Sustainable Transport to Save the World US$70 Trillion by 2050

In Beijing, as government leaders, industry experts, and civil society groups opened the UN Sustainable Transport Conference October 14, there was growing recognition that sustainable transport can spur economic growth and protect the environment, but that progress has been slow and unequal.

A sustainable transport revolution is spreading across the world, from electrified bus networks in China, to the rapid sales of electric vehicles in the United States, to an all-electric air taxi in Germany. And it's projected to be a profitable revolution.

The World Bank writes in 2017 report that a global transition to sustainable mobility could deliver savings of US$70 trillion by 2050. This figure originated in a 2013 International Energy Agency report, "A Tale of Renewed Cities," wherein the IEA estimates that by 2050, the "avoid, shift and improve approach could lower total global expenditures on vehicles, fuels and transport infrastructure by as much as USD 70 trillion."

To move towards these savings and affordable, accessible transport for all, and simultaneously ensure the rapid deployment of innovative transport solutions to meet the climate crisis, the conference delegates will attempt to map a sustainable pathway forward.

China's President Xi Jinping welcomed delegates with his view that, "Our world is going through a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation."

Xi announced that China will establish a Global Innovation and Knowledge Center for Sustainable Transport, "as a contribution to global transport development."

The Chinese President framed his comments in terms of China's priorities, telling delegates, "China will continue to advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, strengthen infrastructure connectivity with other countries, and develop a green Silk Road and a digital Silk Road at a faster pace."

China’s One Belt One Road Initiative is a policy designed to extend the reach of Chinese-built infrastructure: railways, highways, shipping lanes, energy corridors, and 5G networks from China to Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and a sea-based 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, connecting China to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe via major sea lanes.

"We should leverage the enabling role of transport and increase related input in poor regions, so that local economies and people's lives could improve as a result of better roads," Xi said. "More should be done to develop smart transport and smart logistics and promote deep integration of new technologies like big data, the Internet, artificial intelligence and blockchain with the transport sector, to ensure easier movement of people and smoother flow of goods."

President Xi said China supports green and low-carbon development.

Cyclists, pedestrians and electric trolley buses in Beijing
No fossil fuels in this photograph, just cyclists, pedestrians and electric trolley buses in Beijing, China, April 13, 2017 (Photo by Ryan Taylor)

MORE EFFORTS ARE NEEDED TO FOSTER A GREEN AND LOW-CARBON WAY OF TRANSPORT, STEP UP GREEN INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT, PROMOTE NEW ENERGY, SMART, DIGITAL AND LIGHT-WEIGHT TRANSPORT EQUIPMENT, AND ENCOURAGE AND ADVOCATE GREEN TRAVEL, TO MAKE TRANSPORT AND TRAVEL MORE ENVIRONMENT-FRIENDLY AND LOW CARBON.

Xi Jinping

China’s President

This conference is expected to pave a way forward for sustainable transport to help reach the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular SDGs that are directly connected to sustainable transport through targets and indicators

* - SDG 3: good health and well-being, which includes a target addressing deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents, and

* - SDG 11: sustainable cities and communities, which includes a target on providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all and on expanding public transport.

New Target for Automobile Manufacturers

In his welcoming speech, delivered online, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres set a target for automakers, to "phase out the production of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 for leading manufacturing countries, and by 2040 for developing countries."

THE NEXT NINE YEARS MUST SEE A GLOBAL SHIFT TOWARDS RENEWABLE ENERGY. SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT IS CENTRAL TO THAT TRANSFORMATION.

Antonio Guterres

United Nations Secretary-General

The secretary-general pointed out the links between sustainable transport and climate change control.

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

Sustainable Transport By Sea

Zero emission ships must be commercially available for all by 2030, and companies have to start using sustainable aviation fuels now, Guterres urged.

That maritime target is not as far-fetched as it may first appear.

In September, the world’s first hydrogen-powered ferry, the Norway-flagged Hydra, won the prestigious Skipsrevyen’s Ship of the Year award, given by the Norwegian magazine "Skipsrevyen" [Ship Review].

Norway’s Minister of Transport and Communications Kunt Arild Hareide presented the award on September 8 onboard the ferry in Hjelmeland.

Minister Hareide said the investment made by the government in green ferries through tender requirements and support for alternative fuels and electrification is now bearing fruit. He said the capitalization of green technology is benefitting Norwegian shipyards, suppliers, and shipping companies.

Built for Norled AS, one of Norway's largest ferry and express boat operators, the Hydra is fully electric and equipped with batteries, to avoid having to fuel up during the day. She operates between the town of Nedstrand and the city of Stavanger and serves all the islands in the Ryfylke-area.

Conference Considers All Transport Modes

All modes of transport - road, rail, aviation and waterborne - are under discussion at the conference, which is a hybrid of online and in-person events.

In Beijing today, Liu Zhenmin, the conference secretary-general, who heads the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, declared, "Efforts to accelerate the sustainable transformation of the transport sector are essential to reduce climate-causing emissions and improve the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere."

The UN Sustainable Transport Conference comes just ahead of the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, which opens November 1.

Transport is one of the single largest contributors to air pollution and carbon emissions globally, also accounting for about 64 percent of total oil consumption and 27 percent of all energy use.

THE SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT CONFERENCE IN BEIJING WILL SHARPEN OUR FOCUS ON TRANSPORT, AN AREA WHERE GLOBAL EFFORTS CAN MAKE A DEEP IMPACT ACROSS THE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL DIMENSIONS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.

Liu Zhenmin

Under-Secretary-General for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary General of the 2021 UN Sustainable Transport Conference.

In the forward to a new UN transportation report, released just ahead of the conference, Liu writes, "Innovations, driven by new technologies, evolving consumer preferences and supportive policy making, are changing the transport landscape. While they hold tremendous potential for hastening the transformation to sustainability, they also come with the risk that they could further entrench inequalities, impose constraints on countries in special situations, or present additional challenges for the environment."

The two-day conference is providing a platform for new partnerships, commitments and initiatives for transport systems to ensure the route we are taking to sustainable transport is safe, accessible, green and resilient and is a route we are traveling at the needed scale and speed.