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From global agreements to global actions: Moving towards a future of sustainable transport

The following is a transcript of remarks made by Mr Annan at the Sustainable Transport Forum in Paris on 23 August 2016.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your warm welcome. I would also like to thank Scania for organising this important Forum. I am pleased to have an opportunity to exchange ideas on how the transport sector can become a driving force for sustainable development which benefits people, planet and business alike.

In today’s interconnected world, transport is an integral part of improving people’s lives. Until the dawn of the industrial age, the world was quite immobile. Now it is hard to imagine a world without modern transport. Transport drives economic and social development. Transport connects people to jobs, health services, and education and keeps the wheels of commerce turning. This extraordinary potential should not, however, mask the serious challenges that modern transportation, despite its wonderful benefits, creates for society. Our current patterns of transportation seriously impact both health and the environment. Transportation related emissions are increasing at a faster rate than any other sector, further accelerating climate change. Air pollution from transport affects the health of millions of people in developed and developing countries, causing disease and premature death. And as a result of increasing demand for transport infrastructure, the destruction of farm land, forests and biodiversity is continuing at an unmatched rate. It is evident that we must act urgently.

Ladies and Gentlemen, last year, world leaders endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. These were crucial steps, but we must remember that only promises which are kept are promises which matter. The role of governments is vital in implementing those commitments. But it is not governments’ responsibility alone. It requires cooperation and partnership between every sector of society. And business, including transport, must be at the heart of this endeavor. We must always remember that business cannot succeed in a society that fails. Across the world, an increasing number of businesses are looking beyond short-term economic growth to create value and sustainable solutions for society. They are driving innovation, creating jobs and advancing more inclusive growth. They are building partnerships and embracing new technologies to deliver wider goals of development, including improving access to food and clean water, to sanitation, healthcare and education. Today, I will highlight three critical areas where action by the transport sector is urgently needed to achieve more sustainable and inclusive societies.

First, transport must be part of the solution to today’s global climate crisis. The transport industry is already the second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after energy. Significant emissions are produced by the aviation and maritime sectors, but more than two-thirds are from road transport- and this may increase dramatically. There are presently more than 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads and some estimates predict that more cars may be built over the next 20 years than in the automobile industry’s entire history. Transport accounts for about 60% of global oil consumption, so addressing the transport sector’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to combatting the impact of climate change. Many in the industry are already making major progress in this regard, identifying renewable and cleaner alternatives to polluting fuels, adopting more energy-efficient technologies, and deploying intelligent transport systems. A growing number of companies, including Scania, are now scaling up technological innovations to offer energy efficient products and are investing in the research and production of lightweight materials and hybrid and electric vehicles. This must continue, and I would argue that governments, too, have a role to play in setting binding emission targets and putting in place incentives to accelerate the shift towards low-carbon transportation systems.

Second, but closely linked to the first, is the important contribution that transport systems can make in our rapidly urbanizing global community. More than half of the world’s population – about 3.9 billion – now lives in towns and cities, and the United Nations Population Fund estimates that by 2030 this number will swell to approximately 5 billion. This transformation brings huge social, economic and environmental opportunities. But it is also overwhelming local infrastructure, and has significant implications for pollution and human health, congestion and road safety, and economic development. Cleaner fuels and technologies will help to build “green cities” and ensure that health risks associated with population-dense areas are mitigated, and that the impact on the environment is low. Transport companies and governments can work together to design and construct public transport systems that counter the high levels of poverty and inequality found in many cities today. More efficient and accessible transport systems will facilitate access to jobs and services to lower-income populations often marginalized on the outskirts of urban areas. So I would urge cities and transport companies to invest in modern, safe and clean public transport systems that are within geographical and financial reach of all residents, including the poor and most vulnerable. I know that Scania has been working with Ghana’s capital city of Accra to develop such a modern rapid bus transport system, and I applaud this effort.

The third area in which transport companies and systems can have a significant impact is in advancing inclusive economic growth and development. A modern and dynamic transport sector is a prerequisite for national economic development and regional integration. However, for many developing countries, especially landlocked countries, insufficient and outdated transport infrastructure poses a major obstacle to regional and international trade.

Perhaps the most relevant example of this challenge is Africa, where transport remains a critical bottleneck to economic growth and development. According to the African Development Bank, high transport costs add 75% to the price of African goods. As a result, trade volumes between Africa and major world markets as well as within the continent remain at a very low level. Those most affected are of course the poor. Globally 85% of the poor live in rural areas. Millions of poor people, particularly in developing countries, lack access to all-weather roads and reliable and affordable transportation, and are therefore unable to take advantage of the range of benefits of globalization. Working together to improve and expand transport infrastructure, companies and local governments can tackle rural poverty while creating much needed jobs, particularly for the youth and women. In Ethiopia, for example, access to all-weather roads in a number of villages has helped to significantly reduce the incidence of poverty – we must build on such success stories. Improved transport infrastructure is also key to increasing smallholder farmers’ income by connecting them to markets, increasing labour mobility, boosting girls’ enrolment in schools, and enabling rural populations to access essential medical care.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I know that this is an ambitious agenda. But there is good reason for optimism. We have the expertise, the technologies and the evidence needed to succeed. Yet, more action and sustained leadership will be needed from all stakeholders, including the transport industry. Transport operators of all modes – road, rail, maritime, and aviation, the transport manufacturers, and infrastructure companies – must scale-up their existing efforts to realize the vision of a future that is based on pollution-free transport systems that improve not impede human well-being. This will require us to work in partnership: the transportation industry in all its components, centers of technological innovation, and the public interest through regulatory bodies. The challenge is enormous. I am confident, however, that we can harness the power of the transportation industry to secure a better future for all of us.

Thank you.