Transport must be high on agenda at COP 21 Paris climate conference

What is decided at the Paris climate conference (COP 21) which starts today will be important as the outcomes and agreements will drive political commitments and funding, says Justin Ward. 

More than 190 countries will gather to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change.  There is a strong argument that transport should feature near to the top of the global policy agenda, what follows are eight reasons why:

1.     Transport contributes 20% of global CO2 emissions; 60% of global oil consumption and 27% of all energy use.

2.     It took 100 years for the global population of cars to reach one billion. It is forecast that by 2030, that figure will exceed two billion.

3.     The economic cost of air pollution from road transport in OECD countries, measured in terms of lives lost and ill health, is estimated at US$1 trillion.

4.     The costs of respiratory ailments and other diseases due to vehicle-related air pollution can be 2–4% of GDP. 

5.     The health effects of urban air pollution alone are estimated to cost more than 5% of the GDP in developing countries.

6.     Urban outdoor air pollution causes 3.7 million premature deaths per year worldwide - cleaner transport would contribute to reducing this. 

7.     Climate change is already threatening vital infrastructure such as road and rail networks, bridges and embedded utility systems.

8.     70% of the global population will live in cities by 2050.  The city populations of emerging economies are expected to double between 2000 and 2030, from 2 billion to 4 billion people.

The actions of the transport sector and the road sector in particular can play a pivotal role in addressing mitigation action around climate change. 

Organisations such as the World Road Association, with its 122 member countries, are uniquely positioned to lead the global road transport sector response to climate change.  They can help embed mitigation and adaption approaches to dealing with climate change into best practice through key policy guidance and reports, tools and manuals. 

Over the next thirty years, most of the world’s population growth will occur in cities.  Cost-effective strategies to addressing the consequences of this exist, for example through better integrating transport and land use – including the development of public transport systems and pedestrian and cycle networks.

The association has developed a document that will help with mitigating the effects of climate change.  The document:  ‘International climate change adaptation framework for road infrastructure’ helps road authorities through identifying which assets and operations are vulnerable to climate change, prioritising these risks, developing robust adaptation responses, and integrating climate change risks into decision-making processes.

Developed through extensive research and consultation with road authorities globally, the framework synthesises evidence, insights and good practice available internationally into an effective and robust tool for use by any road authority.  Even road authorities with very limited resources can start taking effective steps to increase the resilience of their networks to climate change, see for more information.

Justin Ward is senior policy officer at the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportaton.

CIHT provides the sectetariat for the World Road Association.

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