Ahead of a high-level meeting on transport, health and environment, the organizers highlight the need for policies that promote health and environmental protection in the context of transport projects.
Governments will adopt the Pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion – a systematic plan to help national and local stakeholders streamline efforts to promote cycling.
By Amy Choi and Virginia Fusé
Decarbonization has been at the heart of the work of the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP) for many years. The respite provided to the natural environment during the global shutdown induced by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020 added weight to the efforts of the youth climate movement and others to speed up global action to decarbonize our world.
Decarbonization is one example of an issue where transport, health, and environment all meet. An upcoming high-level meeting will aim to support UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) member States in addressing numerous challenges, including: ambient air pollution; traffic noise; greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from inland transport; physical inactivity; socioeconomic disparities and exclusion; road traffic injuries; economic inefficiency; land take and the loss of biodiversity; unsustainable behaviors; and incoherent policymaking.
The Fifth High-level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment will convene online from 17-18 May 2021, hosted jointly by two Austrian ministries: the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology; and the Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection. The High-level Meeting serves as the governing body of THE PEP, which is jointly serviced by the UNECE’s Environment and Sustainable Transport Divisions and the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe.
The anticipated outcomes of the High-level Meeting provide solutions and ways forward. These include: reacting to the pandemic and building forward better; creating the first Pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion; and analyzing the connections between sustainable urban mobility and spatial planning.
The meeting is expected to result in the Vienna Declaration, which is the culmination of several years of work to increase cross-sectoral coordination and policymaking regarding sustainable transport in the pan-European region. Recognizing the critical decade ahead, the text of the Vienna Declaration addresses major challenges including air pollution, GHG emissions, and traffic noise.
As signatories to the Vienna Declaration, member States will also call for intensified involvement in THE PEP as an effective contribution to implementing the Paris Agreement. Indeed, despite some improvements in efficiency and a move towards greater electrification of transport, transportation accounts for approximately 25% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuel combustion each year.
Paving the way for healthy and active mobility is another key part of the Vienna Declaration; UNECE member States will set several objectives for 2030, such as improving infrastructure, safety, and numbers of participants in active mobility. Cycling contributes to sustainable and healthy lifestyles and societies in numerous ways. It creates jobs, from the manufacturing process to cycling-related research, and contributes to tourism and the rural and local economy. Cycling also has a positive effect on health by promoting physical activity and active lifestyles, ultimately reducing mortality rates and the costs of health care.
Through the Vienna Declaration, Governments will adopt the Pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion – a systematic plan to help national and local stakeholders streamline efforts to promote cycling. A first for the region, the Master Plan will provide a range of concrete actions to promote cycling from which member States can choose, such as: infrastructural improvements; implementing national cycling strategies and plans; introducing funding mechanisms; improving health and safety; and promoting cycling for a more resilient transport system. An additional set of recommendations has been formulated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to highlight the role that active mobility can play during times of crisis.
Not all problems can be solved by promoting active mobility alone. Eco-driving provides a smarter, safer, and more sustainable way of driving through reduced fuel consumption and improved efficiency. It can help tackle CO2 emissions, noise pollution, and traffic congestion, as well as facilitate the achievement of other important objectives, including: improved traffic safety; reduced driving stress and greater comfort for drivers; lower fuel consumption and operating costs; and lower health risks. In this regard, the Policy Recommendations for Eco-Driving, another output of the Vienna Declaration, provide ten core implementation steps to assist member States in meeting their international commitments, particularly in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Such commitments include targets under Goal 4 (quality education), Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth), Goal 13 (climate action), and Goal 17 (partnerships for the Goals).
Half of the world’s population lives in cities, which account for 95% of carbon emissions through their transport and the energy sectors. Given the inevitable increase in urbanization and urban mobility needs, it is critical that we pursue sustainability. From 2019, THE PEP raised its ambition and recognized the impact that sustainable urban mobility can have in achieving the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. The publication titled, ‘A Handbook on Sustainable Urban Mobility and Spatial Planning: Promoting Active Mobility,’ was published to address remaining gaps and provide information for policymakers. A concise set of key conclusions and recommendations form part of the Vienna Declaration and they will be presented at the High-Level Meeting in May.
The Meeting will also address a set of recommendations related to new transport challenges created by the pandemic. The recommendations strive to make post-pandemic mobility more environmentally sound, healthy, resilient, and sustainable through THE PEP.
The Fifth High-level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment will mark two decades of multilateral negotiation and cooperation on this important intersection of fields. Through the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and its annexes, member States will commit to continue working together to address transport, health, and environmental challenges and to strengthen their efforts in the critical decade ahead.
This guest article was authored by Amy Choi, consultant, and Virginia Fusé, Environmental Affairs Officer, UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UNECE or its member States.