Sustainable Transport Must Answer Needs of ‘Those Who Have the Least’, Says Secretary-General as Global Conference Opens in Turkmenistan

The first ever Global Sustainable Transport Conference opened today, bringing together key stakeholders from Governments, the United Nations system and other international organizations, the private sector and civil society, to engage in a dialogue over two days on the integrated and cross-cutting nature of transport and its multiple roles in supporting the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

"Sustainable transport has to answer to the needs of those who have the least," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "When it does, we can bridge more than physical distances; we can come closer as one human family."

While sustainable transport could drive inclusive growth, create jobs, reduce poverty, open markets, empower women and help secure the well-being of other vulnerable groups, there was a human side beyond economics, he said. Sustainable transport was out of reach for too many rural communities, millions of persons with disabilities could not use public transportation because it was inaccessible and older persons struggled to move from one place to the next. Even where transport was available, it may not be safe, especially for women and girls, who often rightly fear they may be attacked.

To address those and a range of related concerns, he proposed seven ideas on how to move forward, including the adoption of a broad view aimed at resolving interlocking problems of transport with an integrated policy framework that aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals while emphasizing safety, the environment and health. Financing was essential, he said, as it took investments to see results, and all partners must be mobilized by putting people at the centre of transport planning and by working together.

"Transport is team work," he said. "With a broad coalition of Governments, international organizations, businesses, civil society and communities, we can make sustainable transport a reality."

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, President of Turkmenistan, who opened the Conference, agreed. "Today, transport is directly related to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals," he said. In addition to being a key element of modern development, the transport sector lent to job creation, the application of technology and advanced management solutions and a contribution to advancing environmental protection and increasing human mobility by meeting people's travel and communication needs. The latter also acted in promoting tourism and forging a better understanding among all the people of the planet. Achieving those goals required taking a global approach based on equality, mutual respect and multilateral benefits alongside a balance of the interests of all countries.

Throughout the day, at side events and thematic discussions involving ministers and other high-level officials and experts, delegates debated ways to do so. At a thematic discussion on "Sustainable transport at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)", speakers pointed out that it was difficult for countries in special situations to secure investment and partnerships to support sustainable transport and transit solutions while staying on course to meet Paris Agreement on climate change targets. Many agreed on an existing need to enhance and strengthen global partnerships to complement national efforts and regional collaboration.

That sentiment was echoed during a discussion on "Reaching the most remote: Rural transport challenges and opportunities", where speakers emphasized the need to adopt a holistic, integrated approach. That included infrastructure improvements, technology transfer and innovation, and an emphasis on health and safety, with a focus on active mobility and local economic and social development.

Thematic discussions were also held on "Sustainable urban transport solutions" and "Sustainable transport solutions to the climate crisis".

During the plenary session, co-chaired by Rashid Meredov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, and Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, statements were delivered by Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, President of Afghanistan, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, Giorgi Margvelashvili, President of Georgia, and ministers, high-level Government officials and representatives. Representatives of international organizations also spoke.

The Global Sustainable Transport Conference will continue on Sunday, 27 November, at 10 a.m.

Opening Ceremony

GURBANGULY BERDIMUHAMEDOV, President of Turkmenistan, said the Global Sustainable Transport Conference reflected the international community's strong interest in the issues and the enormous opportunities that existed in many countries for developing a sector that was an important element in the world economy. The creation of modern, integrated and high-tech transport infrastructure was among the priorities of the Sustainable Development Goals and could contribute to economic growth at national and international levels. Turkmenistan had, for its part, submitted two related draft resolutions to the United Nations General Assembly, which had unanimously adopted both.

Consistent, action-oriented national policies had already achieved results, he said. A significant part of that approach was creating a regional network, building a combined transport and communications system, including initiatives that broadened access to the Black Sea, the Baltic regions, South and South-East Asia and the Middle East. At the national level, Turkmenistan had begun a large-scale development and expansion of its infrastructure, including highways and bridges, thereby increasing the transport potential of the country. Those efforts also bolstered regional development and cooperation, including through highways and railways with neighbouring States.

"Our country is ready for an intensification and expansion of initiatives," he said, emphasizing the importance of regional efforts. "Today, transport is directly related to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals." In that vein, he said the transport sector lent to job creation, the application of technology and advanced management solutions and a contribution to advancing environmental protection and increasing human mobility by meeting people's travel and communications needs. The latter also acted in promoting tourism and forging a better understanding among all the people of the planet.

Transport was a key element of modern development, he said. It also required a global approach based on equality, mutual respect and multilateral benefits alongside a balance of the interests of all countries. Anticipating the shared ideas, debates and initiatives that would unfold during the two-day conference, he wished participants fruitful discussions.

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said sustainable transport could drive inclusive growth, create jobs, reduce poverty, open markets, empower women and help secure the well-being of other vulnerable groups. Global trade depended on the world's roads, rails, waterways and flight paths and the transport sector itself was a huge source of jobs and an engine of economic growth.

Beyond economics, there was a human side, he said. Sustainable transport was out of reach for too many rural communities, millions of persons with disabilities could not use public transportation because it was inaccessible and older persons struggled to move from one place to the next. Even where transport was available it may not be safe, especially for women and girls, who often rightly fear they may be attacked. "Sustainable transport has to answer to the needs of those who have the least," he said. "When it does, we can bridge more than physical distances; we can come closer as one human family."

The Global Conference, he said, should confront the many challenges to sustainability with regard to transport. The sector was responsible for nearly a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and that was expected to substantially increase in the future. "Without action on the transportation front, it would not be possible to limit global warming to below 2C and as close to 1.5C as possible," he said. Transport also had significant public health impacts, with road accidents claiming more than 1 million lives every year, the vast majority - 9 out of 10 - in developing countries. Traffic in cities sapped productivity and contributed to air pollution, which cost more than 3 million lives a year.

Proposing seven ideas on how to move forward, he said, first, a broad view must resolve interlocking problems of transport with an integrated policy framework that aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. Next, the needs of vulnerable nations, including least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, must be addressed. In addition, better transport systems in cities must be promoted, translating into improving public transport while promoting walking and cycling.

Further, he said, transport systems must be made safe and secure to reach the ambitious target set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calling for access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all. In addition, the environmental impacts of transport must be addressed in order to mitigate the impact on climate change and reduce local air pollution. Financing was essential, as it took investments to see results. Finally, all partners must be mobilized by putting people at the centre of transport planning and by working together. "Transport is team work," he said. "With a broad coalition of Governments, international organizations, businesses, civil society and communities, we can make sustainable transport a reality."

With a view to advancing those efforts, he said the High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport he had formed in 2014 had brought together leaders from private sector companies, industry associations and local and national Governments. Citing their final report, he said there was one central message: that greater investment in greener, more sustainable transport systems was essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Focusing on sustainable transport was already improving lives around the world, he said, adding that "we are here to advance progress that can benefit generations to come".

Thematic Discussion I

Speakers stressed the importance of partnerships, broad-based consultation and new ways of thinking during a thematic discussion on "Sustainable transport at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals", co-chaired by Muhametgeldi Atayev, Director of the Strategic Planning and Economic Development Institute of Turkmenistan, and Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice-President for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations Relations and Partnerships at the World Bank Group.

Participating on the panel were Liu Fang, Secretary-General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); Gyan Acharya, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States; Walid Abdelwahab, Director Infrastructure, Islamic Development Bank; Kamel Ben Naceur, Director of the Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks Directorate, International Energy Agency; Garry Neu, of Cargolux Airlines International; Elizabeth Jones, of the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom; and Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, Minister for Transport of Thailand.

Mr. MOHIELDIN, opening the discussion, said transportation was reflected in several of its targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals. He underscored the importance of acting not only at the global, regional and national levels, but at the subnational level, including the integration of rural and urban areas and establishing more efficient connections among city dwellers.

Mr. ACHARYA said there were 1.2 billion vehicles in the world, yet 1 billion people lacked means of transportation. It was difficult for countries in special situations to secure investment and partnerships to support sustainable transport and transit solutions while staying on course to meet Paris Agreement on climate change targets, he added, emphasizing the need for enhanced and strengthened global partnership to complement national efforts and regional collaboration.

Ms. LIU said air transport was a major catalyst for development. It was responsible, directly or indirectly, for 63.5 million jobs around the world and it was a reliable source of economic growth, with air traffic and passenger volumes due to double by 2030. Air transport also provided a large tax base for Governments, as well as the confidence to move forward on long-term planning, which sustainable development demanded. She noted that public financing alone would be insufficient for meeting aviation infrastructure needs, and reviewed ICAO's efforts with regard to mitigating the impact of carbon dioxide emissions through such methods as market-based carbon offsetting, revised navigational procedures and alternative fuels.

Mr. ABDELWAHAB said the Sustainable Development Goals and transportation were all about leaving no one behind. Where there were gaps, more needed to be done, while in areas that faced no issues, things could be done better. Agreement was needed on a vision for sustainable transportation, which in the end required the mobilization of resources, he said, putting transportation at the heart of infrastructure.

Mr. BEN NACEUR underscored how the Sustainable Development Goals were linked to each other. Transport needed energy and energy needed transport, he added, emphasizing the need to decarbonize the energy sector in order to meet the Paris Agreement objectives. He said more data was required to understand how energy was used in the transportation sector, and discussed some initiatives in that regard. Given the growing number of mega cities, it was important for all stakeholders to have a voice in integrated transportation systems.

Mr. NEU said sustainability was a priority for the air cargo industry. The aviation sector was a pioneer in reducing carbon emissions, even though it was responsible for 12 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions from all sources. Developing and commercializing sustainable biofuels was essential, he said, also stressing the need to modernize and harmonize air traffic management at the European and global levels.

Ms. JONES said her Government supported the need for a global narrative on transportation, as well as more leadership and coordination in the sector. She said she wondered whether more thought should be given to how to do better on transportation while reaching the poorest. For years, engineers had focused on delivery, but perhaps there was a need to ensure space for reflection, coordination and looking at different ways of working. More engagement with new partners was needed. The bar for success had been set high, but the time was right to work in different ways.

Mr. ARKHOM said Thailand had recently adopted a 20-year strategic transport plan. Its current Government was committed to approving - hopefully by 2017 - the construction of 10 metro lines in Bangkok. Clean electric buses would also be introduced in the city. Explaining that his ministry had completed an engineering manual for all modes of transportation, he said public transport facilities would take into account the needs of disabled and elderly people, as well as women and children. With regard to technological innovations, common ticketing was being introduced for Bangkok's mass transit network and its expressways.

Making statements during the thematic discussion were representatives of China and Nepal, as well as by Mr. ATAYEV, who described projects in Turkmenistan dealing with small communities. There were funding and financing issues, but those could be mastered through an integrated approach, he said.

Thematic Discussion II

Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would in the rural context require a holistic approach to transport, speakers said this afternoon during a thematic discussion on "Reaching the most remote: Rural transport challenges and opportunities", emphasizing that opportunities for a green path to development must be maximized. That included infrastructure improvements, technology transfer and innovation, and an emphasis on health and safety, with a focus on active mobility and local economic and social development.

Chaired by Shantanu Mukherjee, Chief, Policy Analysis Branch, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the panellists were: Abayomi Babalola, Transport Sector Manager, African Development Bank; Laura Capobianco, Global Policy Focal Point, Save Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Flagship Initiative, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women); Stephen Cahill, Global Logistics Cluster Coordinator, World Food Programme (WFP); and Chikako Takase, Director, United Nations Centre for Regional Development.

Mr. MUKHERJEE said that as the 2030 Agenda moved forward, it was a reality that many people lacked access to the transport they needed to reach services and develop their economies. But, infrastructure development was only part of the solution. Citing several examples of innovative efforts, he pointed to a bus voucher programme in Ghana targeting pregnant women who needed to reach health centres for prenatal care. Those efforts had resulted in more women getting the care they needed.

Mr. BABALOLA provided an overview of challenges and opportunities to improve transport access across Africa. The Development Bank had a vision of lighting and powering Africa, industrializing and improving living conditions on the continent, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Because rural transport was instrumental in addressing poverty, the Bank, alongside other financial institutions such as the World Bank, had gained some experience on the continent working in remote areas, including with infrastructure and community projects in Uganda. Among the challenges at hand were national projects that focused only on trunk throughways and not on developing rural roads, which were vulnerable to gravel loss during rainy seasons. A lack of essential services and facilities also created challenges in the upkeep of roadways.

Yet, those challenges, he said, also represented opportunities that could be seized upon using an integrated, holistic approach to finding rural transport solutions. A recent Bank project focused on road safety improvement, a portion of which focused on rural needs. Other projects that fostered a rural approach included training women entrepreneurs and youth to maintain roadways. He expected Governments to increase financing for rural development and establish processes for helping rural populations to bring their products to market. Public and private actors had roles to play, as did development partners, through the adoption of efforts that embraced a holistic, integrated approach.

Ms. CAPOBIANCO said UN-Women had launched the Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Initiative which aimed at addressing issues including violence and sexual harassment in urban areas. Efforts had now unrolled in cities including Cairo, Port Moresby, Delhi and Kigali and partnerships with local government agencies, United Nations agencies and community organizations had supported a range of projects. All cities that were part of the Initiative had recognized the roles of girls and women and the need to address issues that affected their safety and well-being. Many women and girls were afraid to walk on city streets and some had chosen not to work in urban areas due to safety concerns. Surveys had shown that some women had experienced sexual harassment while taking public transportation.

Creating safe spaces for women and girls in cities required a multidimensional approach, she continued. The Initiative was also working to ensure that preventing violence against women became a part of local policies. Other efforts included working towards women-only buses, a temporary interim solution to improve safety for women and addressing their fear of operating in cities. Those projects must be coupled with the political will to, among other things, ensure safe and sustainable public transportation for all.

Mr. CAHILL said rural transportation could not be addressed in a vacuum. Yet, working in isolated areas was complex in countries such as Iraq, Syria and South Sudan. Beyond road development, there was a need to focus on river and water-level projects, such as an on-going initiative in South Sudan, which should help to improve access for populations in remote communities. WFP, for its part, was making efforts to purchase from farmers in remote areas. Opening up rural transportation, however, carried risks, including the spread of AIDS. That meant educating those who worked in those areas. Efforts should also address warehousing, food production and trucks. Further, looking at rural transportation in conjunction with international networks required close cooperation between the public and private sector.

Ms. TAKASE described several projects being undertaken by the United Nations Centre for Regional Development. Elaborating on efforts in Asia, she said the Centre had promoted integrated regional development planning, a process that could transcend sectors and administrative boundaries. It was designed to address local needs and sought to empower communities and enhance capacity development. Improved rural transport enhanced livelihood security, access to basic utilities and supply chain logistics. It also reduced inequality within the community and bolstered gender equality.

Spotlighting several upcoming events, she said the tenth Environmentally Sustainable Transport Forum in Asia, to be held in Lao People's Democratic Republic in March 2017, would focus on the 2030 road map for sustainable transport and aligning it with the Sustainable Development Goals. She hoped a high-level political dialogue would advance efforts and contribute to the issue of rural transport. Forum participants would also consider the Zero Draft Vientiane Declaration on Sustainable Rural Transport towards Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Delegates then posed a number of questions, some focusing on their national challenges. The delegate from Zambia agreed that rural challenges needed targeted solutions in terms of roadway development. Pakistan's representative said that during discussions on finding global transport solutions, issues that go beyond borders, such as human trafficking and climate change, must be addressed.

Thematic Discussion III

A thematic discussion was also held on "Sustainable transport solutions to the climate crisis". Co-chaired by Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary for Sustainable Development, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the panellists were: Sergey Andreev, State Secretary and Deputy Minister for Transport of the Russian Federation; Li Xiaopen, Minister for Transport of China; Liu Fang; Secretary-General of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); Jesper Loldrup, Head, Executive Office of the Secretary-General and Policy and Planning of the International Maritime Organization (IMO); Regina Asariotis, Chief, Policy and Legislation Section, Division on Technology and Logistics, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); and Cornie Huizenga, Secretary-General, Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport.

Thematic Discussion IV

Speakers at a thematic discussion on "Public transport in the twenty-first century: moving passengers and freight in a sustainable manner" discussed their own countries' experiences with sustainable transport. They touched such diverse factors as the impact of land speculation on urban sprawl and the promise of clean energy sources to the overhaul of large city bus fleets and the international trade in used trucks.

Chaired by Kosayev Annadurdy, Deputy Minister for Motor Transport of Turkmenistan, and Bambang Susantono, Vice-President, Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Asian Development Bank, the panel included Leonardo Castro, Secretary of Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Irakli Lekvinadze, Vice-Mayor of Tbilisi, Georgia; Paul Apthorb, Vice-Chairman and Founding Director, Greater Mekong Subregion, Freight Transport Association; and Philip Turner of the International Association of Public Transport.

Opening the discussion, Mr. SUSANTONO said sustainable transport was essential for achieving more of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly numbers 9 and 11. Noting that two thirds of the world's population would be living in cities by 2050, he said the desirability and efficiency of urban areas was defined by how smoothly goods and people were able to circulate. Close cooperation between local and national governments would be needed, he said, adding that much could be learned from success stories and the different solutions that had been implemented.

Mr. CASTRO said Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third-largest city, had only 100,000 people when it was laid out in 1893. The World Cup in Brazil in 2014 presented an opportunity to build two bus rapid transit systems. However, making it operate proved difficult due to land speculation which forced the city to grow horizontally, making infrastructure more expensive and mass transit more costly. A major urban policy conference - with the participation of 4,800 delegates from civil society - was convened with the expectation that it would overcome the power of the lobbyists and land owners. After eight months of work, a new master plan was delivered to the city council, which was currently discussing it. Concluding, he said public participation was, in his city's experience, the key to greater sustainable mobility.

Mr. LEKVINADZE said Tbilisi's population was growing and its transport system was outmoded. Its managers needed to come up with an integrated plan for transport which would deal with that. As a result, Tbilisi had developed a master plan called "Smart City 2030" which emphasized public transport. Projects were initiated to improve the public transport system and upgrade the current infrastructure, taking into account a large number of tourists and Tbilisi's development as a centre for energy-saving technology. Tax exemptions were provided to those who bought electric vehicles and the city's fleet of 600 buses was being replaced with new European vehicles operating on compressed natural gas. In cooperation with the Asian Development Bank, new metro stations would open next year. Research was meanwhile under way with donors on integrating cable cars into the city's transit system.

Mr. APTHORP cited Tokyo as a good example of how a city of 27 million could have very few traffic jams due to the world's leading rail and subway system. With regard to the transport of goods, he said Japan used the newest and cleanest trucks, maintained to the highest standards. However, in the Greater Mekong Subregion, countries imported older trucks from Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States that used more fuel, put out more emissions and required constant mechanical attention. Some operators preferred old trucks from the Soviet Union that could be fixed with a sledgehammer. Developing countries should not become a dumping ground for trucks from developed countries, he said, proposing a "cash-for-clunkers" scheme that would see old trucks taken off the road and scrapped.

PHILIP TURNER, of the International Association of Public Transport, emphasized the need to shift to multi-modal solutions, especially in cities. Financing was important, but it was not so much a matter of spending more money but rather a case of redirecting investments, he said, recalling the Green Bus fund in the United Kingdom which gave London the world's cleanest bus network. Political will was required, as well as target-setting.

ASHITA MITTAL, Regional Representative, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), referred to the role of the rule of law and good governance in achieving sustainable development, and suggested opening a dialogue on the contribution of sustainable transport to international peace and security.

BERNARD PEILLE, of Alstom Corp, said the development of hydrogen fuel cells would mark a major shift away from fuel and electricity as a transport energy source. For countries not yet at the stage of electrification, he said, it might be better to leap straight into a new energy era.

Representatives of Ukraine and Thailand also spoke.

Source: United Nations

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