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UN Sustainable Transport Conference calls for accelerated action to achieve net-zero emissions

The Second UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference concluded with a call to accelerate progress towards achieving sustainable transport that would result in major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and in improving the lives of millions of people.

The Conference participants agreed that without a profound shift to sustainable mobility, achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals—already off-track—would be impossible.

Warning that the door on climate action was closing, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for the decarbonization of all means of transport, in order to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 globally.

More specifically, the Secretary-General called for phasing out the production of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 for leading manufacturing countries, and by 2040 for developing countries; for zero emission ships to become the default choice, and commercially available for all by 2030, in order to achieve zero emissions in the shipping sector by 2050; and that companies start using sustainable aviation fuels now, in order to cut carbon emissions per passenger by 65 per cent by 2050.

The Conference concluded with the Beijing Statement, which called for adopting integrated, interdisciplinary, and cross-sectoral approaches, supported by greater international cooperation.

In his remarks to the Conference, China’s President Xi Jinping committed to establishing a Global Innovation and Knowledge Center for Sustainable Transport as a contribution to global transport development.

Representatives from countries participating in the Conference said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the important role that the transport sector plays in building communities and supporting livelihoods, impacting the movement of both freight and people. The pandemic caused job losses and a disruption to global supply chains. As a result, communities and countries that depend on tourism experienced huge losses in revenue.

Connectivity is also an issue. More than 1 billion people worldwide still lack adequate access to an all-weather road, especially in developing countries, including countries in special situations. In Africa, 450 million people, more than 70% of the total rural population, remain unconnected to transport infrastructure and systems.

Transport tailpipe emissions alone are linked to almost 400,000 deaths and in addition to human loss and suffering, road traffic accidents cause billions of dollars of associated costs which amounts, in many countries, to 3 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The transition to e-mobility can improve lives and have a positive impact on the environment. From bike sharing and carpooling to improved public transit and the increased use of electric vehicles and buses powered by renewable energy, countries, businesses and communities are stepping up efforts to transition to more environmentally friendly modes.

We have the opportunity now to capture the innovation and technology that can revolutionize transport. But these new technologies have to work for everyone. We have the solutions, and now we need the global cooperation to ensure that sustainable transport will be the engine that powers our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

—Conference Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Progress is insufficient. However, challenges remain. While some member states have made some initial steps to address emissions from shipping and aviation, for example, current commitments are not enough to meet the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement.

Countries in special situations, remote rural communities and vulnerable groups risk being left behind as the number of new and emerging transport-related technologies increase. More than $2 trillion of transport infrastructure investments will be needed each year until 2040 to fuel economic development. There is also a need for stronger policies on road safety measures and regulations on the import of new and used vehicles.


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