The role of transport in sustainable development was first recognized at the 1992 United Nation’s Earth Summit and reinforced in its outcome document – Agenda 21. In undertaking the five-year review of the implementation of Agenda 21 during its nineteenth Special Session in 1997, the UN General Assembly further noted that, over the next twenty years, transportation would be expected to be the major driving force behind a growing world demand for energy (Indeed, it is now the largest end-use of energy in developed countries and the fastest growing one in most developing countries). Further, at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the role of transport was once again captured in the outcome document - the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI). JPOI provided multiple anchor points for sustainable transport, in the context of infrastructure, public transport systems, goods delivery networks, affordability, efficiency and convenience of transportation, as well as improving urban air quality and health, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The global attention to transport has continued in recent years. World leaders recognized unanimously at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) that transportation and mobility are central to sustainable development. Sustainable transportation can enhance economic growth and improve accessibility. Sustainable transport achieves better integration of the economy while respecting the environment. improving social equity, health, resilience of cities, urban-rural linkages and productivity of rural areas
Subsequently, the UN Secretary-General, as part of his Five-Year Action Agenda, identified transport as a major component of sustainable development. To this end, the Secretary General established and launched in August 2014 a High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport (HLAG-ST), representing all modes of transport including road, rail, aviation, marine, ferry, and urban public transport providers. The policy recommendations of the Advisory Group were submitted to the Secretary-General in a global sustainable transport outlook report, entitled "Mobilizing Sustainable Transport for Development", released at the first Global Sustainable Transport Conference in November 2016.
The importance of sustainable transport for countries in special situations is also recognized by the international community, through the Istanbul Programme of Action for the LDCs, the Vienna Programme of Action for the LLDCs, the SAMOA Pathway for SIDS, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the New Urban Agenda.
In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, sustainable transport is mainstreamed across several SDGs and targets, especially those related to food security, health, energy, economic growth, infrastructure, and cities and human settlements. The importance of transport for climate action is further recognized under the UNFCCC - the transport sector will be playing a particularly important role in the achievement of the Paris Agreement, given the fact close to a quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions come from transport and that these emissions are projected to grow substantially in the years to come.