The climate debate and action often focuses on energy and industrial activity as the key sectors contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. However, the transport sector, which is responsible for one quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide, with its emissions increasing at a faster rate than any other sectors, must be included in any effective policy response to climate change and in order to keep the global temperature increase below the two-degree Celsius. Furthermore, sustainable transport must be viewed and integrated as an essential ingredient in sustainable development strategies. Transport infrastructure lasts for decades, which means that the decisions that the local and national governments make today will have long-lasting impacts on urban development and form, as well as climate.
The role of transport in sustainable development was first recognized at the 1992 United Nation’s Earth Summit and reinforced in its outcome document – the Agenda 21. Several chapters, as for example Chapter 9 on Atmosphere and Chapter 7 on Human Settlements recognize Transport as a key development issue.
In undertaking the five-year review of the implementation of Agenda 21 during its nineteenth Special Session in 1997, the General Assembly noted that, over the next twenty years, transportation is expected to be the major driving force behind a growing world demand for energy. It is the largest end-use of energy in developed countries and the fastest growing one in most developing countries.
Further, in 2002, the role of transport was captured in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. The outcome document of the 10th Anniversary of the World Summit on Sustainable Development provided different anchor points for a mobility policy from which environmental and health could benefit, in the context of consumption and production, natural resources as a support of the Kyoto and Montreal Protocol as well as in the context of health, recognizing the importance of preventative, promotive and curative programs on traffic pollution related diseases.
World leaders recognized at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) outcome document: “The Future We Want” that transportation and mobility are central to sustainable development and emphasized the important role of municipal governments in setting a vision for sustainable cities.
Moreover, as part of his five Year Action Agenda, pronounced in January 2012, the UN Secretary General identified transport as a major component of sustainable development. This was a significant step forward in promoting sustainable transport worldwide. In this light, 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, along with Governments and investors, to develop concrete recommendations for more sustainable transport systems that can address rising congestion and pollution worldwide, particularly in urban areas, and are actionable at global, national, local and sector levels. The policy recommendations, to be developed by the HLAG-ST, are expected to be reflected in a global sustainable transport outlook report
that will be released in a first international conference on sustainable transport
in November 2016.
Sustainable transport is essential to achieving most, if not all, of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Although sustainable transport is not represented by a standalone SDG, it is mainstreamed across several SDGs and targets, especially those related to food security, health, energy, infrastructure and cities and human settlements.