Low-carbon transport

What role does low-carbon transport play in climate mitigation and adaptation?

Low-carbon development is essential to reduce adverse effects of climate change, as well as maximise the opportunity to advance to green, sustainable energy, technology and manufacturing (expert comment). Transport is inextricably linked to development and economic growth, and is one of the fastest growing contributors to climate change (ADB, 2010). The bulk of future emissions from the developing world are likely to come from the transport sector, making it a critical sector for climate adaptation and mitigation (Kopp et al., 2013). Given its strong relationship with development, improved transport systems can provide significant co-benefits, such as a reduction in the urban air pollution that affects millions of people (WHO, n. d.).

Transport is also an important sector for adaptation. Climate change has wide-ranging impacts on transportation systems, from structural and material damages to delays and disruption of services. Sustainable transport provides added benefits for women, including better access to economic opportunities, education and health services (Asian Development Bank, 2013).

Kopp, A., Block, R., & Limi, A. (2013). Turning the right corner: Ensuring development through a low-carbon transport sector (Direction in development: Environment and sustainable development). Washington, DC: World Bank.
This report draws on mixed method research and argues that transport is crucial to development; however recognition of the impact of climate on transport has been slow. The urgent need to cut emissions requires a new model for infrastructure and transport services, and institutional change and coordination to integrate supply and demand actions. Climate change widens financing gaps in transport, but current carbon finance is inadequate for transport needs. Better maintenance and management of infrastructure is advocated to reduce vulnerability.

Asian Development Bank. (2013). Gender tool kit: Transport: Maximising the benefits of improved mobility for all. Manila: Asian Development Bank.
This is a guide for mainstreaming gender into the sustainable transport sector. Gender equality provides multiple co-benefits – including improved access to economic opportunities, education and maternal health services – which may lead to better development outcomes.

Mitigation and adaptation opportunities

Given its contribution to emissions and its importance to development, sustainable transport should be a primary component of low-carbon development strategies. Various approaches are advocated in the literature, ranging from transiting to low-carbon fuel sources, to improving vehicle efficiency. Low-carbon mass transit systems and active transport systems are commonly advocated by experts. Studies show they have produced greater co-benefits, particularly for health, than other approaches (Crawford, n. d.; WHO, n. d.). Key considerations for planning transport interventions include affordability, combining technological advancement with behavioural change, and including comprehensive stakeholder consultations.

WHO. (n. d.). Heath in the green economy: Co-benefits to health of climate change mitigation – Transport sector Preliminary findings – Initial review. Geneva: WHO.
This WHO paper reviews the potential health co-benefits of transportation mitigation strategies. Active transport (walking and cycling) and rapid transit/public transport systems can yield greater immediate health co-benefits than improving fuel and vehicle efficiency. Benefits of such approaches range from reduced respiratory and cardiovascular disease from air pollution, to less exposure to traffic injury risks. However, there is a need for more systematic evaluation of mitigation strategies involving transportation and land use.

Crawford, G. (n. d.). Sustainable transport in Colombia: Bogotá and the Transmilenio (Case Study 05). Brighton: IDS/Learning Hub.
This case study identifies the positive role of the Bogotá Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in reducing carbon emissions from transport. In addition to reducing emissions, the transit system provided jobs and improved access and mobility across the city. It also introduced pro-poor structured fares. Affordability remains a key challenge, and there are concerns about whether infrastructure will withstand future climate impacts.

ADB. (2010). Reducing carbon emissions from transport projects (ADB Evaluation Study). Asian Development Bank.
This independent evaluation of ADB projects finds that low-carbon transport strategies can be among the least costly ways to reduce GHG emissions when they: reduce the need to travel; increase the use of low-carbon transport; and improve transport system management by reducing congestion and inefficiency. Low-carbon strategies can produce disproportionate social and economic benefits for people on low incomes, particularly those dependent on walking and public transport.