon-neutral transport. Governments, corporations, universities, multilateral institutions, foundations, NGOs will all have their place and contribute knowledge, data or money. 19 major international companies are already involved through the CPB.

Getting ready for 2020

The Decarbonising Transport project will be officially inaugurated on 19 May, at the ITF’s 2016 Summit in Germany. We plan to present intermediate results a year later. And by May 2019, we want the modelling to be robust enough to provide effective support to the 2020 reviews of COP emissions reduction commitments.

This is an open project, and very much a work in progress. All who have an interest in helping to make our mobility, and therefore our way of life, sustainable are invited to become part of the effort. Join me on Periscope (Twitter’s live stream app) for a Q&A session on Decarbonising Transport on Wednesday, 2 March at 15:00 Central European Time (CET) if you want to know more.