The newly developed Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for the period 2015-2030 recognise the role of transport in supporting economic development and human well-being. Transport systems deliver economic and social benefits by connecting people and firms to opportunities. In particular, SDGs highlight the importance of access and connectivity in providing growth. At the same time, reducing CO2 emissions in the transport sector is essential in the fight against climate change: if no action is taken, CO2 emissions from the transport sector will double by 2050. Achieving both accessibility and sustainability is one of the major challenges that transport policies have to address in the coming years.
Improving access to jobs, education or healthcare is essential for the sustainable development of societies in both cities and rural areas. And there is still room for improvement. One billion people were still unconnected to any all-season road in 2006. In Latin America, the share of jobs accessible within an hour commute ranges from 20% to 75 %. Well-defined, broadly available indicators of access are being actively researched. However, data availability is still an issue, especially in developing countries. The greater availability of disaggregate data should allow for refined approaches on a global scale.
There is a wide body of literature recognising that air connectivity has major economic impacts. The 2017 edition of the ITF Transport Outlook, the flagship publication of the ITF, will introduce a global connectivity measure, describing the quality of the connections between cities and the main global markets. Connectivity to world markets is still very unequal: while it takes on average 13 hours to reach the main economic centres of the world from European cities, this goes up to 29.5 hours for the African ones, with poor accessibility to well-connected explaining half of this gap. Connectivity has globally improved since the 2000s and should continue doing so in the next decades, albeit at very different rates depending on the continent.
Freight transport infrastructure plays a crucial role for international trade. Poor quality or lack of infrastructure increases transport costs, lengthens delivery times and can reduce economic growth. Although the currently estimated capacity improvements are overall sufficient to accommodate future traffic growth up to 2030, ports in some Asian regions may run against capacity problems. Capacity needs could also be large for the surface infrastructure close to ports or large production centres. Adequate policies might be able to deal with these issues in a sustainable way, mainly because there is still room for capacity optimisation strategies.
Although a 4°C scenario is possible without curving the trend of road travel activity, limiting warming to 2°C will require a 23% reduction of vehicle-kilometres travelled. This comes with co-benefits (better health, less road injuries and better accessibility), and significant savings from reduced spending on roads and parking. The move towards the right policy pathways requires a change in decision-making tools and processes as transport planners have prioritised road transport for decades. However, massive progress is within reach as shown by feedbacks from cities such as Chennai, Delhi and London. The development of active modes, car sharing, new mobility services, transport planning and transit orientated development are among the numerous possible measures.
Transport Analyst, International Transport Forum
Chief Economist, Sustainable Development, The World Bank
CEO, Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP)
Economist, Ports and Shipping, International Transport Forum
Senior Economist, Head of Outlook and Statistics Unit, International Transport Forum