Transport is truly the driving force behind a prosperous and inclusive economy. It is an essential part of a well-connected and ever-shrinking world and it serves to power lives and livelihoods. Whether it is a means by which a child goes to school, how workers make their daily commute, or how food, clothing, and other goods reach consumers, transport is at the core of a functioning society.
The transport sector is influenced by many externalities. Climate change and unsustainable patterns of development, consumption, and human behavior have brought civilisation to the precipice - and certainly, transport demand is only serving to exacerbate these issues.
Transport contributes roughly one quarter of global energy related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and one sixth of all emissions. It is the fastest growing emissions sector. Moreover, it is estimated that global transport carbon emissions will need to be reduced to 2 to 3 Gt CO2 per year by 2050 to meet the international mitigation target of 1.5 degree Celsius. Certainly, this is an immense challenge as economies grow, countries urbanise, and more and more people and goods require access to jobs, services, education and markets.
For this reason, more must be done to transform transport, to go beyond business as usual and ensure that sustainability is at the heart of design. There is no doubt that sustainable transport is fundamental to the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other international policy frameworks. It is a key driver for the realisation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement and it is the very catalyst that will drive our collective success.
The Asia-Pacific Context
The Asia-Pacific region is home to approximately 4.5 billion people and is a main economic centre of the globalized world. Asia is now the largest transport CO2 emitter. Transport demand is consistently increasing due to high population growth, urbanisation rates, rapid economic growth and expansion of large private motorisation markets. This is negatively affecting attempts to implement the SDGs.
However, achieving the SDGs is possible if low carbon, sustainable transport is rapidly and broadly implemented. It can accelerate progress on the goals, and help governments at all levels reach development objectives. Moreover, sustainable transport promises key benefits such as improved road safety, efficient urban access, and better air quality. To combine national, regional and urban policy with the private sector will leverage energy sources, providing more efficient modes and improved mobility.
Asia has constituted some of the strongest transport mitigation responses of any region. Significant investments into infrastructure have allowed Asia to lead global movements in high-speed rail (HSR), urban public transport, bike sharing, and fuel economy standards. These initiatives are poised to tackle the efforts of the SDGs to end all forms of poverty, tackle climate change and fight inequalities. Asia holds the potential to set the pace for sustainable transport across the global North and South.
Asia has expanded its electric mobility initiatives with countries such as China supporting policies to have 70% of new vehicle sales to be electric and deliver zero-emission taxis and busses. The Republic of Korea has initiatives with the goal of replacing motorcycles and buses with electric or hydrogen vehicles. Notably, subway developments in Asia are tackling the issue of congested cities and air pollution.
Transport for Sustainable Development
Although transport itself is not represented by a standalone SDG, sustainable transport is a core element of the realisation of a number of goals and targets. Since sustainable transport has the potential to improve accessibility, enhance economic growth, and achieve greater economic integration while protecting the planet, the transport sector is fundamental.
Transport directly contributes to the realisation of five SDG targets: road safety (target 3.6), energy efficiency (target 7.3), sustainable infrastructure (target 9.1), urban access (target 11.2), and fossil fuel subsidies (target 12.c).
The seven SDG targets to which transport contributes indirectly are: agricultural productivity (target 2.3), air pollution (target 3.9), access to safe drinking water (target 6.1), sustainable cities (target 11.6), reduction of food loss (target 12.3), climate change adaptation (target 13.1), and climate change mitigation (target 13.2).
In 2017 and 2018 SDG review cycles, around 96% of countries referenced transport in their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Yet, only about a third of these countries mentioned direct, specific action on transport. Clearly, a holistic approach is needed to improve the implementation of sustainable transport initiatives. By integrating transport into long term development planning, countries can enhance economic, social, and environmental benefits, and boost connectivity between urban and rural areas, helping to ensure that we leave no one and no place behind.
 SLoCaT (2018). Sustainable Development Goals & Transport. Available at: http://www.slocat.net/sdgs-transport.
Tools and Methodologies
In order to fulfil the transport sector’s key role in the SDGs, the identification of country and region-specific mitigation measures will inform the policies needed for sustainable, low carbon transport.
Improved coordination between relevant ministries that are involved in decision-making for the transport sector is key. Individual country, city and company mitigation plans show high levels of ambition, however, a lack of clarity on how to incorporate the plans is slowing development.
Climate action must be implemented into existing or new transport plans in order to successfully meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Identifying appropriate country-specific mitigation measures inform the development of integrated and region-specific policy packages in pursuit of climate action.
2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement implementation can be synergised by:
- Coordinating activities and targets
- Mainstreaming goals into policy planning
- Optimising financial resources
- Building mutually reinforcing monitoring and reporting frameworks
- Addressing the overall system performance of the transport sector
- Recognise the co-benefits of climate action in the transport sector
- Create more effective carbon finance mechanisms and associated procedures to catalyse sustainable transport policies, programs and projects
Eight major policy areas for low carbon transport outline the tools and methodologies to reach the goal of balancing ‘Avoid’, ‘Shift’, and ‘Improve’ measures. ‘Avoid’ measures concern the reduction of travel distance through motorised modes of transport that integrate spatial planning, logistics optimisation and travel demand management. ‘Shift’ measures aim to change necessary travel into more environmentally and socially-sustainable modes. ‘Improve’ measures focus on the efficiency of transport modes, assuring low-carbon fuel and new vehicle technologies are in place.
1. Sustainable Mobility Planning and Transport Demand Management
Sustainable mobility planning and transport demand management is an integrated and comprehensive approach to traditional transport planning. Sustainable mobility planning is a coordinated system that focuses on accessibility and quality of life and addresses environmental concerns, among other aspects.
Major initiatives working on sustainable mobility planning and transport demand management:
- Singapore’s ‘Streets for People’ program
- China Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot Project
- India’s ‘odd-even’ number plate policy
- Hong Kong’s ‘Rail + Property’ TOD business model
2. Urban Public Transport
Urban public transport that targets the pooling of more people than private vehicles in an equivalent unit of space, can reduce congestion, urban space requirements, and pollution. Modes that have grown in the past decades include metro systems, bus priority systems, trams and light rail transit, and cable cars. High-quality transport options lead to a higher scale of the aforementioned benefits.
Major initiatives for urban public transport:
- Cable car projects in the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, and elsewhere
- Malaysia’s 51 km-long new mass rapid transit line
- Metro systems in China
3. Passenger and Freight Railways
Passenger and freight railways enhance intercity and interurban mobility. Demand for long distance journeys is promoting a trend towards HSR networks. Using these networks for freight generates much lower levels of CO2 emissions and energy consumption per tonne-km than road freight.
Major initiatives for passenger and freight railways:
- Trans-Asian Railway network
- Electric railway tracks in Japan, the Republic of Korea, and China
- HSR in China
4. Walking and Cycling
Walking and cycling initiatives are amongst the most climate-friendly. These are space and cost-efficient modes that require minimal capital investment and infrastructure. Prioritising these initiatives can strengthen social cohesion and improve the overall quality of life in a low-carbon and safe manner.
Major initiatives on walking and cycling:
- Pedestrian bridges in the Republic of Korea
- E-bikes in China
5. New Mobility Services
New mobility services offer shared transport modes on an “as needed” basis. Innovative technology in the form of ridesharing apps or bikesharing schemes, provide efficient use of vehicles and infrastructure through a more productive matching of supply and demand.
Major initiatives on new mobility services:
- BMW and Daimler expanding their car-sharing programs
- Indonesia’s GO-JEK
- Bike and car-sharing services in China
6. Fuel Economy
Fuel economy coupled with existing cost-effective technologies such as light-duty vehicle fleets can stabilise CO2 emissions through a 50 per cent improvement of vehicle fuel efficiency worldwide by 2050. This initiative provides technology such as start-stop engines, regenerative braking and hybrid or fully electric drivetrains.
Major initiatives on fuel economy:
- Fuel economy labelling schemes in Thailand and Vietnam
- China’s zero-emission vehicle national policy
- Thailand’s CO2 tax
7. Electric Mobility
Electric mobility grants an efficient alternative to traditional gasoline or diesel-fueled vehicles. If powered through renewables, this could be a low carbon mobility solution with potential implementation in heavy-duty vehicles, maritime shipping, rail transport and aviation.
Major initiatives on e-mobility:
- China’s fully electric bus initiative
- Singapore’s Vehicular Emissions Scheme
- Malaysia’s Electric Mobility Blueprint
8. Renewable Energy in Transport
Renewable energy in transport is key to achieving the Paris Agreement’s objectives. Biofuels, natural gas, biogas and electrification are the entry points for renewable energy in the transport sector. Biofuels have the potential to decarbonise two of the most difficult sub-sectors: aviation and shipping. Sustainable policy strategies are specific and accommodate to industry and user’s needs and preferences.
Major initiatives on renewable energy:
- China’s first all-electric cargo ship
- Pakistan’s natural gas vehicles infrastructure
- Indonesia’s aviation mandates
 SLoCaT (2018). Transport and Climate Change Global Status Report 2018. Available at: http://slocat.net/tcc-gsr.