The UN held a conference to advance the transition to sustainable transport, which is considered crucial to progress on climate goals. It is also directly related to achieving several SDG targets, including target 3.6 on road accidents, target 9.1 on access to infrastructure, and target 11.2 on ensuring safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport systems for all by 2030.

As transport accounts for over 25% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the sector must be decarbonized – including in the areas of shipping, aviation, and road and rail travel – in order to achieve the net-zero target in the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2050. Making transport safer, cleaner, and more efficient would bring improvements in many other areas of life and the 2030 Agenda. The second UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference convened in Beijing, China from 14-16 October 2021, aiming to showcase commitments in these areas.

As transport accounts for over 25% of GHG emissions, the sector must be decarbonized to reach the net-zero target.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who convened the Conference, addressed the opening session to outline steps needed to decarbonizing transport, including:

  • Adopt more ambitious and credible targets for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to align shipping and aviation emissions with the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degree maximum warming. He called for zero emission ships to be widely commercially available by 2030, and for air travel companies to begin using sustainable fuels immediately.
  • Phase out the production of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 for leading manufacturing countries, and by 2040 for developing countries.
  • Adopt transport policies that encourage cycling and walking in urban areas, rather than driving short distances.
  • Incentivize clean transport options and regulate infrastructure and procurement more strictly.
  • Upgrade railway systems to increase efficiency and encourage shifts in behavior.

He also stressed the need to make transit safer, including with designated space for pedestrians and bicycles and ending harassment and violence against women and girls on public transport. He added that public transport creates three times more jobs that building new highways. He also said transport systems must become more resilient to extreme climate events, through better risk analysis and disaster planning.

China’s President Xi Jinping committed to establishing a Global Innovation and Knowledge Center for Sustainable Transport.

In the Beijing Statement resulting from the conference, participants said it will be crucial to motivate consumers towards more sustainable mobility patterns and choices, and called for accelerating the deployment of zero-carbon vehicles, automated safety, and intelligent transport systems, as well as creating fuel, power, and digital infrastructures to support those solutions.

The statement suggests that the UNGA be invited to:

  • Convene a third Conference on Sustainable Transport to review progress and guide the global sustainable transport transformation, feeding into 2030 Agenda follow-up at the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and UNFCCC COP meetings; and
  • Declare a UN Decade of Sustainable Transport (2022-2032) to increase global awareness and action on sustainable transport in support of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

Ahead of the Conference, UN agencies released a guide to achieving sustainable transport. The publication emphasizes that the transition must benefit everyone, including people in developing countries and the poorest members of each community. 

The first UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference took place in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in 2016, following the adoption of the SDGs. [UN press release] [DESA article] [Sustainable Transport Commitments and Partnerships Platform] [UN News article] [Conference website]