In 2000, the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), putting forth a vision of how to solve the world biggest issues. In 2015, the MDGs are set to expire, and the global community is working hard to develop the next 15-year agreement to guide economic growth, ensure an environmentally sustainable development and end poverty. Negotiations are ongoing, as representatives from countries around the world and civil society develop a common set of goals with targets and indicators. ITDP has been part of this process since the beginning. The work will culminate in September, when the UN General Assembly convenes to approve the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and set a new global framework.
Thus far, the vision put forth by the Sustainable Development Goals is ambitious. Perhaps exceedingly so. But it is also the right understanding of the issues and scale required to make progress on the world’s most pressing needs. The vision has been developed in one of the broadest consultative processes ever conducted by the UN. Because of this, there is hope that the high level agreement will have broad power, influencing lending patterns at development banks and guiding nations to consider how to achieve their goals. They will also help hold the global community accountable by setting indicators to measure how well countries are meeting these goals.
What’s in the new Goals?
Seven of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals include one or more targets that addresses transport, both rural and urban. While some name transport directly, many of the targets incorporate transport by recognizing the importance of access in achieving advances in education, healthcare, and other critical needs. The most relevant targets for transport are:
Goal 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 2 Targets
2.3. By 2030 double the agricultural productivity and the incomes from small scale food producers, particularly of women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment
2.a. Increase investment, including through enhanced international cooperation, in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development, and plant and livestock gene banks to enhance agricultural productive capacity in developing countries, in particular in least developed countries
Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 3 Targets
3.6. By 2030 halve global deaths from road traffic accidents
3.9. By 2030 substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination
Goal 7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 7 Targets
7.3. Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030
7.a. By 2030 enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technologies, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and advanced and cleaner fossil fuel technologies, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technologies
Goal 9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 9 Targets
9.1. Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all
9.4. By 2030 upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities
9.a. Facilitate sustainable and resilient infrastructure development in developing countries through enhanced financial, technological and technical support to African countries, LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS
Goal 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 11 Targets
11.2. By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
11.6. By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality, municipal and other waste management
11.7. By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
11.a. Support economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas into by strengthening national and regional development planning
Goal 12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 12 Targets
12.c. Rationalize inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions, in accordance with national circumstances, including by restructuring taxation and phasing out those harmful subsidies, where they exist, to reflect their environmental impacts, taking fully into account the specific needs and conditions of developing countries and minimizing the possible adverse impacts on their development in a manner that protects the poor and the affected communities
Goal 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 13 Targets
13.2. Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning
Encouragingly, in the framework for the Sustainable Development Goals, both cities and transport take prominent roles. This is a historic step, as transport had not been recognized in the previous MDGs. Of the seventeen goals recommended by the Open Working Group to the UN General Assembly, seven of them include specific targets that incorporate transport (including both rural and urban infrastructure. See sidebar for details). This elevation of transport recognizes it as a key tool in reducing emissions, improving equity, and reducing poverty. Another historic first is the inclusion of a goal on cities, recognizing the increasingly valuable part cities are playing in global development.
Women in Kampala, Uganda walk along the road. The SDGs should create safer environments for pedestrians. Credit: Carlos Pardo
These transport targets, and the indicators proposed to measure them, address the right issues and set reasonable paths for improvements. (An upcoming blog post will explore specific indicators in more detail). They reward cities with good public transit, encourage strong transit-oriented development, and push for expanded social equity around transportation. These accomplishments are a significant victory for the transport and urban planning community.
Nonetheless, the SDGs have some room for improvement. Where the goals fall short is the lack of inclusion of cycling and walking- key parts of the sustainable transport mix. Both are low to no impact on the environment, and have far reaching benefits. Walking is the form most often used by lower income people, including women and children who often lack access to a vehicle or money.
Luckily, this omission can still be fixed. Adding language to target 11.2 about cycling and walking would ensure that these modes would be considered. One such option is the language proposed by Dario Hidalgo of EMBARQ. An indicator on road safety has already been proposed, and could also be used as a proxy to track investment in walking and cycling, as new investments have a direct influence on pedestrian and cyclist safety. To do this, data must be collected at the city level, not just at the state or national level.
Moving forward, while fine-tuning on several indicators is advisable, the sustainable development goals are a major step forward in integrating transport with other global goals. By setting the stage with ambitious vision, the United Nations will allow world actors to pursue these ideals in a context with clearly articulated aims and institutional support for measuring and achieving improvements in these areas.