Combating climate change requires a massive, unified, and truly global effort. Nonetheless, progress toward our common goals is built on individual nations making voluntary commitments to take action. Encouragingly, at COP21 in Paris, more than 75 percent of the national plans announced have identified transport as an opportunity for emissions reduction, and more than half contain specific measures for transport related mitigation. And yet, despite leadership and innovation from many nations, current projections say that we still must dramatically increase our commitment to act if we hope to prevent the most devastating effects of climate change. Luckily, there are many ways countries can increase their climate ambitions.
In preparation for Paris, 186 nations announced landmark commitments to reduce emissions. Many of these national commitments, known as Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs), included significant plans to use transport to achieve their goals. Even beyond the usual big actors (e.g. China, Canada, Japan), nations are providing examples of bold and visionary leadership in sustainable transport. For example, Indonesia has pledged to reduce emissions 29% by 2030, compared to business as usual, in part by building 29 new BRT systems. Ethiopia has committed to a 64% reduction on business as usual emissions by 2030, including plans to increase transit-oriented development around new rail lines. The increased commitments can be traced to years of policy experts, including ITDP and many of our partners, working with local and national leaders to identify opportunities and tools for transport to reduce emissions.
Despite this progress, much more needs to be done. The world has agreed to the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Beyond this, the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, severe weather events, and prolonged droughts, would worsen. Thus far, the INDC commitments only set the world on track for a 3.5 degree scenario. Countries need to dramatically increase their commitments to reduce emissions to create a safer, more livable future. Here are three important ways to increase our climate ambitions:
1. Focus on low or no emissions transport– Although transport has received unprecedented recognition in Paris as a tool to combat climate change, many nations are still focusing on fuel and vehicle efficiency. To gain the biggest climate benefits from transport, a dramatic shift is needed. A focus on walking, cycling, public transit, and transit-oriented development in national plans will have the biggest effect on reducing emissions, and will yield massive financial benefits as well. A recent report from ITDP and UC Davis shows how a high shift toward cycling, public transit, and mass transit would avoid a 300 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and save cities $24 trillion dollars over the next 25 years. Walking and cycling, which already made up nearly half of all trips in Africa, East Asia, and many Indian cities, must be a bigger part of the conversation.
2. Look for opportunities to advance multiple global goals– Sustainable transport has the power to benefit cities in many ways. Beyond eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable transport can yield benefits to public health and the economic vitality of cities, including reducing air pollution, creating safer streets with fewer road deaths, and improving accessibility and equity for residents. With the global community mobilized around many of these goals through agreements like the Sustainable Development Goals, recognizing co-benefits can give national and local leaders greater incentive to take bold transport actions.
3. Expand options for transport funding and financing – A critical aspect of both local and global climate discussions is funding. ITDP research shows that by committing to invest more in transit, stabilizing funding streams, and increasing the use of debt financing, among other strategies, countries can dramatically grow their transit infrastructure. Coupled with empowering cities with the technical knowledge and legal authority to plan and implement projects and policies, improving the financial systems behind transit will open the faucet and allow more high quality projects through the pipeline.
In the fight against climate change, cities are leading the charge. From reducing air pollution to protecting against rising sea levels, cities know the importance of reducing emissions and mitigating climate change. Currently, cities account for 70% of global GHG emissions, making them well poised to take the biggest steps to reduce them. As national leaders kicked off COP21 in Paris, 500 cities attended their own Paris summit. Together, they committed to working to take bold climate action in the coming years. As cities and nations develop and act on their plans to reduce emissions, we must applaud their progress, and continue pressing for urgent action.