The Paris climate agreement signed by 175 nations last month will not meet its goals unless climate-smart, energy-efficient transportation systems become the new normal in many of the world’s urban centers. To help make that happen, the world’s largest multilateral donor is proposing a new “global coalition” of world leaders to move the sustainable transportation agenda forward.
“We have reached a tipping point,” Nancy Vandyke, lead economist for the World Bank’s Transport and Information and Communication Technologies Global Practice told Devex. “Now it’s no longer a question of talking. Now it’s a question of moving into action and that needs leadership — senior leadership.”
This November, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport will expire and is expected to issue a final set of recommendations for policymakers. Recommendations, however, will not be enough to maintain momentum and continuity in the sustainable transportation agenda, according to Vandyke.
Last week, during the Climate Action Summit in Washington, D.C., World Bank officials briefed a number of ministers, city mayors, and private sector CEOs on the idea of a new “global coalition” of transportation champions that would serve to advance the transportation agenda beyond November by putting ideas into action, Vandyke told Devex.
The coalition, according to Vandyke, would include leaders at the national level, city level, as well as in the private sector willing to take risks and implement changes to transportation systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve efficiency and safety.
During briefings last week, “there was a lot of interest,” the bank official said, adding that it’s “premature to give any names.”
As far as the structure of the coalition, Vandyke said that still needs to be discussed, but that if adopted, it might include 30 to 40 members and could be mandated “at the very high senior level” by the United Nations or a similar body.
A single vision for sustainable transportation?
This latest Word Bank proposal comes as the global financial institution advances a new sustainable transportation framework called Sustainable Mobility for All, modeled in part after global renewable energy initiative Sustainable Energy for All, and designed to create a common vision and common metrics for changing the way people and goods move around the world.
Sustainable Mobility for All grew out of the Paris Climate Change Conference, according to Pierre Guislain, senior director for the Transport and ICT Global Practice, who added that one of the goals of the initiative is to position transportation as part of the solution to the world’s climate hurdles.
Installing new biking paths, pedestrian friendly city centers and more accessible public transportation systems are just some of what will be needed to effectively transforms the world’s transportation systems — initiatives that many cities are already taking steps to put in place.
But there is still a long way to go, according to climate and transportation experts. Nearly a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions originate from transport, and the number of cars on the road could reach two billion by 2030, according to the World Bank.
“We need to invest much more in urban mobility,” Guislain told Devex.
World Bank officials hope a common framework and a “global coalition” for the sustainable transportation agenda will help to provide some coordination in a sector that is crowded with independently functioning coalitions and initiatives.
The Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon, for example, was developed in 2009 to generate global support for sustainable transportation and reduce GHG emissions and includes more than 90 organizations including U.N., multilateral and bilateral organizations, NGOs and foundations. Just last week, the New Climate Economy, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities launched the Coalition for Urban Transitions, a coalition designed to make the economic case for more sustainable urban development and that includes leaders from research institutions, think tanks, and international organizations.
“Although there [are] a lot of initiatives and a lot of coalitions, somehow they don’t add up to achieve the scale that we really want, and that is a very big problem,” Vandyke said. “Because the issues and the commitments that have been made are so big that we can no longer work … in parallel.”
In the field of urban development, there are a large number of “institutions and partners doing duplicative work,” acknowledged Nick Godfrey, head of policy and urban development at The New Climate Economy, but those duplicative efforts are what make coalitions so important, Godfrey said, because coalitions help facilitate knowledge sharing.
As to the question of whether there should be one overarching sustainable transportation coalition of world leaders or rather several “more focused” coalitions targeted to regions of the world, Godfrey said that’s “an open question” and “a good discussion to have.”
Godfrey also underscored that the Coalition for Urban Transitions sees sustainable transportation as only one part of its mission, although a “fundamental element,” and he said he would, “encourage a continued push on the sustainable transport side” from institutions like the World Bank.
For Vandyke, uniting the sustainable transportation community under a single agenda is key.
“We need to agree on what the vision is and what the goals are. Then we need to map out how each of these players contribute to [those] goals,” Vandyke said.
Finding the right leadership
So far, the sustainable transportation sector has not achieved enough “top-down leadership at the national level, the ministerial level, [and] the CEO level,” according to Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resource Institute, who gave a lunchtime speech during a “transport workday” ahead of the Climate Action Summit last week.
Steer pointed to the education sector’s Education Commission, which includes high profile names like Lawrence Summers, economist and former Secretary of the Treasury, and Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group. Steer harkened back to the high profile efforts of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other globally recognized policymakers to dramatically reduce maternal mortality between 2002 and 2012.
Steer raised the question: how many internationally renowned leaders are making a point to put sustainable transportation in the limelight?
“My guess is not very many,” he said.
Whether the World Bank’s proposal of a global sustainable transportation coalition is the answer Steer is looking for is still unclear.
The next step for Vandyke and her colleagues at the World Bank is to bring their proposal to the International Transport Forum at the end of the month in Leipzig, Germany, where they will continue to gauge interest in the commission. Then they aim to continue to develop the idea at the U.N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in October, the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties in November and the World Economic Forum early next year.
Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.
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